Buy this product here: Ballet Because Murder Is Wrong Shirt, hoodie, tank top
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Ballet Because Murder Is Wrong Shirt, hoodie, tank top
Like many countercultural symbols, the T-shirt was eventually co-opted by corporate America. People had shown themselves eager to associate with a movement or cause by stamping its slogans across their chest. As the Vietnam War gave way to the excesses of the ’80s, clothing companies made themselves the cause. An Esprit T-shirt evoked a gamine femininity. A Ralph Lauren polo, with its little embroidered pony, was a not-so-discreet marker of preppy wealth. Adidas gear indicated that you were clued into the nascent cultural power of hip-hop (or maybe that you just liked soccer).
[From the March 2021 issue: Rachel Monroe on the rise of ultra-fast fashion]
More recently, as the country has experienced political and cultural upheaval on a scale unseen since the ’60s, brands have tailored their messages to the moment. Nike, a pioneer in marketing social responsibility, very publicly supported Colin Kaepernick’s campaign against police brutality, allowing those who care about the issue to feel, on some level, that their new Air Force 1s are a small rebuke to state violence. Other brands have struck similar poses, aligning themselves—and by extension, their logo-bedecked products—with the fights against racism, sexism, homophobia, or, in many cases, the public-relations-friendly catchall “inequality.” The Glossier Girl in her pink hoodie isn’t merely attractive enough to look great in the brand’s nearly invisible makeup—she also cares about gay rights. The Peloton Bro in his moisture-wicking tank isn’t just interested in his body-fat percentage—he also takes an interest in ending racism.
Conditioned by these and other companies to see our merch as an expression of our values, we have naturally come to the aid of bartenders and line cooks by shelling out for T-shirts. Indeed, merch has a big advantage over a mere donation: It confers cachet on those who wear it, not just for being charitable, but also for knowing the right things to support. Altruism, but make it fashion.
Even before the pandemic began, Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes had thought a lot about merch. Together, they host the podcast You’re Wrong About, which is part true crime, part history, and part media criticism. The show doesn’t run ads and has no paywall—you can listen for free. To make it, the hosts rely on listeners loving You’re Wrong About so much that they voluntarily kick in a few bucks a month via Patreon—or buy a T-shirt or tote bag.
At first, Marshall and Hobbes were hesitant to sell things to their listeners;