Current Events: Lose Your Shirt

We’re having a serious problem with undermined cultural mores these days. Whatever you believe religion and moral-wise, you’ve probably noticed the strain, everything from upticks in drug abuse and suicides to across-the-globe craziness to the general behavior of Washington, D.C.

I’m going to stick to a more prosaic symptom: the vulgar and profane t-shirt.

I’ve been seeing a lot of them lately. Language I wouldn’t use on this blog, slathered across cotton so all can see. So all pretty much have to see.

And that, is intolerably rude.

It’s also A Bad Sign.

It’s a generally accepted thing – or used to be – that you don’t swear in public. Doing so is low-class, vulgar, rude, shows a lack of self-control, etc., etc. You certainly don’t swear at random, or in front of children.

If you’re wearing a t-shirt with profane language in a public space such as a retail store, you are swearing in front of children. By default. Because people bring their kids there when they’re shopping, as they have every right to do, and whether or not the kids are old enough to read your shirt, their parents certainly are.

Any written language you wear, you are inviting people to read. More accurately, you are demanding people read it. Good readers decode language by default, whether we like it or not. Ask anyone made dizzy by automatically reading highway signs as you’re blazing past them at speed. This isn’t like a tagged fanfic site where the labels say “X is in here” and people can choose whether to read or avoid the ick. This is slapping the ick right in people’s faces. When they’re likely having a bad enough day already.

These t-shirts are meant to shock and offend. And frankly, I take offense to that. If you’re going to insult people, it should be like homicide: targeted, specific, and with malice aforethought. Possibly also afterthought. Insults are what you use in a stable society to clue someone in that they have crossed a line – and if they cross more, they won’t like what happens next.

Insulting all and sundry unlucky enough to cross your path? That’s a recipe for societal chaos, violence, and outlawry.

I know what I’m going to hear. “It’s just a t-shirt!” Well if it’s that simple, why couldn’t that person put on a plain t-shirt? Or one with a funny animal pic? Or gee, anything except a walking insult?

Refraining from profanity is along the same lines as using other common courtesy and manners; “Hi, how are you, how’s the weather?” It’s little things that buffer interactions between strangers and everyone just Having a Bad Day, so that despite everything society keeps working and we can all go home in one piece at the end of the day. It’s a safety valve, on the pressure cooker that’s mostly-strangers living and working and trying not to kill each other.

When people start wiring the safety valves open, I worry.

Think twice about the t-shirts. Really.


27 thoughts on “Current Events: Lose Your Shirt

    1. I’ve gotten a few of those shirts as gag gifts from friends and they go straight into the sleep wear draw. I never wear them outside. Unfortunately sometimes cutegraphic tees aren’t acceptable either. I wore a red shirt with a cute chibi white angel cat that had its shadow bearing horns to the grocery store and got screamed at by some woman for promoting Satanism 🤦‍♀️.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Like the people wearing Che Guevara shirts. Do they not know Che was a seriously nasty piece of work? Freedom fighter, my… well, words that shouldn’t be said in public. He was a serial killer who found a handy excuse to keep killing, nothing more.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Well, the whole lying cult is maybe /about/ putting pathological murderers in charge of everything, and failing that preventing people from dealing with pathological murderers appropriately.

        Yes, I am familiar with the counter arguments, etc.

        Forex, if ‘the real communism has never been tried’, and ‘Stalin hijacked the revolution’, why do the people saying these things show the (uncharacteristic for Americans) habit of saying in strict uniform spoken lockstep with the current claims of the ‘inner party’? That tendency of behavior in Marxist socialists seems to have a lot to do with Stalin murdering everyone who wasn’t an enthusiastic sycophant. Which trauma seems to explain why everyone following in those footsteps is so very careful never to think for themselves, and never to retain a previously held opinion that is no longer fashionable. If STalin was a ‘right-winger’, pretty much every modern communist is also a ‘right-winger’, and thus every communist revolution is certain to be ‘hijacked’ if it should be successful.

        Liked by 4 people

  1. Huh. Apparently I really _don’t_ get out much these days; I hadn’t noticed such shirts. I can’t say I’m very surprised, though. I’ve definitely noticed the uptick in public vulgarity in general. One particularly frustrating case is a guy I know–only online, thankfully–who uses F-bombs pretty much as punctuation, and when called on it just shrugs it off with, “It’s just words.”

    The guy is a writer. He should know there is no such thing as “just words”. Words are how we communicate. Turns of phrase, even basic sentence structure, says a lot about how we relate to each other. How much we respect each other. Using vulgar language as if it means nothing at all suggests a total lack of respect (IMO).

