So the popular online store T-Shirt Hell is shutting down, and it's not because of the bad economy. Rather it's because the owner "Sunshine Megatron" (formerly Aaron Landau Schwarz) could no longer handle the flak he was receiving over some of his t-shirt slogans such as:
- "It's not gay if you beat them up afterwards"
- "Slavery gets shit done"
- "Arrest Black Babies Before They Become Criminals"
- "What About All The Good Things Hitler Did?"
Obviously some people were offended by the above t-shirts and let T-Shirt Hell know it. Mr. Megatron however claims that he should not have to "explain the irony or the social commentary of the slogan because anyone with half a brain should be able to handle that on their own."
While I get the "social commentary" Mr. Megatron claims his company is making, when does it cross the line and become offensive and/or socially irresponsible?
Take the gay t-shirt slogan above. With gay bashing a serious and under-reported hate crime, does this slogan mock gay bashers or reinforce an attitude of violence against gays?
I think it depends on the audience. There are those of us who might be able to see the irony of the idea that beating up gays somehow makes participating in gay acts acceptable for an otherwise "straight" boy to take part in. Unfortunately there are many who will not.
It brings to mind the controversy of Beavis & Butt-head from several years back. It was assumed that everyone would be able to see it was just a cartoon until a five-year-old boy set fire to his home killing his two-year-old sister after watching a similar stunt on the show. After watching an episode of Jackass, a 13-year-old Connecticut teenager was left in critical condition with severe burns after trying to copycat a stunt he saw on the show. It became obvious that these shows needed to be limited to age-appropriate audiences who would be able to watch them with a critical eye.
So how about a t-shirt then? How do you limit its exposure to younger minds who might think that the shirt's slogan is suggesting that violence towards gays is acceptable or even encouraged? The thing is, you can't. Once the t-shirt leaves their store, T-Shirt Hell no longer has control over it or where and how it might be used. While Mr. Megatron feels that "anyone with half a brain" will get the joke, history suggests that isn't always the case.
My experience is that most straight, white men (but not limited to just them) seem to think that every joke, no matter how vile or socially irresponsible, is funny and should be allowed. I often am told to "lighten up" if I point out that their joke might be offensive to some. These men often are unable to empathize with those whom the joke might ultimately hurt. While I strongly defend their right to such jokes and decry censorship, I also believe people need to take responsibility for their actions. Much like falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, wearing such a t-shirt might cause unintentional harm regardless if it is "social commentary" or not.
So should T-Shirt Hell be able to sell shirts with these slogans? Yes, but Mr. Megatron shouldn't whine and play the victim then when people want to hold him accountable for it.
What do you think?
(P.S. For the record I always found Beavis & Butt-head to be hysterical. In fact, I annoy the hell out of my partner every time we go to Las Vegas by doing my Beavis & Butt-head impression ad nauseum- "That sign says loose slots... huh, huh, huh, huh, huh".)