T-shirt Memes, Humor, and What They Tell Us About Ourselves.

I was scrolling through my Facebook this morning and came across a link one of my friends had posted about a former TV star speaking out against certain t-shirt JC Penney had been selling a few months ago (they have since stopped). Here is the link if you’d like to read it yourself: Former “Blossom” Star Speaks Out About Controversial T-shirts

This is not the first I’d heard about these shirts, and it really isn’t just JC Penney. I can remember, maybe a year ago, while sorting through clothes at the second hand store that is my current day job, I came across a woman’s t-shirt reading “Why do I need brains when I have THESE?” written across the chest. I couldn’t tell you where it originated, but it could honestly have come from any number of stores.

The T-Shirt Meme

It wasn’t until after WWII and into the the 1950’s that t-shirts as we know them really came onto the scene. Before that, the t-shirt was really nothing more than underwear. They started off rather plain and nondescript. While I don’t know exactly when, I can peg it to sometime in the 60’s when these simple pieces of clothing started to evolve into the forms of art and expression we know them to be. Tie-dye, the iconic Happy Face and a wide range of other designs were to be found.

”]Amid all this decoration and corporate advertising over the last half century, it’s really hard to truly pinpoint when we started designing these shirts more to be read than just gawked at. Some pages claim it was the 80’s, some the later part of the 90’s. Having been a child in the 80’s, I can remember wearing shirts and dresses with slogans on them, band tees and Disney characters with the occasional adorable caption. I also remember a lot of home-made fabric paint/ applique artwork as a child. Applique ::shudders::
I didn’t really start noticing t-shirts with no other designs aside from the one-liner until I was in High School (of course, I wasn’t yet working and thus able to actually shop for myself before then). Whenever they began, it seems to me that we are becoming increasingly hooked on all these encompassing one-liners (and the occasional paragraph). Our t-shirts are reflections of ourselves, our personalities, our beliefs and convictions. They make bold statements about political issues or just make us laugh with witty remarks on everyday miscellany.

What’s So Funny?

The biggest question that Mayim Bialik is trying to ask in her statement is why do we find this phrase to be humorous? Indeed, when we try to actually understand why we find a thing funny, we are learning about ourselves and our society. There was actually an entire section on this subject in one of my Linguistic Anthropology classes at UIUC, and I suddenly find myself wishing I had kept those textbooks. We use humor to make statements about our world and how we fit into it.  We use jokes to address difficult subject matter in a way that connects us to others and helps us cope. Comedians look to culture and society to find their material and similarly, we can turn the mirror around. So when we read the phrase, “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother does it for me”, why would we find this even remotely funny? Our cultural history has long placed women and girls as these creatures who are valued by their beauty.
You find it in artwork hundreds of years old, in the traditional archetypes. Women are glorified as chaste and beautiful goddesses or maidens, or chastised for their tempestuous sexuality, or mocked for their lack of physical beauty. It has only really been within the last 30-40 years that we’ve started to see women entering the workforce and daring to do jobs traditionally assigned to men. Before that, if a woman hoped for a relatively well to do life, she needed to find and charm a successful man to marry her. The idea being that if you’re attractive, you’re more likely to have a better life. For men, the jobs that brought about more prestige and more money were those jobs that utilized their brain-power more than their brawn. (Your classic blue-collar/ white-collar distinction). So, the successful man was intelligent and clever while the successful woman was physically appealing. Even once we started seeing more “smart women” archetypes, they tended to be dowdy or plain and usually single. (Note Daphne vs Velma from Scooby Doo)  The idea here is that, pretty women don’t have to resort to using their brains because they can find a successful man to provide for her. We still see this idea as a driving force in our popular culture today. (Hello, Desperate Housewives?)

Despite advances women have made in Western society to be considered equal to a man, we’re still living in a half-changed world. It is this tipping back into lingering archetypes and gender roles that makes the shirt both funny and offensive. Some would even argue that it’s funnier _because_ it’s offensive – a resistance to change and a satire of the recent cultural conscience and awakening.
While I am glad to see JC Penny has removed the shirts, I know that this is the tip of a large iceberg.

