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Is This New Boston Marathon-Themed Fragrance Offensive?

Demeter, a fragrance company based in Long Island, has released a cologne meant to honor the firefighters who responded to the Boston Marathon bombings. Christened First Response — Boston, the new item is distinguished by its notes of “spices and flowers, overlaid with white smoke and rubber,” which are meant to evoke the environmental diet of a Boston firefighter.

While a few Bostonians have already spoken to ABC News, describing Demeter’s release as “insensitive,” the impulse to forgive their tackiness is strong. The company has committed to donate 75% of the revenue generated by the perfume’s sales to the Boston First Responders Fund, an organization established to help the victims of the attacks, and provided they make good on this, a spokesman for the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts union has called the idea “well-intentioned.”

At worst, adherents to Hanlon’s razor would treat Demeter and First Response as they would a sweet cousin who sometimes burps at the table or says the wrong thing. Demeter already sells perfumes with names like Funeral Home, Rice Paddy (said to be “Zen-like”), and Dirt, which is not to be confused with Earthworm. And the typeface on their bottle labels is ghastly — like someone typed out the product name in Times New Roman and hit “Print.”

By now, Americans recovering from a tragedy are used to seeing the kind of shallow, awkward product alignment that Demeter has attempted. We’re also used to the sounds of disapproval and ridicule that follow (David Cross’s bit about flag merchandizing in the months after September 11 is a classic), and while this is almost always warranted, it can also seem stale and unfeeling. Somewhere in Demeter’s corporate office in Great Neck, there are people trying to find a way to express a kernel of genuine goodwill, and over in Boston, other people have responded affirmatively. The complaint that their goodwill has been obfuscated by the tropes of consumer culture, which prevents people from expressing themselves, is a valid one, even though it overlooks the fact that, often, that is how Americans express ourselves. We consume.

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