I think I first really felt impending mortality sometime in the 1990s when I was standing in line at a coffeeshop in Lubbock, Texas, and noticed that the girl in front of me was wearing a T-shirt advertising a Texas Tech sorority party, the theme of which was “1980s prom.” I had been to a 1980s prom, it didn’t seem like it was all that long ago at that time, and it was something of a shock to have something so familiar repackaged as an ironic retro theme. Time was slipping away.
So I definitely felt compelled to check my IRA when I saw the everything-old-is-new-again “Eddie Bauer X Sub Pop” flannel shirt collection. If you had told me in 1989 that Sub Pop would someday be a corporate-synergy branding opportunity for Eddie Bauer (or that Kurt Cobain would be famous), I’d have thought you were high. But here we are.
Amazing thing, capitalism: It can absorb anything.
In the early 1990s, there was a brief vogue for Jesus T-shirts, while Jesus was not very much in style. In recent years, mall stores catering to teen-agers have done brisk business selling retro T-shirts advertising 1980s metal bands such as Iron Maiden to kids who have never heard “Two Minutes to Midnight.”
Black Lives Matter gear already is a big business, and — who knows? — in 20 years we might see “Eddie Bauer X Black Lives Matter” Christmas sweaters.
A few years ago, a great lamentation arose from the nation’s young, hipster consumers when they learned that the guy who owns Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie was a big Rick Santorum backer. I’d bet good money that a fair share of those “Smash Capitalism!” T-shirts are being sold by Republicans. Business is business.
Want to buy an Ayn Rand bumper sticker? No? Then how about a Che T-shirt? Buy one, get one for half off!
Lenin wasn’t exactly right when he opined that capitalists would sell him the rope with which he’d hang them, but he wasn’t exactly wrong, either.