Some of my t-shirts

Fitting for the tone of this post...

Now 10 years old and falling apart, I bought this shirt with my first paycheck at age 16.

From CafePress.com, this is my first internet only tee.

Made by the artist, Mary Tumulty.

 

Advertisements

What I’ve been up to: The Rag Rug

Working on the rag rug

Where does all the time go? Is it really near the end of September already? This month has seemed to just fly by me. While I have been keeping myself busy this past month catching up on reading, spending time with family that came to visit and other endeavors to stay social offline, I hate to admit I haven’t done much in the way of crafting or creating. Oh, I’ve worked some on this project or that, but not enough for me to really feel I’ve been productive. Having said that, here is a glimpse at one of the projects I currently have underway:

Each warp is made from 4 strands of yarn, tied to the pole in the middle, making the warps 8 strands thick. There are in the neighborhood of 60-70ish warps.

I would say this is my major project right now. For those of you who know me on Facebook, you’re already familiar with it. For the rest of you, this is new info.
I’ve had the book Twined Rag Rugs by Bobbie Irwin in my possession for a few years now,  and, part wanting to experiment with something different and part needing a rug for my living room anyway, I decided to begin this project.
I don’t have any kind of a loom frame, and I don’t have the tools, space or woodworking know-how to create the kind of frame Irwin uses. I went to a hardward store and purchased an 8ft wooden closet pole. To this pole I tied long strings of yarn.
For the wefts, I cut strips of fabric about 3 inches wide. I wanted to start of using what I already had. This includes an old satin bed sheet set that I’ve been keeping for a few years. I admit, I’m a bit of a fabric hoarder – some of my fabric I have been toting around since I was in middle school, never sure what to do with it, but feeling I could do _something_ with it. However, I didn’t quite have enough black and red fabric to complete the rug, so I did have to acquire more, which I got from secondhand sources. Not being able to find enough of what I needed, I attempted to dye strips of white using Rit. Epic Fail. Rit sucks.
To create the repeating design pattern I made use of another book sitting unused on my reference shelf – Gold and Silver Needlepoint by Maggie Lane. I bought it at The Book Rack in Springfield, IL a couple of years ago. (support local/independent sellers!) I took one of her repeating designs used in a section of background and expanded it. Not so secret Secret: Any design that uses graph paper can be used for knitting, crochet, weaving, or needlepoint.
The weaving technique I am using is called taaniko, sometimes spelled with only one “a”. Irwin introduces in on page 64. This is a twined weaving technique perfected by the Maori in New Zealand.

After the completion of 5 rows...

As beautiful as taaniko work is, this was almost a lost art only 20-30 years ago. Indeed, twining in general is a craft trying to survive. Considering that it takes considerable time (each row on my rug has taken me approximately an hour), I can see how some might be dissuaded from even attempting it. To quote a good friend of mine from a comment she wrote on my Facebook, “…just sayin, there’s easier ways to do those things…”. Indeed, in this day and age there are faster, easier ways to do a great many crafts. Sewing machines have become increasingly computerized, most of your store-bought knitted items use a knitting machine, and some weeks back I rented a DVD on fused art quilts (essentially making use of fusible web to bond fabrics together). While I’m certainly not about to knock any of these things, I kind of have this love and respect for the old traditions of craft. Maybe it’s the anthropologist in me… but, when I do this kind of labor intensive work, I feel a sense of connection to all the people who have gone before me. I love feeling like I’m helping to preserve methodology, or bring something back from the dead.

JC Penney Needs to Step Up

Back in March, in my entry, Triangle Remembered, I mentioned the horrible fire that took place in Bangladesh last December. According to a Change.org article,  JC Penney has not honored their promise to compensate the families of those workers who have died. That’s right, 30 human lives were lost in an accident that could have been prevented if the companies gave a damn about safe working conditions (a couple of the other companies whose clothes were made at the factory are GAP and Abercrombie & Fitch). If this pisses you off (and it should),  at the bottom of the article is a link to a petition you can sign to help get the message across to JC Penney that they need to step up and do what is right. I’ve also included a link to the petition HERE.