The boy holding the sign that reads “2 Kiko Milano” is not wearing makeup. Maybe this is the joke, I think to myself, because Kiko Milano an Italian makeup boutique. What does he know about makeup, anyway? Though I know that The Yale Record organized this protest, I’m having difficulty seeing the humor in advocating for another Kiko Milano on Broadway. Another boy holds a sign and assumes an expression he must imagine is solemn; it’s as if he has carefully studied the “Humans of New York,” and appropriated their soul-wrenching stares.
In other circumstances, this could have been moving. But he’s not expressing a sincere objection to the expensive storefronts in New Haven. If he were, I might admire him. But as is, I’m confused and more than a little skeptical.
Kiko Milano, despite being a small boutique with an Italian name, is relatively inexpensive. I don’t wear makeup, but I own mascara from Target, and their prices are similar. Still, a lot of people do use makeup, and an inexpensive cosmetics store is hardly the worst of the newest Shops at Yale. As in, I once saw a person in Kiko Milano, and I think they made a purchase — business is much worse next door, at Emporium DNA.
Sure, Kiko Milano might not attract many customers from the greater New Haven area. When I asked a demonstrator what, exactly, he and The Record were doing out there in the cold, he told me that it was a joke! He quickly added that the protest addressed more serious issues. He told me Yale could use the space in ways that wouldn’t alienate the community. But I could only think, “I doubt that Kiko Milano is any more alienating than J. Crew, American Apparel, or that store that labels itself the principal outfitter of ‘The Yale Man’. Or Emporium DNA. Or Urban Outfitters. Or, honestly, Blue State.”
I understand — and support — the desire to influence Yale’s utilization of the Broadway real estate. I’m just not certain that a satirical protest is the best way to affect change. Protests can be real, and sad, and scary; mocking a serious response to New Haven’s town-gown inequality is flippant. I don’t think it’s impossible for satire to influence and inform people. Jon Stewart did it! But Jon Stewart is funny because he knows that his subject matter is ultimately unfunny, that at the crux of a every joke is a real and complex problem. Good satire knows that it’s a defense mechanism.
The Record’s event lacked this self-awareness, because the satirical protest didn’t target the most obviously alienating stores on Broadway. I understand the irony; the true meaning of the poster “2 Kiko Milano” is “0 Kiko Milano.” The Record thinks Yale should cater to a broader community. But still, the stakes are too low; two or no Kiko Milanos is all the same to me. Maybe “5 J. Crews” or “Urban Outfitters Only” would have been a better slogan; those are stores with higher prices and closer ties to the student body.
Even the phrase “it’s just a joke” doesn’t excuse the demonstration from any pretense to effectiveness. If Kiko Milano were really something worthy of protest, maybe I would get the joke.