Nathan Strang

T-Shirt Hell goes out of business, blames accusations of hate crimes.

Filed By Nathan Strang | February 02, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: hate crimes against LGBT people, Irony

T-Shirt Hell, the purveyors of fine and sarcastic shirts like "I Support Single Moms" accompanied by a silhouette of a stripper on a pole, is going out of business, effective February 10th. Their reasons aren't economy based, though a fine excuse that would be at the moment. Instead, T-Shirt hell is going out of business because they are tired of being accused of racism, homophobia, and promoting hate crimes. From the goodbye letter, creator "Sunshine Megatron" had this to say...

I just don't feel like dealing with idiots anymore. I'll give you an example of the kind of misguided morons we deal with on a regular basis at T-Shirt Hell. We released a new shirt a couple weeks ago that says "It's not gay if you beat them up afterwards". I will not 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. Problem is, we've been besieged with emails from angry people complaining about the "fact" that the shirt is hate speech or that we're promoting gay bashing and should take it down immediately.


My response, and yours please, after the jump.

Sunshine goes on to quote a few other examples and end his "piss off" letter with a lot of good riddance. A quick browse through T-Shirt Hell might raise the hairs on your back, but that in in fact the question:

Are obviously niche companies like this deserving of the torture they receive for expressing their free speech? Its just a shirt after all... or is it?

I stopped wearing shirts with ironic little sayings after I turned 19 and grew up a bit, but I still love to browse places like T-Shirt Hell for a laugh. Perhaps if my fashion sense was a little stunted I would buy one or two. Sure a shirt like "its not gay if you beat them up afterwards" says a lot in a few words but to call it homophobic? On the same site they sell LGBT themed irony: "Sorry girls, I suck dick". I'm half as concerned about the person that buys the shirt. What does it do beside make that person look like a douche with a bad sense of style?

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Complaining about other people complaining. Yaaaaawwwwn.

The problem with this particular shirt is that we've seen examples in the news of gay men being beaten up or even killed by their lovers who feared being outed. I'm all for free speech, but this is akin to encouraging someone to yell "fire" in a crowded theater. They have the right to sell the shirt, we have the right to call them douchebags for it. Simple enough.

DanaRSullivan | February 2, 2009 2:52 PM

It's been said before, but...that's very ironic. If someone was bothered by seeing his shirt designs, he'd probably tell them to grow a thicker skin. He's bothered by hearing people who don't like his shirt designs, so he closes down the business.

I think in most cases, using your own free speech rights to mildly harass someone for saying things you don't like is a jerky thing to do. But when the message is deliberately offensive to start with, you've kind of voided that social contract.

"Are obviously niche companies like this deserving of the torture they receive for expressing their free speech?" [Emphasis added]

Torture? Really!? Get the out of here with that.

You realize that this actually happens, right? Bil has a post on this very site about beating up the first boy he was ever with. I'd say the physical and psychological violence of that attack is more in line with “torture” than anything this asshole is complaining about.

And can we step outside of the ridiculous free speech argument for a moment? First of all, if T-Shirt Hell wants to cry "free speech" then they must acknowledge that other people can exercise the same rights in calling out their racist, homophobic, sexist crap.

But it's more than that, because I'm not really all that interested in arguing about rights granted by the government (and that in reality extend to only some people). The discussion needs to be reframed; we're not really talking about rights here. Creating space for anti-queer violence to thrive and remain unchallenged isn't a right, it's a privilege. One that comes at the cost of the lives of queer people I love.

I'm glad to see this business go, and it makes me sick that anyone would buy into their "we're the victim" rhetoric.

"torture" is a trigger word, I'm glad to see someone picked up on the excessivity.

I don't believe they are a victim, It's hard to stay in business when your main goal is to piss people off, eventually you get tired of it and leave (though Maddox is still around, damn).

I'm casually aware of Bil's experience but I am well aware that this type of violence does occur and more than people think. I'm in no way condoning the advertisement of hate crimes, for laughs or profit, but it's just a tee shirt. I feel that the general emphasis of a worded tee has been diluted over the ages.

Call me insensitive, but companies like this aren't good or evil, just annoying and not worth the stress of a complaint letter.

It's hard to navigate the waters of ironic humor. On the one hand, if a close gay friend of mine wore that shirt, I'd get a good chuckle out of the shirt. On the other hand, the same can't be said if I saw that shirt on a stranger. That said, anyone who chooses to wear a shirt like that, should have to deal with the consequences. If you're smart enough to get the humor, you're smart enough to understand the ramifications.

There is a difference between free speech and hate speech. I don't care if they sold t-shirts that were less offensive when someone is walking around wearing a shirt promoting gay bashing it is not like everyone gets to see all of the other shirts in stock. Gay bashing happens and it case you forget there have many people who have lost their lives. There is no way to make death ironic.

steve tabarez | February 2, 2009 8:25 PM

Well there is probably more than him being terrorized. The economy sucks, and people seem more interestested in a designer labels/logos than they are expressing themselves in such a fashion. Personally, it is his right to sell them, and peoples right to buy, and wear them proudly. Of course this comes from a guy who stood up for neo-nazis being able to hold a rally in a town near me. If people want to make a fool of themselves, go for it. Altho they do need to be aware of the damage they may cause in expressing themselves. We buy what we like. And as someone who has suffered a beat down after, as well, It's easy to tell if they are wearing it,
huh? Not 2 mention how I just might beat me up, AFTER. In fact, many end up coming back. And end up taking off their shirt no matter what it says.

