Frankie Says Rape

We’ve all seen the evolution of T-shirt slogans before our very eyes. People walk towards us in the street, and much to the fashion industry and particular company’s approval and success, we notice their attire and in particular any slogan they may have printed across their chests. The power of advertising and mass marketing has encouraged a rapid growth in T-short slogans over the past few years, particularly using humour and images in order to attract the attention of prospective buyers and consumers. Despite the stereo-typicality and judgments we place on people because of their clothes, T-shirt slogans have triumphed with their successfulness because they appeal to a wide audience and often promote positive feelings from the watcher to the wearer and vice versa.

We’ve all no doubt seen the “I (Heart) NY” T-shirts, which present in their entirety the simplistic yet memorable nature of the slogan industry. Creating something catchy and easy to remember generates revenue and economic success. Why? Because everyone wants a T-shirt that says they love New York on it, whether they’ve been to New York or not. Why? I’m not a psychologist but I’m sure there’d be a few reports and articles about consumerism and the need to have what everyone else has. In basic terms, familiarity breeds acceptance, which in turn creates the idea of wanting and needing something that appears current, contemporary and “cool”.

But what happens when the T-shirt slogans and their humour or simplicity is distorted and dramatically changed to create something socially unacceptable? T-shirts are general attire that the majority of the world wears at one time or another. They are worn in public and are therefore open to the public gaze and consumption. If you walk down the street wearing a Metallica T-shirt and come across a fellow fan, it’s not unusual etiquette to approach that person and generate a conversation or send a nod of approval in their direction. T-shirts have the ability to create reactions and are notorious for being conversation starters amongst strangers, so the general gist of advertising appears to be a positive one.

That is, until you use T-shirt sloganeering as a means to insult people and to encourage trivialisation of controversial issues, using extremely dark humour (otherwise known as scapegoat terminology for advertisers and designers who later realise their mistakes) which can often be misconstrued to be just plain inappropriate, troublesome, offensive and disgusting. In particular, Topman‘s recent T-shirts which have subsequently been taken off shelves, with such slogans as “I’m so sorry, but … You provoked me; I was drunk; I was having a bad day; I hate you; I didn’t mean it; I couldn’t help it” and “Nice new girlfriend – what breed is she?” present an overall casual approach to misogyny and sexual abuse, with specifically sexist overtones. Although Topman have apologised for manufacturing and selling these T-shirts in the first place, claiming they were merely supposed to be “light hearted”, does this excuse the fact they were ever made, or even developed from a simple idea in the boardroom in the first place?

Fortunately for Topman, there are a few other T-shirt slogans which have created even more attention and problems within the realm of sexism and advertising and what companies are trying to promote to a wide audience. T-shirt and apparel have also faced recent condemnation due to their printed slogan “No + Rohypnol = Yes”, unmistakably advocating rape and sexual abuse. This isn’t tom-foolery and cannot be merely excused for being an out-of-hand joke; this is inexcusable and incongruous. The evolution of the clever and witty T-shirt slogans has ultimately derived at a point in our culture and society where simplicity and straightforward humour is no longer enough to capture the minds of the public, and this is where advertisers and designers are seemingly struggling to create something fresh and exciting, and are instead resorting to appealing to a minority market tackling controversial topics in the hope that enough people find the slogan funny whether it is or not.

Sadly, the only thing these T-shirts are useful for are as visible warning signs to the women who come into contact with the men who wear them. Anyone who has bought these T-shirts clearly has an inexcusable outlook of sexism and female oppression, trivialising major issues and thinking it’s acceptable to make fun of them… or they’re just genuine rapists. I’m not a fashion expert, but surely these T-shirts do not promote a good look, and whether we try not to judge people based on their appearance or not, it’s difficult to ignore the blatant and obvious. Yes, t-shirt slogans are supposed to serve a public service, but not one where we’re scared to walk down the street in case we come into contact with someone openly displaying their lack of morality or in apparent cases, presenting their awful taste in humour (if you can call it that). Are T-shirt slogans a thing of the past? Or are they merely delving into the flash-mob phenomenon in our contemporary society?

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