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A Tale Of Two T-Shirts

First, Harvard Rips Store's 'Old Voter' T-Shirt:

WASHINGTON - A Harvard political institute criticized the hip retailer Urban Outfitters on Monday for a new T-shirt campaign declaring that "Voting is for Old People."

The institute chided the Philadelphia-based clothing chain for appearing to wear its apathy on its chest, calling the T-shirt slogan "the wrong statement at the wrong time" in the pivotal presidential election year.

"The shirt's message could not be further from the truth," wrote Harvard Institute of Politics director Dan Glickman, the former congressman and Clinton administration agriculture secretary, and student chairman Ilan Graff in a letter to Urban Outfitters CEO Richard A. Hayne.

"We would be eager to work with you to suggest alternative products that send the right message to America's young people, and better reflect the considerable social conscience and political participation of today's youth," the letter said. "You might consider 'Voting Rocks!'"

Um, yeah. They might want to consider that Urban Outfitters wishes to remain a hip retailer.

Second, Anti-Boy T-Shirts Get Boost from Boycott:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The maker of T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like "Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them" says business is booming despite -- or maybe because of -- protests that led some major U.S. retailers to stop selling them.

The shirts have been around for three years, but were recently thrust into the national spotlight by pundits debating whether feminism impugns the rights of males and whether a T-shirt could be an instrument of oppression.

How about nice T-shirts that say "Boys Rock!"?

What I find interesting is the differing tone of these articles. The protesters' concerns are taken seriously in the first one, derided in the second one. Theobligatory quote from the manufacturer is contrite in the first one, dismissive in the second one. Even the choice of protestors seems an attempt at bias - Harvard students and government officials in the first, talk-radio hosts in the second. And of course, compare the articles' titles.

Frankly, I don't have a problem with either shirt. I find it hard to believe that the shirts really discourage people from voting and encourage people to throw rocks at boys. And the shirts certainly aren't "instruments of oppression". But they can be a useful object lesson in double standards, as the first boy to wear a "Girls are dumb, throw bricks at them" shirt will soon find out.


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Comments (2)


I don't see why the IOP had any reason to worry, when some stupid t-shirt has to compete with a "Rock the vote" thong.

In all seriousness, though, voting in a country this big is an exercise in vanity. One vote really won't make a difference (it's extremely rare that one vote will change the outcome), and it's more a matter of positive externality. You can't convince a perfectly rational person to vote (it's not worth the time), so your only hope is to try to give voting dividends in the vanity department, to make it look fun and cool. So I wouldn't underestimate the potential of Urban Outfitters to lower voting registration. And (reluctantly) I have to say that the IOP is right to worry about the t-shirt, although their intervention may well backfire.


One thing these Harvard dingbats fail to understand is that choosing not to vote is a perfectly legitimate exercise of one's voting rights. Until ballots come with a spot to mark labelled "none of the above", the only way to cast a vote of "no confidence" is to abstain entirely.


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