I agree with your analysis, though I have to confess I do like the one for babies that says "They shake me!"

I think the t-shirts are great, but the lesson to be learned here is that they have a very small audience. The average person on the street just doesn't have the subtlety of thought to parse a message like that. It's not their fault.

I have the same thoughts when I watch South Park. I think South Park is brilliant social commentary -- but I would guess the message most people take away from it is that it's cool to be obnoxious and immature.

I'll hold with those who fault the buyers of ill-humored shirts rather than the purveyors. Similarly, I think our government is wasting money on fighting cocaine production in Columbia or poppy farming in Afghanistan when all those drug lords do is address the demands of the American consumer. T shirt slogans speak volumes about the wearer but tell you only one thing about the producer: he can sell a product.

I'm not sure which part bugs me more: the fact that someone whose brand relies on edgy humor can't take criticism (ie, if you dish out ridicule, you'd better be prepared to take some heat for it) or the lofty 'you-don't-understand, I-was-being-ironic' defense. Which is insulting (yeah, I got it; in fact, 'getting it' was pretty much a prerequisite to understanding the joke well enough to be offended by it) and is also rather poor logic, because it assumes that something that is intended to be ironic can't also be construed as offensive. They're not mutually exclusive categories.

I glanced through that shirt collection. Barf-o-rama. There's too much crap in that Buffet of Bad Stuff to analyze point by point, but tin particular:

'It's Not Gay if You Beat Them Up Afterward' is only pithy social commentary to the extent that it's viewed as self-contradictory (ie, the implication being that it's still 'gay' and the violent denial fools no one.) However, since 'gay' is a psychological and social identity, it's entirely possible for men to have sex with men without being 'gay' in any socially accepted sense. Indeed, it's the very fear of being publicly labeled as gay that leads so many men to live in denial and act out their desires furtively (and yes, sometimes violently).

The idea that someone could somehow make themselves Not Gay by beating up someone with whom they had just had sex only seems laughable until one realizes that people actually do think this way and this really really does happen. Then it's not funny so much as it is tragic.

One can argue that still argue that the shirt is intended ironically and therefore is a statement against such attitudes (and the violence) but it's not clear-cut enough to be obviously; it could as easily be interpreted as an endorsement of the sentiment expressed. In fact, I'm trying to imagine exactly who would bear this shirt's message willingly, and have to wonder whether the intended self-expression would be ironic or just 'ironic'.

My God, does everyone have to take everything so damn seriously? The slogan is so ironic - that it's humorous. Remember, it's also not gay as long as the two dudes don't kiss. And it's not gay as long as they're both self-identified str8 boys who are only curious. And it's not gay as long as both dudes are black & God-fearing Christians in denial. Puhleeeeese!

...and the fact that you felt the need to throw in that crack about being black and God-fearing speaks volumes about you. i don't know you, but i think you're proving everyone's point.

My God, does everyone have to take everything so damn seriously?

Why *shouldn't* people take people getting injured or possibly even killed seriously?

The underlying problem with the 'humor' here is the shocking disregard for the guy on the receiving end of the beating. There are guys out there in the real world who have been beaten up because they are gay. How are they supposed to feel about a shirt like this? Are they supposed to 'lighten up' and appreciate the joke? How about friends and family members who haven't been targeted themselves, but know someone who has been?

Remember, it's also not gay as long as the two dudes don't kiss. And it's not gay as long as they're both self-identified str8 boys who are only curious. And it's not gay as long as both dudes are black & God-fearing Christians in denial. Puhleeeeese!

The telling difference: while all of these situations involve questions of puzzling self-identification and denial, none of them involve physical violence.

Men living lives of denial exist. The problem *isn't* about whether it's appropriate to poke fun at men-in-denial. I've seen shirts that do so, and far less offensively... such as the 'my boyfriend doesn't know I'm gay' shirt.

Humor as social satire is great, generally speaking. Tasteless and dangerously irresponsible humor, not so much.

All I can hear from this guy is "WAAAAAAAAHHHHH!"

Someone should make a T-shirt out of that...

I went and bought the Cookie Cutter and Sausagefest t-shirts.

By the way - I got my Obama on a unicorn t-shirt earlier this week, Nathan. I'll snap a pic of me wearing it and send it to you. :)

I found out about tshirt hell last summer when a guy in my office was wearing a shirt that said "prevent teen pregnancy: sleep with a 10 year old who doesn't have her period yet." or something equally long, offensive, and stupid.

Guess I'm just an unfunny feminist, but not one shirt on that man's site is funny. I'm thrilled it's closing.