T-shirt philosophy stinksWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s popular to think of Walmart as the place to study the lowest common denominator of American behavior and culture; there are entire websites devoted to tracking and mocking people who walk the aisles while unwittingly displaying way too much skin, abusing their children or shoplifting. But I have found many sociological oddities at area Meijer stores, particularly with T-shirt culture.
T-shirts, like bumper stickers, are a low-rent way to share your outlook with the world. There’s not much room for complexity or nuance. T-shirts and bumper stickers were Twitter long before some people began using Twitter like a 6-year-old uses a squirt gun to get his mom’s attention.
It’s fun reading the “I’d never buy or wear those” T-shirts at places like the shops at Put-in-Bay. Many feature off-color or obscene phrases about boobs and beer, but those are for alcohol-soaked people in their 20s who probably don’t give their prospective one-night stands their real names. My T-shirt experiences at Meijer are among everyday people going about their everyday lives.
It was at an Adrian Meijer a few years ago where I saw a man strutting around in the dairy aisle with his two preteen sons. Both of the boys were wearing black T-shirts with the Hooters logo on them; the Father of the Year was rocking a camouflage T-shirt with the phrase “MILF Hunter” proudly emblazoned in a sight scope target across his chest. While recognizing Mr. Sensitive’s right to free speech and his freedom to raise his children as he sees best, what a terrible message he is giving his boys by dressing them and himself in T-shirts that stress the objectification of women.It was in a Monroe County Meijer where I met a man who leaned conspiratorially close to my shopping cart and said, “No offense, but you know those guys were queer, right?”
“Pardon?” I asked.
“Queen, was queer,” he said with a lowered voice, and I realized he was referring to the black T-shirt my then 4-year-old son was wearing, which featured the band’s name in silver. “You know, I thought you should know if your boy is gonna wear that shirt,” he said. “You want him and his brother to grow up to be men, right?”
The man, wearing jeans, a navy blue T-shirt with the “arrow” logo for The Who and a sunburn that was either permanent or extremely recent, playfully traded mock shoulder punches with his son, a thin but tough-looking boy in his early teens.
“I’m not sure what else they would grow up to be,” I said.
The sunburned man and his son made their way through the line as we did, and as we headed for the door, he made a half-salute and said, “Hey, dude, no offense. God bless.”
I stepped closer to him and, with a wide smile, said, “You know, Pete Townshend and Freddie Mercury had more in common than a love for rock opera and power chords.”
I did not look back to see his reaction.
Recently, at the Meijer on Central Avenue (I know, I visit a lot of Meijer stores. I could be a secret shopper.) I saw a portly fellow with wild wiry hair walking between aisles with a faded yellow T-shirt with huge letters reading “I (heart) to fart.”
It’s amusing that someone somewhere thought they could make money by producing such a T-shirt; it makes me grimace to know there actually is a market for such a product. I suppose the people who see the man walking toward them should be grateful for the warning, and it’s snotty of me to judge the man for his choice of clothing, but is “I (heart) to fart” really the statement you want to make to society? I am not quarreling with the sentiment, but of all the messages and all the thoughts and all the beliefs you could share with us, you opened your T-shirt drawer this morning and chose “I (heart) to fart?” That’s what sums up your notion of a first impression? Even “Sh*t happens” illustrates a certain Zen approach to life, but what are you adding to the conversation of life when you wear an “I (heart) to fart” T-shirt?
It was interesting to me how many people, all of them men, would smile, nod or fist-bump the man as they passed him, as if they were congratulating him for his sartorial bravery. I envisioned a number of them running to their home computers to place their orders for the shirts.
What you wear on the boardwalk with other drunk adults is one thing; what you wear to grocery stores where families and kids are is another. If you live with a mental and spiritual mindset that allows you to be at peace while walking around in T-shirts with impolite and uncivil messages on them, nothing I can say will change your mind or change your heart.
But, hey, “I (heart) to fart” guy, you might want to consider changing your pants.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at mmiller@toledo freepress.com.