A few weeks ago, I saw a teenager with a white-font slogan on a black t-shirt. Shirts passing off themselves and the wearer as witty are nothing new and are rarely funny — though they are downright hilarious when they are ironic in a sad, “Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel” sort of way. This particular wearer — a plain-faced, lanky kid that looked as though shampoo was a luxury — sported the sloganized wear, “Everybody Sucks All the Time.”
This struck a nerve with me — after the initial silent giggling, of course. The angst dripping from the words could only be worn by a teenager (“Like, Oh-M-Gee and whatever!”), along with the naivete of the interpretation. How is the average person supposed to take it if they are being told by a $10 that they “suck all the time”? If they have somewhat healthy self-esteem, they would look at the owner and leave it at that. After all, whoever would want to possess a garment like that has anger issues that a shirt won’t work out.
However, it could also be seen as a common — and increasing — trend in society: the practice of casual aggression. I interpret casual aggression as spreading a message inspired by hate/anger/angst through passive-aggressive means, and you can see it almost everywhere. From clothing to our media forms and societal trends, we not only communicate things we wouldn’t dare speak, we often become indignant when we are called out for it. Racism, sexism, bigotry, biases — it can all be masked and/or deflected with a few words and distancing.
That t-shirt example? It’s as old as printed t-shirts themselves. You name the type of clothing, and I’ll show you one used for calling something or someone out.
Whether it’s hate speech, snide remarks (“I’m with stupid,” anyone?), something sexual in nature or good old fashioned jackassery, socks, shirts or pants, the words are there to provoke a reaction. The worst thing is that if you question the person about the garment and your reaction irks the wearer, there is a lack of understanding/accountability for the message they are putting out. (This can be a particularly-sensitive topic when it comes to sexually suggestive clothing with slogans on shirts or pants buttocks.) There is certainly the idea of free speech, and that’s all well and good, but in some cases…
…don’t be surprised when I exercise my right with my words.
And it only goes from there. Websites like Facebook and Twitter encourage aggression through the anonymity of the internet. It’s easy to paint an extreme version of your viewpoint online when you are hiding behind a computer screen – often thousands of miles from other people. And with said power, the weight of our words take on that much more weight when we do not know who is reading those words — let alone their individual backgrounds, past experiences, cultures, etc.
Hell, we see this practiced in the media all the time. During a President’s Day sale for Sanderson Ford in the Phoenix, Arizona area, a xenophobic radio advertisement derided people thinking about buying cars that weren’t American, followed by the stereotypical Asian music jingle (think Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). Though Arizona in general is as enlightened as Larry the Cable Guy, the lack of foresight to see how offensive that would be to anyone outweighed the poor attempt at humor — and magnified how scared that dealer was of the foreign car competition by stooping to racism. I wonder how they reacted if someone had a few negative comments of that ad.
Another example of this subtle form of aggression in the media is one that is gathering traction with a particular segment of the population: Fox News. Though network and cable news networks are manipulated by corporate backers and agendas, few court people that are as ignorant (willfully or unknowingly) and resistant to change Rupert Murdoch’s news outlet. The conflicting message of its channel slogans and talking heads bounce between hard-hitting journalism and lighthearted entertainment, and those messages take potshots and words out of context when it comes to politics. The increasing outrage/Republican talking-point targeted messages/sponsorship of anti-government meet-ups and sometimes charged accusations come off like a spoiled trust fund kid who was written out of the will. For a viewer not in on the joke, it is easy to confuse the ludicrous and the… well… more ludicrous. Worse than that, the network can easily hide behind their line of “It’s only entertainment” or “We’re balanced!” and wave it away like “Obi-Wan” Kenobi using The Force. But perhaps that is easily overlooked considering the source and the target.
It all is a symptom of an increasing lack of accountability by our culture. We wear our true feelings on the outside or funnel them through third-parties, and immediately separate ourselves from it — no matter how close it is to us. And examples of deflecting blame are seen every day, from big business to government, sports stars and in our own homes. Is it any wonder that it is rare when someone is NOT defensive about something they champion?
We’ve all been guilty of it at some point; heck, I’ve done it more times than I am proud of. But owning up to views and actions without the need for clothing or someone/something else is something that is more commendable than however witty or cool that thing might be — even if you are with stupid.