Shepard Fairey told us what he thought about Walmart ripping off his Nazi tshirt design:
- “I would say that the Walmart designer(or their supplier’s designer) was referencing the Obey graphic because the distressing and accompanying type are almost identical.”
The funny thing is that when I made that graphic I was referencing a biker logo and it was only brought up to me later that it was the SS skull.
- “I’m anti-fascist and pro-peace, but a lot of people probably just thought I was being antagonistic in the same vein as Vivienne Westwood appropriating the swastika for the Sex Pistol’s clothes. People just dig skulls as rebellious iconography. I’m not proud of making a Nazi skull graphic, but it was not intended maliciously or to be offensive. I think people are much too sensitive about loaded symbols and not sensitive enough to being manipulated by sinister things cloaked in an all-American veneer.
Skulls, biker or Nazi, in Walmart show it is time for progressive designers to move on.”
For an artist who traffics so heavily in appropriating fascist symbolism and iconography, Shep Fairey might be well served by picking up a few history books.
As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — BEN POPKEN
Recent updates to this story.
• Shep Fairey talks about “the politics of aesthetics.”
• From Shep Fairey’s OBEY manifesto: “The OBEY sticker…. has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker.”
• A reader reports eBay pulled his Walmart Totenkopf shirt auctionfor being “Hateful or Discriminatory,” no word on the thousands of other auctions of Nazi memorabilia.
• Day 6, shirt still on sale at Walmart.
• A conversation we had with graphic designer Daniel Edelman.
karlhungus: I can tell you want happened with those walmart t-shirts
karlhungus: speaking from experience
karlhungus: working on stuff like that
karlhungus: not nazi stuff
karlhungus: but the (former) popularity of the skull and crossbones type stuff
fakeout: alrighty, spill the beans
karlhungus: did I show you the look book and packages I did for that ralph lauren ivy cologne?
fakeout: i remember there were some skullies in there
karlhungus: well what has to be understood is that alot of the imagery used by skull and bones and the underground secret society aesthetic comes from nazi imagery
karlhungus: because the real skull and bones has long time connections to the 3rd reich
karlhungus: and alot of iconography was translated, carried over
karlhungus: now smart people that we were
karlhungus: stopped from continuing with alot of really nice stuff because when you put it up on the wall on its own it looked like we were calling for racial purity
karlhungus: I could show you hundreds of designs that had that problem
karlhungus: where you are sitting at your computer, grabbing crap off the internet, making something cool and not really thinking about it
karlhungus: but like I said, we had the sense to stop and say “wait a second, hiel hitler”
karlhungus: but it would seem that their “design team” didn’t have the piece of mind to think in the same way
karlhungus: I think that its an amazing logo on its own, all things considered
karlhungus: and its that the average walmart shopper either wouldn’t know it if they saw it, or would approve if they knew it
karlhungus: a couple of things happen
karlhungus: one, the link between skull and bones/secret society and the 3rd reich is deep seeded in idea and imagery
karlhungus: and two
karlhungus: you have to be an active filter for it as you work with it
karlhungus: and three
karlhungus: that whole look is over, unless you are ralph lauren and know how to make it look good over and over again
karlhungus: just look it up on google, and you could construct related design in an hour
fakeout: the other thing, SS imagery is royalty free
fakeout: we were thinking someone working from a flash tatoo book
karlhungus: no, you are exactly right
fakeout: there’s other items in the “no boundaries” line that have tatoo imagery on them
karlhungus: thats a huge part of it
karlhungus: thats good, you hit a big nail on the head there
karlhungus: alot of ancient ritual text/imagery as well as stuff like that are outside of the realm of copy right
karlhungus: most of it you can buy in clip art books at the local barnes and noble
karlhungus: or find on internet sites that house high res scans of pages
karlhungus: so, they just clinched their butt-cheeks and hoped that no one would notice
fakeout: or no one had any idea
karlhungus: its both
karlhungus: god that was the most unpleasant project of my life
karlhungus: like, you need to stop every so often and work out what’s acceptable and stop it from leaving the sketch stage
karlhungus: and those above simple images are just throwing together a couple of elements from “the bank” as it were, and so it can easily head south
karlhungus: or head hitler
karlhungus: and as I said, its just simple sketching, in five minutes a can create a new symbol for the nazi party