We live in very strange times. These days, it is so easy to offend people without saying or doing much of anything. Even the great American T-shirt, long seen as a bastion of free speech, is in the crosshairs. Portray the wrong image or print the wrong message and an avalanche of criticism will follow. That is the way it goes.
Orderly societies are governed by rules. They have to be. Within the framework of a given set of rules are behaviors that cause offense. Again, that is the way orderly societies work. What makes the modern culture so challenging are the inconsistencies in how offensive messages and ideas are addressed.
An Offensive T-Shirt in Alabama
WTVY in Dothan, Alabama recently reported on a nationally known apparel brand – American Retro Apparel – that made the mistake of producing a T-shirt local residents found offensive. But the offense was not limited just to Dothanites. People from all over the country took offense with the design when it was posted on Facebook.
To the dismay of many, the company chose to depict the city of Dothan with a retro picture that included slaves picking cotton. After plenty of public outcry and media attention, the Facebook post was deleted. The mayor of Dothan went as far as to demand that American Retro redesign the shirt.
It is understandable that so many people were offended by the original design. It is also understandable that other people are not bothered by it. This post takes no position either way. The point is this: American Retro was depicting part of Alabama’s history. Should they have done so? Perhaps not. But ultimately, it should be up to the customers who purchase their products to decide whether they want such a message on their T-shirts.
Other Messages Offend, Too
Messages depicting some of the darker aspects of U.S. history are offensive to a lot of people. Fair enough. Yet other messages are offensive, too. Images of scantily clad men and women are offensive to people with more conservative morals. Yet the culture does not demand that these messages be censored. Why?
Is it that some messages are more offensive than others? Or is it a matter of ignoring the sensitivities of certain groups of people because they don’t fit in with the mainstream? In a just society, all offensive messages would be treated equally. But they are not, nor will they ever be.
Live and Let Live
There are some who believe that modern culture is far too sensitive. They believe that people should learn to live and let live. Ironically, the very people who work so hard to censor offensive messages are often the same people who cause offense to others. They want to obliterate what offends them but still have the liberty to offend anyone who disagrees with them.
Learning to live and let live would certainly avoid the issue altogether. American Retro would be free to produce and sell whatever T-shirts their customers wanted. Likewise, Umai Clothing could produce all the anime apparel and accessories their customers demand. Both companies would be free to do business as they see fit.
Offending people has always been easy. That is just the way humanity is. But in recent years, the culture has turned into one in which offensiveness is no longer allowed. Anything that offends must be swept away in short order. That may be appropriate if you’re not a big fan of American Retro. But what if the chronically offended decide to go after Umai, too? It is not beyond the realm of possibility.