Monday, 2 September 2013

Things I Worry About: Fashion and Corporate Identity

Or why I might just have to give up on nerd pop culture T-shirts.

These are two of my favourite T-shirts. They are both shirts I have bought twice, replacing the original when it disintegrated from use. And one of them, I fear might have been ruined for me.

For the last decade I have pretty much lived in geeky t-shirts. I have t-shirts with references to Star Wars and Star Trek and Firefly and Soylent Green. I have shirts with the Bat-symbol, Superman's crest, and the costume of 1920s Iron Fist Orson Randall. Some of my shirts have chemical structure diagrams of common and elaborate molecules while others are amusing joke-shirts made by webcartoonists like the creators of A Softer World and Doctor McNinja and Dresden Codak. Some are just ridiculous and obtuse and I don't really understand where they come from. Basically, what I'm trying to say, is that I have a lot of nerdy Tee's that show a rainbow of my favourite things.

And I have been at this so long that these geeky T-shirts have become part of my identity, as much as the sideburns I have stubbornly kept clinging to my face since before I could really grow sideburns. People know it's my thing. Hell, my supervisor brings this up when he introduces me to lab visitors where I work. "Here's Mike, he's the lab's heart guy, and he wears a lot of geeky shirts... check that one out." Actually.

 The thing is, I think I might be falling out of love with them.

Some of it is that I seem to be in the midst of a sartorial awakening where the basics of men's fashion is starting to interest me. Stylish button downs and smart sweaters and blazers just look sharp. Or maybe it is just part of me growing up; part of this weird late-twenties crisis of oldifying I'm going through where I suddenly find economics fascinating, and televised golf tournaments relaxing, and slowly sipping a good single malt a million times more rewarding than getting shitfaced at a club. Or maybe I'm just getting bored with wearing the same 30 or so t-shirts in rotation 7 days a week. I don't know.

But a part of it is that I realized that I don't own the references on these shirts and that I am visually defining myself by the property of corporations.

I really like this T-shirt. I'm a sucker for navy blue garments and love the simple, centralized graphic design of the KHAAAAAAN!!. The reference on this shirt is awesome, because Wrath of Khan is a goddamn masterpiece, Old Bill Shatner is a Canadian treasure, and because shouting peoples names in rage is inherently dramatic and hilarious. I even love how the shirt manages to be Star Trek reference shirt without being obvious. I mean, I'm not hiding it, but historically it has been this litmus test that separated out the Trekkers, those people who would see the shirt and then SEE the shirt and then smile and nod a little. It was like being in a private nerd club. This has probably been my favourite shirt for years.

The trouble is that KHAAAAAAN!! isn't just a reference to Wrath of Khan anymore. With the advent of the fanfictiony shitstorm of Star Trek: Into Darkness, a movie that was at once very pretty, well acted, and absolutely infuriating, the very nature of this T-shirt has changed. Now not only is it a reference to a buried alive Captain Kirk cursing his ruthless nemesis, but also nuSpock in a scene-that-is-so-clever-oh-my-god-it's-reversed-JJ-Abrams-you-are-too-smart-by-half shouting Khan because Into Darkness is so much shmaltzy-fan fiction and JJ Abrams is a fucking hack. And not only is this shirt now a reference to something that frustrates the crap out of me, but this Into Darkness reference is much more current and much more recognizable. To the general public the KHAAAAAAN!! shirt might as well be an Into Darkness tee. And this bothers me.

What it also does is hammer home the fact that we don't own the references we garb ourselves in. Star Wars belongs to Disney, Marvel comics belongs to Disney and DC comics to Time Warner. Firefly belongs to Fox and Doctor Who to the BBC. Videogames all belong to their publishers. As much as we like and even define ourselves by these properties, they are ultimately commodities that belong to huge, lumbering corporations driven by the single imperative to make money. These beloved references are going to get leveraged again and again and again and changed in ways that run contrary to why we love them and there isn't a thing we can do to stop them. And the question is, do I really want to define myself visually with something I don't really own? Do I really want to be a free walking billboard advertisement for some corporation in this emerging attention economy?

I don't know. But I worry about it.

Just like I worry that whoever owns Soylent Green is about to release a remake starring Taylor Kitsch and ruin this Tshirt too.

"Soylent Green is people," he sternly murmurs, "it's people."

Previous Things I Worry About:
Sharing Media
Problematic Themes
Problematic Creators

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