Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What the Cluck?

I've wanted to get a good review on shirt.woot since I started this blog a couple weeks ago. It was the site that first got me addicted and the site that started introducing me to the larger shirt world. More recently, it was my frustration with the site's persistent ignoring of quality work that made me start digging deeper elsewhere. Still, it felt disingenuous to go so long without talking about them. It was just a matter of finding the right shirt. Tonight, I got a two-for-one deal... a shirt that showed both what I loved and hated about the site, all at once.

Enter Chief Many Feathers, a lovely design by Alvarejo. The colors are bright and vibrant and look way more numerous than they are. The illustration is artful as all get-out... the chicken is unmistakable, and the headdress comes to life like you'd imagine a true tribal headdress to come to life. The chicken is almost stoic, as a leader should be, making it a bizarrely powerful image. More apparently, there's a comic side... a feathered animal wearing a feathered headdress. Perhaps a headdress of its own feathers. A subtle joke, but a joke nonetheless. Woot shines at a good joke, and while many woot designs feel like total bottom-of-the-barrel scraps from otherwise amazing designers, many others are totally solid submissions, saved from the depths of other contests that just didn't want them. For this one, woot should be considered a Samaritan. Right?

Nope, apparently this design is the most racist thing woot has seen since Adolf Hitler wore a Klan robe to the 1941 Judaism in Africa convention. Not that anyone at Threadless minded (see archived page here), but wooters chalked that up to a lack of education. Pretty funny for a brand that made a name as a college brand. And that is where Woot falls short: their community. A community that claims cats on a boat mock WWII. A community that can find Nazi symbolism in Native American style art. A community where people are insisting this is a turkey. It's sad to think customers can drag the product quality down, but here it's true. In many ways, shirt.woot has more potential than any other site around. It's got an incredibly fast-pased contest, an incredibly diverse offering 4 days a week, an incredibly reasonably priced product... but an incredibly flawed vote system, an incredibly narrow-minded consumer base, and an incredibly lax stance on improving itself. It's especially clear in cases like this, where people can't see the chicken for the feathers. Part of me wishes someone would explain WHY this is offensive. But most of me prefers to just enjoy it as the artist intended it.

As with all woot designs, this'un will probably be very limited edition, so grab it now, or later this week or next week at $15, because I don't foresee it lasting to October.


Hollee said...

pretty sure the offense comes from comparing native americans to chickens, like calling them chicken for leaving their land when whitey came to town. it's a beautiful design, just improper and potentially racist context. i wouldn't wear that shirt on an indian reservation.

Adder said...

I think the issue, for me, is that it's really not saying anything of the sort. It's no different to me than a cow wearing a leather coat. And it still screams proud stoic rooster to me. I see a chicken, or rooster, wearing a feather garment. There's no such comparison made.

I can't help but feel that if there is an easily viable, non-racist explanation, perhaps that's the real meaning. Creating an uproar over it, as was done, implies there can be no other way to take this but the racist way, and that just makes the person claiming so seem petty and thin-skinned. It's like Occam's Razor for racism... at face value, it is a feathered creature wearing feathers. If one needs to read that deeply into something that can be innocently explained away, one is trying to create controversy out of nothing.

Anyway, it came out brilliantly, so any manufactured racial outrages are pretty meaningless to me since I got an awesome shirt out of the deal.

purple said...

Are you familiar with the sociology term dehumanization?


This is a pretty classic example of it. The majority culture degrades an undesirable, 'different' minority by likening them to something less than human- usually some kind of animal that is 'ok' to mistreat or eradicate. It's really insulting. This is a very well known negative Native stereotype.