When we reported earlier this week about Target pulling a T-shirt off its racks because it featured the flag associated with the reign of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco (who is still dead), many were quick to point out that there are plenty of other — perhaps more controversial — political and historical figures that have been featured on clothing without causing an uproar.
Most notably among those mentioned was Che Guevara, the Argentina-born military mastermind of the Cuban revolution. One of the more divisive figures of the last century — hailed as everything from a great fighter for human freedoms to a cold-blooded mass murderer — Guevara’s image is also one of the most iconic in modern fashion.
The famous Alberto Korda photo of Che has been printed onto countless T-shirts, bags, posters and more. Some wearers claim they’re displaying their support for the revolutionary’s Marxist beliefs; others say it’s ironic; and then there are so many more who just think it’s a cool photo of a scruffy guy in a hat.
What about Mao Tse Tung? The face of the late Chinese leader responsible for a horrific number of deaths among his own has become iconic, helped in no small part by the famous Andy Warhol prints of his likeness.
On this side of the pond — and the other end of the political rainbow — there’s Richard Nixon, the U.S. President forced out of office over the Watergate scandal. He also authorized secret bombing campaigns into Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. And yet, seeing his picture on the front of a T-shirt would scarcely raise an eyebrow.
What is it about these — and others like them — that makes them generally acceptable as fashion statements? Is it, for the first two at least, that the “threat” of Communism is dead and so it’s a quaint reminder of a bygone time? And with Nixon, is it because only a small few would sport a Nixon tee un-ironically?
So where, if anywhere, do you draw the line? Is Lenin okay but not Stalin? Mao but not Pol Pot? Qadaffi but not Idi Amin? Alex Rodriguez but not George Steinbrenner?
And should stores like Target and Walmart be held to a higher standard when it comes to potentially offensive shirts?
Remember: There are no wrong answers here; just ones with typos.