This Shirt’s Not Offensive – Ignorance Is

By Jason Menard

The image of a bloodied hammer, accompanied by the caption “She was asking for it.” I know it won’t be part of my winter wardrobe, but that doesn’t mean I think people shouldn’t be allowed to wear it.

The shirt in question, which is also available in a version wherein a pair of bloodied scissors are displayed with the phrase “He had it coming,” has caused a bit of an uproar. Concerns over the shirts’ legality have worked their way all the way up to Premier Dalton McGuinty. The Attorney General is currently looking into its legality.

My question is, why? Protestors say that these shirts advocate violence, the manufacturer counters that these shirts are designed to mock that mentality and, in fact, are centred around poking fun at these taboo topics. Interesting sense of humour, that.

However, it’s not up to our elected officials to legislate our thoughts and beliefs. It’s up to us as a society. Our hypersensitivity to minor affronts is well documented, and when these larger-scale displays of ignorance are made, we work ourselves into apoplexy. What’s next, rounding up all the shirts we don’t approve of and having a mass poly-cot burning in the park?

Violence against women is deplorable. Violence against anyone is an abhorrent concept that should be eradicated from our society, but protesting against T-shirts is not the way to do it. In fact, we should welcome these shirts – and look at them for the opportunity they provide, and opportunity to take back our society and have an open dialogue.

The people who choose to wear shirts cut from this sort of cloth, so to say, are ignorant. If they’re pro-irony, then they have to be made aware that there is far too much ambiguity in the message to find the humour or cutting social satire that they’re trying to present. If they’re pro-violence, then it’s an even better opportunity to educate.

Racism, homophobia, sexism, violence – all these forms of hate fester in ignorance. By engaging people who hold these beliefs in a dialogue you have a chance of educating them, showing them new ideas and the faults of their beliefs. By ignoring the problem – or worse yet, prohibiting its display – all we do as a society is send these people underground. Instead of airing these beliefs to the scrutiny of discourse, we’re enabling them to grow and flourish in an environment of ignorance. Banning T-shirts and literature does nothing more than cause the problem to get worse.

Kids – and let’s face it, youth are going to be the main wearers of this type of shirt – are impressionable. It’s their nature to shock, to rebel, and to test their limits. It’s also their nature to find a place, to learn right from wrong, and to try to fit in. They’re desperately looking for a cause to believe in, or an image to present. I remember in my teens that my beliefs were absolute – the problem was my frame of reference was far too narrow. As I’ve aged and been exposed to more and more of this diverse world of ours, I’ve learned that some of the ideals I held dear as a teen don’t stand the scrutiny of time. Now in my 30s, I’m no less passionate about my ideals, but I’m more aware of consequences, mitigating factors, and different perspectives.

Essentially, black and white don’t cut it anymore, we live with shades of grey.

Knowledge truly is power. Those people who are working so hard to have these shirts banned should channel their energies into educating those who choose to buy them. It is our responsibility as a society to call people on their beliefs, to hold them up to scrutiny, and challenge their ideals. If you see someone wearing a shirt you find offensive, ask them about it. Present your point of view and you’ll probably be supported from those around you. Trust me, most kids want to shock, but are deathly afraid of confrontation – as soon as they’re called on it, that shirt won’t find its way out of the closet again.

And for those of you willing to shell out your hard-earned cash for this “ironic” statement, why not put your money to better use? If you’re truly against violence, take that $25 and donate it to a women’s shelter or another charitable organization. That way your ideals and words will be far less empty.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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