The Ruminator

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Sunday, March 16, 2003

Read my T-shirt

T-shirts have always been a popular canvas on which to express political opinion. Some messages, like I love Kylie Minogue come and go. Others, like Peace or Make Love Not War stay around forever. It probably says something sad that we still need to be chanting and waving (or wearing) this sort of thing.

Slogan T-shirts as political expression seem to be big news at the moment. There was the lawyer in the US arrested by shopping mall security guards after refusing to remove an anti-war shirt he bought at the mall. Charges were eventually dropped. An American teenager was asked to cover up his Who Would Jesus Bomb shirt while his school principal determined whether or not the boy’s free speech was infringing anyone else’s rights. Another high school kid was sent home for his Bush: International Terrorist shirt. (The thing that amused me about that story was that school administrators justified this by referring to a Supreme Court ruling on free speech. The student, obviously a credit to his school, pointed out they were quoting the dissenting opinion, and that the majority ruling actually supported his right of free speech.) And in Australia, visitors to Parliament House were asked to leave due to a ban on wearing political slogans in the building. (Thanks Doug, the hive-mind strikes again).

These days, political T-shirts are not just hand-written or home screen-printed personal expressions. Often they are produced in bulk and make a lot of profit. Unfortunately, when political statement becomes a fashion accessory it can lose its meaning and become a logo, rather like wearing something emblazoned with ‘Calvin Klein’. I’d wager that a significant percentage of people wearing Che Guevara T-shirts couldn’t tell you what he fought for. Poor bastard is even selling Magnums now. (Actually they taste pretty good. I like them better than the Candy Warhol, but something tells me that Warhol would probably be more amused at the idea of selling ice-cream than Che).

On which theme, The Age ran a story on the weekend about ‘Monty’, an Australian designer selling ‘edgy’ topical Ts for anything up to $160 a pop. Monty’s upcoming show for Melbourne fashion week is about religious oppression. The problem, Monty opines, is “the lack of integration of male and female energy within a being”. Monty, who is “really into healing”, will be conveying this message to the world via the medium of a ‘rap opera’. And a montage of Queen songs. And fashion, naturally. Still, you have to admire the clarity of thought involved in, apparently, being able to screen print ALL your philosophies onto T-shirts. You would think they wouldn’t fit.

The Age's writer asked what difference a slogan T-shirt actually makes, but to me that’s not the point. No one thinks that wearing a No HoWARd T-shirt will actually change anyone’s mind about Iraq. But a political T-shirt is a way to make a personal public stand, a small cry of protest. And then sometimes millions of people around the world make the same cry.


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