'Anything goes' just went

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from the May 03, 2002 edition

'Anything goes' just went

By Jeff Shaffer

PORTLAND, ORE. I wish I had been a fly on the wall when the honchos at Abercrombie & Fitch sat down and decided it would be totally cool to release a line of T-shirts decorated with cartoon images of Asians. I can envision laughs and high spirits as the creative juices flowed. "Hey!" somebody may have yelled, "I've got the perfect gag: A couple of little guys in cone-shaped hats and the slogan 'Wong Brothers Laundry Service: Two Wongs Can Make It White.' It'll be a hoot!"

In fact, the shirts were quickly hooted off the racks and into the recall bins after Asian-Americans failed to see any humor in the new apparel and reacted with angry protests. Abercrombie spokesman Hampton Carney stated, "We're very, very, very sorry. It has never been our intention to offend anyone."

The triple-very apology was impressive. I don't think I've heard anyone say "very, very, very sorry" since the Watergate hearings.

But Mr. Carney made a more telling point by explaining, "The thought was that everyone would love them, especially the Asian community. We thought they were cheeky, irreverent, and funny, and everyone would love them."

This incident is the latest example of a weird dichotomy developing in American culture during the past decade. While our schools spend years telling students to show respect, celebrate diversity, and behave responsibly, the moment kids step off the bus and tune into the real world they are confronted by media personalities and promotional campaigns that send the exact opposite message.

The most blatant example of this "anything goes" approach can be found on the radio dial. In many cities, including mine, high ratings are being garnered by teams of obnoxious morning announcers who pride themselves on being rude, crude, and insensitive. Program directors justify the low-brow antics by saying: (a) it's just entertainment, (b) people who don't like it can switch to another station, or (c) we're simply giving the market what it wants, as evidenced by our huge audience share.

The last excuse is the most troubling. Every student of human nature knows there is a market for almost every product, no matter how disturbing or degrading. If you extend that line of reasoning far enough, past the boundaries of good taste and social responsibility, you soon enter the realm of pandering.

Too many companies these days behave as if the only guideline in business is the bottom line. That attitude sets a terrible example for our children, and leads to the kind of muddled thinking that assumes ethnic stereotypes printed on T-shirts will be loved by the people who are being mocked.

Followers of the "anything goes" mentality may think I'm unhip, stodgy, and possibly even repressive. But I don't want my daughter to wake up one day and find out that our entire society has turned into a giant red light district. That would be a very sorry situation for all of us. No, let me amend that: It would be very, very, very sorry.

-- Cherri (whatever@who.cares), May 05, 2002


I make no brief for Abercrombie and Fitch. Last I knew, they sold over-priced yuppie clothing to over-priced yuppies. But you can't blame the market for people's taste. If people want a Howard Stern, they will get a Howard Stern. The alternatives are a tasteful Totalitarian State or a free citizenry that freely chooses tastefulness. (That will never happen but it's a better alternative).

As far as minority groups wanting self-denigrating products there are ample precedents. Rap groups that jabber "niggah, niggah", "mutha fuckah", "ho" and "bitch" come to mind. These rap groups are much more demeaning to blacks than Amos n Andy and Stepnfetchit ever were.

The difference seems to be that it's ok for a people to insult themselves but not ok for someone else to do it. I would tend to agree but let's not be naive----there are plenty of white folks and plenty of corporations that profit from gangstah rap.

-- (lars@indy.net), May 05, 2002.

The slogan was considered clever and effective when the Wongs wrote it a long, long time ago when life was simpler.

-- Carlos (riffraff1@cybertime.net), May 06, 2002.

Once the idea of putting slogans on t-shirts took hold, it was inevitable that some t-shirts would reflect the very worst aspects of people. The ones who think up the slogan are only the initial offenders. Those who buy it and wear it perform the next disservice. In this case, apparently not enough people bought it and wore it to let the creators of it blend into a crowd of their peers.

-- Little Nipper (canis@minor.net), May 06, 2002.

And just what does insulting Asian-Americans have to do with gangsta rap?

Does the innappropriate propagation (by big music industry) of distastful and (in my personal opinion) self degrading wording of a lot of rap musicians justify insulting a different ethnic group? Just because one minority group is guilty of what can be considered socially offensive behavior, does this mean we should assume every other minority group is guilty by (a very broad) association, ergo because they too are non-white?

-- Cherri (whatever@who.cares), May 07, 2002.

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