Gwen and I don’t post every random (set of) offensive t-shirt(s) that we come across, but this particular set by T-Shirt Hell, sent in by Xslf, illustrates two sociologically interesting points.
The first is resistance. The company is closing down due to the constant flood of objections that the t-shirts inspire. So here here for social protest. You can read the owner’s goodbye letter (as offensive as his t-shirts) here.
The second point that I think his t-shirts illustrate is the common and contemporary phenomenon of equal opportunity offensiveness. In the letter, the owner writes, we “…didn’t give a fuck about what anyone thought and did shirts that did not leave anyone out.” This last phrase refers to this idea of equal opportunity offensiveness: so long as the hate is spread around, it’s not really hateful. After a selection of his shirts (after the jump), I return to this idea:
(Trigger warning: Some of these t-shirts depict and trivialize violence.)
In her book, The Averaged Americans, Sarah Igo talks about the development of statistical methods. Their development allowed for the emergence of the idea of an “average American.” An idea that carried moral weight; “average” was “good.”
Looking at the famous ”Middletown” study, the Kinsey Reports, and the invention of polling, she discusses how methods aimed at identifying the average Amerian often reproduced preconceived notions of who was a real American. In the Middletown study, Blacks were ignored because the researchers decided they didn’t count as average Americans. Similarly, polling methodology is aimed at getting a representative sample, but representative of who? Deciding who is being over- or under-represented in a sampling strategy is always a choice.
The invention of the “average American” as an idea is interesting in light of the McCain/Palin rhetoric about “main street” and “real America” and the way in which being a “typical” American is being framed as morally good (image from Stuff White People Do)
As with Middletown, the idea of the average American used by McCain/Palin is still racially-coded. We Are Respectable Negroes lists 69 terms–including “regular folks,” “responsible Americans,” and “good hard-working people”–used by speakers in this election to mean middle-class white person. Here are Palin’s words:
Which brings me to Joe the Plumber. Joe the Plumber, of course, is supposed to represent an “average” American. But every in-group needs an out-group and, like all incarnations of the average, Joe has to be differentiated from the extremes, the non-average, the tails of the distribution: the blacks, the traitors, the poor, the Muslims, etc. Here he is making exactly such an argument about Obama:
Indeed, convincing us that Obama is Other has been a central part of the McCain/Palin strategy (see here, here, a here, a here, here, here, here).
Someone at Amazon needs a serious smack upside the head. OMG when submitting this review, here are the Amazon Tag Suggestions they provided for me: Tag Suggestions (click to add): obama, barack, liar, socialist, costume, dignity, terrorist, creep, marxist
I am sure the computer generates recommended tags based on some statistical analysis of what past reviewers have used in association with Obama’s name, so it’s not an indication that Amazon advocates those particular tags, but still…geesh.
Apparently Amazon has now changed the listing. Now when you search “terrorist costume” it says,
Your search ‘terrorist costume’ did not match any products in: Apparel. Related Searches: arab costume, terrorist.
Ok…so, um, they fixed one problem, but, uh…
UPDATE: In a comment, withoutscene pointed out that now if you search “terrorist costume,” Amazon brings up a McCain mask 3rd (when I searched the term earlier under the “Apparel” section, as opposed to the general Amazon toolbar, the McCain mask wasn’t there, but now it shows up there too, so I don’t know what’s up with that). The only tag associated with the mask is the word “mccain.” However, there are tons of both McCain and Obama masks, so I suppose if I looked through them all, I could probably find both positive and negative tags associated with both. My brief perusal of them seemed to indicate that Obama got more negative and positive tags (“leader,” “wingnut”) whereas McCain’s were pretty neutral (“mccain,” “costume”).
And Jane clarifies how things get tagged:
Tags are added by users, not generated by searches or Amazon employees. I have seen this feature used for hijinks before. They even have a help section titled “What tags shouldn’t I use?”.
Brady told me about this billboard (found here) displayed in St. Cloud, Florida, which uses images of the burning Twin Towers to imply that voting Democratic threatens the country:
It’s interesting because I would think using the Twin Towers in a political way would be a very touchy subject that could make a lot of people angry, even if they agreed with the overall message–the idea of exploiting the 9/11 tragedy for political purposes might turn people off. Obviously a lot of Democrats are angry about the billboard, but I don’t know if any Republicans have expressed concern. So it brings up questions of who is allowed to use images of tragedies, under what circumstances, and for what purposes.
In case you just really want to watch it, here is the video for “The Republican Song,” mentioned in the billboard:
Brady suggested a game of “Spot the Signifier” in which you watch it and find as many things that are supposed to symbolize America and patriotism as you can. A big thanks to Brady, less for these items and more for being a big enough geek to talk endlessly about “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” with me, although I still think his survival plan for a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by zombies has a lot more problems than mine.