I’m with stupid

Nov 9, 2005 at 12:00 am

Last week, the squeaky-clean, yet oh-so-dirty retailer Abercrombie & Fitch found itself steeped in controversy once again. On Nov. 1 a group of high-school girls in Pennsylvania announced they were staging a “girlcott” of a series of the retailer’s baby Ts, emblazoned with such phrases as “Who needs a brain when you have these?” and the sisterhood-inspiring “Do I make you look fat?”

The teens, part of the Girls as Grantmakers youth philanthropy program, said the T’s are demeaning and derogatory, and asked A&F to pull them from shelves. A&F, which specializes in homogenized, all-American apparel in every shade of khaki known to man, has landed in hot water before, for its soft-core porn catalogs and a class-action federal discrimination lawsuit over its hiring practices. It’s also pulled offensive T-shirts in the past, like “Two Wongs make it white,” a shirt featuring two Asian men working at a laundry service.

At first A&F stuck to its guns, issuing the following statement: “These particular T-shirts have been very popular among adult women to whom they are marketed.”

But on Nov. 7, the retailer caved and announced it would pull some of the shirts, but didn’t specify which ones.

While the name “girlcott” is a bit too cute, it was nice to see a group of young women banding together to rally against a cause. And yet, the backlash quickly received its own backlash, with some members of the media skewering the protest as counterproductive and pointless.

Eric Heyl of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review haughtily lectured, “In drawing attention to controversial Abercrombie & Fitch merchandise, Girls as Grantmakers is doing little more than providing the retailer free advertising. They are playing right into the hands of the women-degrading bimbo enablers they oppose.”

Another report put it in hard money terms, saying the appearance “was tantamount to free advertising. The Chicago-based media company Starcom USA said a 30-second commercial on Today costs approximately $58,000, and the girls were on the air for several minutes.”

So one can only assume the proper course of action for the outraged young women would have been to just shut the hell up and take it. Or develop a sense of humor, since they’re ever so clearly lacking one. After all, this isn’t the kind of country where you speak out when something offends you or you want to fight for change. What on earth were the silly little girls thinking? Shouldn’t they get back to cheerleading practice?

Truthfully, A&F made an easy target, an especially juicy one due to its past troubles. Crude, offensive T-shirts are nothing new. A&F has simply done what so many mega-mall retailers before it — most notably, Hot Topic — have done: co-opt an idea or trend that’s been floating around the underground, and produce it in bulk for the masses.

Thanks to the tremendous backlash against political correctness, T’s with nasty, tasteless and purposely offensive slogans have been selling like hotcakes on the Internet for years.

Check out some of the baby T’s at slubu.com:

“Trophy wife in training — do not feed.”

“5 figures = spit, 6 figures = swallow”

“Hot girls have Range Rovers. Fat girls have jobs.”

They have men’s T-shirts too:

“A Size 2 gets diamonds. A Size 12 gets black eyes.”

“I’ll make money, you make dinner.”

“Perfect women don’t eat ... they just swallow.”

The site offers the following wisdom on its sizing chart: “We only offer S and M as we sincerely doubt any woman needing a larger size would be interested in purchasing any of our shirts.”

The folks over at tshirthell.com have been making money off your indignation since 2001. They claim to have the most visited T-shirt Web site on the Net, getting more than 75,000 unique visitors daily.

The site’s disclaimer: “We design our shirts to amuse ourselves. We don’t care if you’re offended by them. Regardless of race, color, creed, national origin or sexual preference — you are all fair game.”

Here are few selections:

“I’m not fat, I’m American.”

“If Jesus comes back, we’ll kill him again.”

“Pedophiles are fucking immature assholes.”

“What about all the good things Hitler did? 

“Arrest black babies before they become criminals.”

Of course, the true purpose of biting satire is to provoke honest, thoughtful, sometimes painful discussions of political and social ills. Therein lies the problem — the extremely thin line trod by these slogans and their wearers. Is the person in the “black babies” T trying to say that African-Americans are unfairly targeted by the law, or that young black kids turn to crime because they have few other attractive options, or that people on the street are quick to assume every black man is a criminal? Or is the wearer really just an ignorant, crass jerk who thinks all black people are thugs?

Before you get too offended, remember that freedom of speech extends to T-shirts too, and that there are plenty of people who’d be just as offended by your “Bush is the Devil” T as by tshirthell’s “I eat more pussy than cervical cancer.”

And here I can remember back in seventh grade when all the students in my class were forbidden to wear the Bart Simpson T-shirts that said, “Eat my shorts, man.”

We’ve come a long way, baby?

Sarah Klein is the culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]