This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … the words on your t-shirt.
Perhaps “overrated” isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s more “puzzling” why we need to use our shirts to proclaim to the world what beer we like, what sports apparel company we prefer or how we feel about “fat chix.”
If I weren’t such a lazy bastard, I’d have researched when people first started wearing t-shirts that had something on them. But instead of doing the research, I probably watched a movie or took a nap. So I’m left to speculate. When I see pictures from the 50’s, I don’t see anyone sporting Elvis tour t-shirts or shirts with messages like, “My uncle lost his right leg and both balls on Omaha Beach and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” Maybe shirts with slogans started in the 60s, when the hippies decided that their five-day showerless stinks and perpetual heroin highs didn’t make enough of an anti-establishment statement, so they drew some peace signs and anti-war slogans on their filthy shirts. So I don’t really know when messages on shirts started, but I do know that the practice was in full force by the 70s, because I was a kid at that time and I didn’t own one shirt that didn’t announce to the world that I liked all things related to Pittsburgh sports.
Today, I refuse to wear any shirt with words or pictures. I stopped doing this several years ago when I found myself walking through a grocery store one Saturday morning wearing a Green Day shirt. There I was, a man in my early 40s, somehow needing to make sure that total strangers knew what rock group I liked. It seemed stupid. I haven’t worn a shirt with words on it since.
Why in the hell do people need to declare what they’re all about every time they leave the house? I have no real need to know that you enjoy Corona, or that you visited the Grand Canyon, or that you like the Atlanta Falcons, or that you find Ford superior to Chevy. I’m sure you had a grand time eating dinner at Floyd’s Barbecue Shack in Tennessee, or that you purchased copious amounts of beer at the cleverly named Brew Thru on the Outer Banks, or that Nike is your favorite brand of sneaker. But this is information I’m interested in (just barely) from friends and family only. If you are a stranger, here’s what I want to know about you: Can you drive a car without running me off the road, can you stay out of my goddamn way in a store and are you drunk enough yet to consider coming out to my car to blow me. That’s it. Your visit to Ron Jon’s Surf Shop or Binkie’s Sandwich Emporium, while no doubt one of life’s top memories for you, is info I can live without.
I might be able to understand this if companies were giving out their shirts for free, but that’s seldom the case. People buy these shirts. It’s beyond bizarre that we pay for the privilege of becoming human billboards for companies that are already making jillions of dollars off of our other purchases. It’s not enough that mindless 20-somethings are duped into thinking Yuengling actually tastes good. Now I have to see Joe College wearing the company’s t-shirt. (I’ll probably see this on the news story about these young yahoos waiting in line all night so that they can be some of the first to own whatever is this year’s must-have, overpriced electronic gizmo, which will cost 50 percent less in six months.) It’s not enough that I am assaulted by Coke advertisements on TV, at the theater, at ballgames and even at work. Now I have to see a stretched-to-the-limit Coke insignia on Fat Freda when I’m at the bank. (Note to Freda: You might want to consider a Diet Coke shirt. And maybe a celery and carrot stick hat.)
But they don’t make carrot stick attire, do they? Which brings me to my next point. Why are some company names considered cool for a shirt while others are not? You can wear a shirt with any brand of alcohol, cigarette or soda and it’s acceptable. Wear any sports team’s shirt and no one thinks anything of it. (Unless you’re wearing a Cowboys jersey. Then we all think you’re a fucking tool.) But I’ve yet to see a college kid wearing a shirt proclaiming his allegiance to Sharp televisions. Or Palmolive dishwashing liquid. I’ve yet to see a hot chick with t-shirt indicating her loyalty to Johnsonville Bratwursts. That’s just not cool. But that Nike swoosh that made your t-shirt cost 20 bucks instead of 10? That’s cool.
Just like it’s cool to wear your favorite sports teams’ attire. I was an unpaid human sports billboard most of my life. I had jerseys, t-shirts, sweatshirts and jackets that proclaimed my love of all Pittsburgh sports teams. I wore these well into my 30s. Then I stopped. Not because I kept narrowly avoiding ass-whippings in the Pittsburgh-hating city in which I now live. I just didn’t want to pay millionaire athletes and owners any more money. I’ll be damned if I’ll be one of those middle-aged men who still wear the $200 NHL jerseys to hockey games. Let’s see, I can spend $80 on a ticket, $10 on parking, $30 on beer and food and $149 for the NHL cable package, yet I’m still left feeling like I’m just not supporting the team enough. So let me shell out a couple of C-notes for an authentic game jersey, just on the off chance that a rash of injuries will make the coach scan the crowd and yell, “Hey … Bitters … you got your skates in the car? Well go get ’em and be ready to hit the ice for period three, cause we need ya … good thing you wore that authentic jersey! (Eh.)”
The vacation shirts perplex me, too. Why do people feel it necessary to announce where they have visited? Perhaps it’s just bragging. “This Fiji shirt means that I am a person of considerable means, which gives me the ability to vacation in exotic lands. Unlike you, ditchdigger.” Is it a way of declaring how they like to spend their free time? “This shirt means that I like watching geysers erupt.” Or, strangest of all, is it a way of telling me where your relatives like to vacation? “I have never had the singular pleasure of visiting Minnesota’s famed Mall of America, but my sister and her family have and this is just the shirt to prove it.” As for beach shirts, well, I can already see that you’ve vacationed at a beach by your wrinkled leathery skin and oozing melanoma sores. Save the $14 you’d spend on a shirt and put it toward your chemotherapy co-pay.
We also have those wannabe comedians who aren’t funny enough to take the stage at the Improv, but apparently are funny enough to choose humorous shirts with which to entertain the rest of us. Hey, I’m not such a crank that I don’t enjoy a good laugh from a funny t-shirt, but the psychology behind the wearing of a funny shirt is a bit weird. Your shirt does not really say that you are witty. It says you recognize someone else’s wit and are willing to pay for the privilege of sharing it with the rest of us. It doesn’t make you George Carlin. It just means you’re probably mildly amusing, yet mostly irritating. Like Carlos Mencia. I guess these people get a self-esteem boost by hearing total strangers say, “Did you see that guy’s shirt … that’s hilarious.” Then the wearer can say to himself, “This confirms that other humans agree with my sense of humor. Ahhhh, satisfaction.” I guess. You got any theories on this one?
Perhaps the only shirts that actually irritate me are those with the overt political statements. These are usually sported by unshaved urban hipsters who have put aside their perpetual sense of world-weary irony to show that they actually care about something. Spare me the cotton-based sermon. Just because you are wearing a “Save Darfur” shirt on your way to Starbuck’s on a hungover Saturday morning does not make you a world-aware humanitarian. It means you read the paper. If you were really into saving Darfur, you’d either be busy haranguing your congressman or you’d be in fucking Sudan. Instead you’re whiling away a Sunday afternoon at Barnes and Noble, browsing through investment books. You probably bought the shirt when you were at some all day “Save the World” music festival, which you attended under the guise of caring but really just to nail the type of chick who is impressed by your faded blue declaration of caring about Africans. Here’s even money you couldn’t locate Sudan on a map. And double or nothing you’ve got a “Mean People Suck” shirt that you’ve worn while berating a waitress for forgetting your cappuccino. And I’ll bet all those winnings on you having used a “Stop Global Warming” shirt to dry off your gas guzzling Escalade.
If you’d like to discuss this more with me in person, I’m easy to locate in public. I’m the only one you’ll see with a plain shirt. Feel free to come up and introduce yourself. I’m willing to talk to almost anyone. Well, almost anyone. Shit, where’s my goddamn “No Fat Chix” shirt …
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.