Two Tshirt Terrorist Tshirt Designs Under Fire
Late November we were contacted by a reporter from the Sunday Times who had seen our Kalifornia design in an artist’s portfolio (happily, the artist who completed the artwork, not some random artist). Said reporter was doing an article on the use of Hindu deities in T-shirt design or, as is more likely the case, saw our design and decided that it would make a great story.
We went through the palaver of having to answer questions about our irreverence, etc. This came as a surprise as we were simply interested in the satirical possibilities of using the goddess of death and destruction to comment on the downfall of American society, and the moral and ethical inconsistencies bound in their wholesale distribution of the twin evils of Capitalism and Globalisation… if Globalisation can be said to be sold, which for the purposes of this blog, it can. We never intended irreverence, but in retrospect we now realise our art can be pretty much in your face. Or it would be if we had the manic energy of successful marketers, not the haphazard energy of stoner creatives.
Along the way the South African Hindu Maha Sabha (yah, we know… we’ll refer to them as the SAHMS from now on) was set up by the media as our Official Opponents and they were Upset. We were threatened to have our Freedom of Expression drawn and quartered before the Human Rights Commission. We were indirectly threatened, through media channels, this time the Weekend Star, with a ‘severe challenge’, which was mentioned in the same sentence as the word ‘militancy’, so we hunkered down and prepared for the worst.
At no time, however, did we state that we would be pressured by the public to remove the design. What the SAHMS, later a DA councillor, and other godsfearing Hindus did not understand is that while we refuse to allow the direction of our art to be challenged by the occasional public outcry, we are bound, as commercial Tshirt dudes, to a more immediate and, one might argue powerful and present player in the Realms of Man (and Woman): Market Forces.
The Kalifornia design has never been popular. We don’t know why. Perhaps the characterisation looks too much like a psycho-smurf on acid to appeal to your average 16 – 34 year old. And yes, this is exactly the kind of thing that should appeal, but we don’t know… go figure – it has simply never sold well. Which is why, when we launched the design back in July 2010 it was removed after just 3 months. Secondly, we just don’t have the blank stock to print this 6 colour A3 monster. Our steel blank T supplier has baled on us (pardon) and we had limited reserves that were set aside for more popular designs. You can imagine then how irksome it was to have this whole debacle hit the papers, forcing us to re-issue the design and watch it practically market itself around the country (are you getting the irony here?).
Finally, we just couldn’t take the suspense of waiting for a design we could hardly print to sell to some freak out there with a thing for psycho-smurfs, thereby seriously derailing our not inconsiderable campaign to make money this Christmas, so we decided to take it down, again. This time to the fanfare of a thousand read-all-about-its, or none. It matters not to us. If the people who are offended by our art wish to market the art they are offended by, then this simply confirms that we are on the right path – there is some seriously fucked up shit going on out there, and we do need to comment on it, even if it means subverting and irreverenting the sacred symbols of some or other culture to do so.
Here she is. One more time (like the song) – Kalifornia. Sacred (notsomuch) love-child of the goddess Kali and Elvis Presley. Take it away…
The next case in point is a bit more tricky. Round about the same time we were fighting off the Hindus and their gods with our magical funsticks, a somewhat more serious adversary was lurking in the shadows… Anheuser-Busch InBev, owner of the Stella Artois label, which has become saddled with the unfortunate moniker of ‘Wife Beater’ in the UK.
There are various theories about how this came about, and for the owner of a mostly prestigious beer, it must make you want to catch spiders for sure! The general consensus is the problem started when Stella opened local (UK) brewing distilleries in Wales, and their price per pint fell through the floor. Now everyone could afford Stella on tap, and at 5.5% it was stronger than most other beers… a few too many, now that this was a distinct possibility, and you would probably go home and beat the wife a bit, before falling asleep in front of the telly. The same thing happened with Burberry, did’n’t? Once the hooligans get hold of your brand then it’s pretty much tickets, and we don’t mean season tickets neither.
(That being said, we’re not hooligans, we’re terrorists, but we oh so did get hold of their brand… and now it may be tickets for us…) Here’s the clincher…
I am writing on behalf of Anheuser-Busch InBev, owner of the well-known trade mark STELLA ARTOIS. It has come to their attention that you have a T-shirt on sale with a print that is identical with Anheuser-Busch InBev protected logo however with the text “Wife beater” rather than “STELLA ARTOIS”. My client regards this as an infringement in their trade mark rights and look seriously upon these types of violations.
Anheuser-Busch InBev has not given you authorisation to use their brand on any of your products. After reviewing the above site we feel that this is an abuse of the STELLA ARTOIS brand and the content is not in keeping with the STELLA ARTOIS image. Therefore we kindly request that you remove this T-shirt from the site and stop selling this product.
Please get back to us with a confirmation on the above.
As you can see, if you’ve got this far with us, we’re in a spot of bother. Of course there was that case with that one Tshirt company and that local brewery and that Tshirt company came up trumps, eventually, but their message was socially relevant in ways that our is not. Perhaps. Wifebeating is something that we should talk about. I don’t mean like in meetings, etc, but as in Public Debate. So, OK, we have an argument for satirical relevance, sure, but the other Tshirt company didn’t carry a slur in the design that the label can’t seem to throw, so we’re keeping our options open while we seek the necessary legal advice.
To end then, we have decided to take both Tshirts offline for a while. Kalifornia until we find more steel Ts, and if we feel pyscho-smurfs are making a comeback… and Stella, my darling? Well… we’ll bring you back if we feel we can and we’ll plumb you for all you’re worth, while drinking Heineken no doubt.
Tshirt Terrorist Head