Monday, September 13, 2010

T Shirt philosophy

OK, yes, it's true that I can be as fond of a one-liner slogan as the next guy.  It's just that I typically, based perhaps on my ancient, ingrained and perverted tendencies towards elitism and snobbery when it come to fashion crowdism, do not enjoy extolling the more common or populist memes of the moment.

When the CHOOSE LIFE T-shirts came out courtesy of Wham! in I think about 1984, they were very suddenly everywhere, it seems.  Along with fluorescent socks and double-length studded leather fluoro-coloured belts, which I did actually own and wear.  I did not buy a T-shirt.  Then my friend's older brother (naturally an icon of cool) got himself a CHOOSE DEATH T-shirt, and I saw the possibilities of shit-stirring subversion.  In fact, that T-shirt probably summarily ended my flirtations with mainstreaming fashion in clothes, and in other ways too.  But I did not buy the CHOOSE DEATH T-shirt.  Probably because Mum would have thrown a massive hissy fit, even though she came to be fine with such quirks as heavy eyeliner and black lipstick.  In fact, it was she who showed me how to apply and maintain lippy.  Yay for Mums!

So I have never been too much of a bumper-sticker sort of guy really, except in supporting organisations I actually worked for at the time, like Greenpeace, or the store where we sold swords and suits of armour etc.

Speaking of bumper stickers, I do recall the urge to subversion in the early 1990s when we first encountered the rash of New Age white-on-purple calligraphic font bumper stickers saying things like "Miracles Happen", or "White Light Surrounds Me".  I thought them all terribly twee, along with the "My Other Car is a Broom" Wiccan-esque frippery, and the completely cringeworthy "In Case of Rapture This Car will be Unmanned"  So anyway, I tried to think of a way to alter or create a take-off that read "White Volvo Surrounds Me" to go on our newly acquired wagon.  Instead, it ended up wearing a few awesome foot-long lifelike images of bullants on the rear windows, as if they were pets travelling with us.

These days though, when it comes to one-liners, I am a fan of the more obscure and ambiguous.

A few months ago in Target they had one of those big clearance racks with the remnants of the previous season's unpopular items and sizes, and I saw a T-shirt in a blue that I really liked.  Then I saw it had a really dodgy solarized-white image of George Costanza and beneath that one of his legendary lines from Seinfeld; I GOT NOTHING!  It was also $2.18.  For the Seinfeld cognoscenti it's a fair enough little chuckle, and on a deeper level it's potentially a homily on the foible of lying (the line comes from George trying to think of a lie to cover his ass) but I love it especially for its Zen allusion to emptiness.

Then yesterday, I bought this:

For those of you reading on your Blackberrys (I am told this is the correct plural spelling in this sense), beneath the picture of Catbert it reads "Your efforts and your rewards are no longer related."

I considered also getting the one that said "It only looks like a coincidence" but I really don't need two Catbert T-shirts.  Catbert is the evil human resources director in the Dilbert series of comics by Scott Adams, and interestingly enough (I have just discovered, never having seen the TV series) he is portrayed by Jason Alexander, who of course also played George Costanza in Seinfeld.

In his role, the "your rewards and efforts" statement is meant as a classic demotivator, but can also be taken as a revelation that working hard gets you nowhere, so it's far better to 'work smart' instead.  I like it because to me it simply says "you are free from struggle".  The whole notion of seeking reward, whether it's for effort or for some other thing, is essentially a disempowering one - a reward being something bestowed upon one by an external agency like 'the system', your boss, your partner, society, God, and so on.

I know the first reaction to the sentiment on the shirt is often the thought that it's a depressing idea.  But it isn't.  Delinking effort and reward, subverting the notion of reward entirely, destroying the concept of deservability through one's actions, could be the most liberating idea you could have.

Just a thought.  It's coming Fedex. So, you know, hopefully in time for summer......


  1. thanks for this. just read it as i'm about to put away the law books for the night. effort and future reward are not linked, in that i am being drawn into this whole dog-paddling marathon for reasons that are beyond (temporally for starters) the efforts of now. basically, i am allowing myself to NOT grind my life to dust. i'm giving it what i can, based on what i've decided it can have. and if this makes no sense, well...

    and you, eric! you were *goth* in the 80s?!? can it be??? oh, kindred soul, heh heh heh. there's some photographic evidence somewhere...

  2. Makes great sense Olga. Yes, I has my gothy moments for sure. Yes, there are possibly photos somewhere but not being particularly hoardy well......but I can also admit to spending over 4 hour in the chair at the hairdressers having a white streak bleached in a-la Dave Vanian (the Damned). This is how I know that too high a concentration of Decore Magic Silver White makes your hair lilac.