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I Am Beyond Help, Anti-Everybody, Bored, and Boldly Going Nowhere. * Or Maybe Not.

February 20, 2010

I stand for freedom of expression, doing what you believe in, and going after your dreams.
• Madonna

When you’re pulling on clothes and getting ready to run to class, it probably doesn’t seem like you’re taking a philosophical stance if you pick a message t-shirt. Sometimes what we choose to wear represents not our deepest sentiments or our beliefs about life, but instead simply amuses us. Still, such choices may also say more than we intend. This can be important if you wear your clever message to class.

All the retard jokes or Special Olympics hah-hahs printed on t-shirts, for example, may be funny to the wearer and her or his friends, and not at all funny to others. Obama’s verbal gaffe and other recent comments and controversy attest to this. Ditto other denigrations of any group, intended or unintended, whether it’s “Hippies Stink” or “ All Men Are Idiots and I Married Their King” or “Fat People Are Hard to Kidnap” or “Read to the Deaf.” An ironic statement may be intended to be just that, yet can be unintentionally offensive.

Am I in favor of suppressing free speech? Nope. But I am in favor of thinking before donning, and utilizing a bit of commonsensical self-censorship that considers the audience for your apparel. When the audience is your classmates and your teachers, your choices can also have unintended consequences. “I’m Here to Kill All of You” might have been funny once upon a time, but just isn’t any more.

The student who wore a pro-heterosexual rights t-shirt to my class, knowing that my son is gay, made a political statement that was very personal to me. I am a teacher and I’ve had lots of experience with conflicting beliefs in the classroom, including a high school student who told me that he didn’t need to listen to me because women should be at home taking care of the house. I am prepared for such things and I can cope. This may not be true of others whom you may never get to know because they’re put off by what you choose to wear. Perhaps you don’t care. Fair enough. I’m just sayin’. . . . .

The t-shirts that influence me negatively are those worn by so-so students whose clothing seems reflective of their general attitude in the classroom: “Hard Work Will Pay Off Later. Laziness Pays Off Now!” and “352 Days Since I Last Gave a Shit” and “Does Not Play Well With Others” and “Work Is Too Much Work” and “I’ll Study When They Start Paying for It” and “College: A Vacation from Real Life.” I’m unlikely to recommend anyone who makes these choices—work and clothing—for anything. Would I feel the same way if these students did outstanding work? Maybe not. Then the irony would be apparent and the messages wouldn’t seem reflective of a lifestyle choice.

Do you wear message clothing? What does it say about you?

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
• Native American saying

* Commercial t-shirt messages.

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