Monday, February 13, 2006

the t-shirt commodity as a site of resistance

'The Black Bart T-shirt is not alone as an expressive use of a commodity to support personal and social identity and convey resistant social messages.'

(Peter Parisi, "'Black Bart' Simpson: Appropriation and Revitalization in Commodity Cuture')

In the early 90s t-shirts with different ethnic and cultural representations of Bart appeared ('illegally' produced) all over the country. According to Parisi, the cultural icon-ness of Bart was subverted and the image Bart as Black or Asian or Rastafarian used as a means of resistance against the larger cultural domination of whiteness. Whiteness is all pervasive and it is 'unmarked' as in while it is the norm (against which all other non-white groups are compared, or are set in relation to...) we don't even see it; we don't recognize how white prime-time television is until we see that there may be alternatives. In the early 90s, more diverse respresentation was badly needed (we might argue it still is; but then again, so much more is also needed on prime time and etc tv programming!) on the television. The Simpsons in its unfearing raising of and commentary on every sort of social issue, race and ethnicity issues included, may have pointed to first its own whiteness (yellow still assumed as the white norm) and second to the lacking other-than-whiteness of the show. And so, whether or not resistance forms in the minds of the industrious persons who happen to print and begin to sell the shirts, it is intuited in the masses who consume and popularize the visual message of the call for greater representation.

And so the commodity (the shirt, and the Bart as icon commodity) is used to express both the personal (intuited or overt) sense of making a social/cultural statement, and the larger social call for recognition of group identity in various forms of media. On the surface, a shirt is just a shirt, but thinking a little further we might notice how a shirt can present a message that is one in contrast to more dominant messages dispersed as cultural norms.

No comments: