Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Getting shirty

SO SORRY, Topman, that your 'lighthearted' Tshirts' messages were misconstrued by, like, everyone... but we were drunk! And you did provoke us!

You may have seen the twitch-fork mobs lighting their flares and brandishing their hay-turning tools this week, driven into a frenzy by Topman's hilarious new tshirts. "Nice new girlfriend - What breed is she?" one reads. Can you imagine the thought process of the person who designed these? "You know what'll be really funny? Comparing women to dogs!!" Even more bizarre, perhaps, is the fact that someone thought, "Domestic abuse...LULZ."

There's two things that I found fascinating about this episode. First, the fact that this is the third time in recent weeks that sexist Tshirt slogans have caused ripples of fury in the press and in twitter (the first two issues having surrounded JC Penney after they put on sale tshirts emblazoned with messages like, "I'm too pretty to do homework, so my brother does it for me"'s funny 'cos it's true...). There must be many, many more examples of clothes bearing sexist messages, designed to make passers-by just spontaneously ROFL, but these two recent examples are all that's needed to legitimately suggest that big highstreet companies feel there's a market for sexism. Which is slightly concerning.
The second main matter of interest was the way that the episodes were resolved: in each case, the companies withdrew the Tshirts and apologised "to those who may have been offended". Presumably they mean to pacify all those whiny victims of domestic abuse, you know, who "may have been" a little bruised by the messages. (See what I did there? If any Tshirt designers want to borrow the pun, just message me for copyright deets.) It's really very heartening that twitter, feminist activist groups, and, you know, anyone who happened to see it AND at the same time possess a sense of decency... together they managed to shame the companies into withdrawing. Which is testament to the power of mass indignation. A little tutting can go a long way; it's why groups like Mumsnet are so powerful.
Politically active young people need to wake up to their power, as rulers of our new social-media-dominated world. I know so many people who can skillfully and articulately engage in debate on any issue in current affairs that you care to mention; yet they never do anything to affect change! They don't realise their own power. It takes literally five minutes to bash out an email to your MP urging them to vote for/against something, and less to sign a petition. People say that political apathy stems partly from a feeling of disaffection and political impotency; there can certainly be a sense, for average punters, of trying to break into the realm of elites, where journos, MPs and lobbyists invite eachother to their dinner parties; where the real substance of politics happens over drinks, rather than in Commons, in constituencys, or even at the polls. We are, however much we complain, a wonderfully democratic and pluralistic society, but there's a serious problem to be tackled when young and genuinely interested people don't feel that politics makes time for them.

And all this just from a stupid Tshirt. Gratz, Topman: you're a catalyst for debate, a valuable asset to democracy.

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