The Mix

Those crazy capitalists…

Partisanship wars via t-shirt
During my yearly consumer binge—oh sorry, I mean Christmas shopping—I’ve been thinking about how I can annoy my conservative relatives and please my liberal ones. (Hey, I’m just following the whole naughty versus nice dichotomy set up by the fictional man we all lie to children about.) This endeavor has enticed me into the world of political t-shirts, where a whole war of words has me wondering—what can you tell about a group’s politics from its funny tees? Personally, I think you can tell a lot.
Let’s take a few standard examples of political t-shirts being advertised as great holiday gifts. Here’s a sampling from ThoseShirts.com, a conservative company, that actually made me chuckle:
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms should be a convenience store, not a government agency.
Hippies Smell
I just neutered the cat. Now he’s a liberal.
Obviously, they’re completely juvenile attempts at provoking liberal-types into argument, or at least annoyance. Whoever wrote the slogans is a big word bully in the same vein as Rush Limbaugh or Anne Coulter.

But us lefties have some come-backs of our own to silently word-bully the Right, if we choose to. They are just slightly harder to find among the more earnest ads for things like fair trade coffee and sweatshop-free goods that usually appear in left-wing websites. Here’s a sampling of my favorites from Northern Sun and Cafepress:
Join the Army: travel to exotic distant lands, meet exciting, unusual people, and kill them.
Eat Tainted Meat/ Breathe Poison Air/ Drink Nasty Water/ Help Only Yourself/ VOTE REPUBLICAN
I hated dubya before it was cool.
The Rapture is not an exit strategy.
My biased opinion is that the brand of humor that appeals to the Left is more often sarcastic and instructive, while Right-wing humor is about bullying, prodding, and heckling. While the liberal-hater tees simply call lefties smelly and try to emasculate them as a group -- oh no! They think we’re girlie!-- the conservative-hater shirts are more likely to address real issues.

Perhaps liberals have a darker sense of humor overall. Or maybe, as a group, we tend to be a more serious bunch. Certainly the makers of some of these t-shirts have taken life seriously; Northern Sun, a t-shirt and bumper sticker company in Minneapolis, was founded by anti-nuke activists around the time of the Chernobyl leak.

But truly, do Red and Blue laugh differently? Are we so deep in culture wars that even the way we conceive of humor is different? Or am I imagining things?

Well, either way, I intend to submit some t-shirt slogans to Northern Sun so perhaps by the next holiday season, I will have some custom-made Republican-heckling shirts for my liberal-heckling grandfather.
Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.
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