    …Did I mention I think the old saw about “sticks and stones” is one of the dumbest things ever? Okay, I guess there’s merit in teaching it to small children, to teach them not to overreact–but when they get a little older, you then need to teach them that words can hurt far, far worse than any stick or stone. Bones heal. Shattered relationships… not always.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” should be treated like … a one-way mirror or a polarization filter(?) (Perhaps someone has a better metaphor?): Use it to discount the negative words thrown at you, but don’t assume it decreases the harm of the words you throw.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I’m basically a hermit, so I haven’t really noticed any more than usual where I live (which was always just occasional bc you have to special order those and they’re usually more than 20 dollars so not many people are gonna order ’em), but I also don’t live in a very densely populated area anymore either.

    I’m personally pretty eh about swearing a bit in public. I’m not gonna flinch at a d or an h or even an f as long as the tone isn’t harsh or it’s not screamed.

    Wearing them does seem crasser somehow tho, since that does rather force people to notice it more I guess? You can tune out someone’s muttered ‘eff this’ but not the same in three inch black lettering.

    I have seen a concerning uptick in christian scripture on shirts. I think I’d rather see eff you than Ephesians 5:22-33, it’s less creepy.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Given that the Greek word translated in that passage as “submit” actually means “arrange your troops in a disciplined fashion” (hypotasso) and hence “cooperate voluntarily,” I think we mostly need a little fuller translation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In the Septuagint, hypotasso sometimes translates “arrange” (dabar) or “place, set up” (shith) in such a way that there are indications of subduing or submitting, or at least cooperating voluntarily because the other party is more powerful. OTOH, friendlier meanings are also included.

        Honestly, “cooperate voluntarily with each other” makes a lot more sense than “submit to one another.” Even if you put a sort of battlefield hierarchy implication in there.

        I realize that I haven’t been studying Greek very thoroughly, and I’m sure there are literary connotations. But there does seem to be a lot lost in translation, or connotations existing in English that aren’t necessarily there in Greek. And even the Latin translation has a fairly broad set of meanings that doesn’t mean abject subjection; it can mean things like “the person who supplies you stuff you need” or “your immediate subordinate in the army, who is your equal back home in Rome.”

        Shrug. I try not to be too radical in my readings, but there you go.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Anyhoo, it also shows up in Songs 6:3/4 and 6:9/10 in the LXX, in the form “tetagmenai,” an army arrayed in ranks, an arranged army.

        Beautiful as the moon, preeminent as the sun, and “thambos ous tetagmenai,” as stunning as an army in ranks.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. My philosophy of insults may be a little different from that.

        A lot of the time I count my work best done when it is true, specific, and likely to persuade the audience that my claims about the person have some merit.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Maybe you mean wiring the safety valves closed?

    Typically, if you are talking pressure vessels, the containment is designed to operate at one range of pressures, and there is a (preferably much higher) level of pressure at which the pressure vessel was calculated to start failing in a particular way. (If you make it correctly, bad welds drop the safe pressure way down. Typically, you would want to hire careful people who know that they are doing.)

    Repeated unloading and loading of pressure can cause fatigue cracking in the pressure vessel, so ideally a chemical plant has good testing, inspection, and preventive maintenance.

    Anyway, ASME, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, is involved in some of these codes and standards. In particular, /the/ driving reason is said to have been boiler explosions. A boiler is a pressure vessel that intakes water, adds heat, and carefully boils some of the water to steam, to pull of the steam at a desired pressure and temperature. One of the failure modes, which occurs when you don’t have a boilerman watching the thing, is that it boils dry, gets far too hot inside, and then the next water intake goes to really hot steam, really fast. Safe operating pressure is often then rapidly exceeded, resulting in energetic disassembly. The boiler bursts, exploding, spraying shards of hot metal all around, and tending to kill anyone in the vicinity. Very bad. ASME takes credit for largely putting a stop to those.

    Anyway, with pressure vessels, even for nasty chemicals, when the pressure gets too high, letting it out in a designed way is safer than letting the vessel itself be the means of pressure release. So, the ideal answer is a valve that is closed most of the time, but that opens at a pressure above operating pressure, and below the pressure where leaks would be generated. Some safety valves are of this type.

    Of course, a safety mechanism that you don’t test and maintain will eventually not be operable when you need it.

    Of course, most safety mechanisms only remain in place if the operator leaves them in place. Which is part operator training, and partly not being so annoying that the operator has to bypass it to get anything done.

    If your design valves were not design, installed, or maintained correctly, or if the operator is simply badly trained, they may open at what the operator thinks are appropriate operating pressures. Then the operator may block them shut, such as by wiring them closed so that they do not open. Bad thing, can cause energetic disassembly.

    Anyway, in industrial safety, whatever one’s ideology, Chesterton’s Fence is one of several mental tools. (Several, because the status quo may not be safe, even if no accidents have occurred yet. Maybe a safety device has been bypassed, maybe one is needed that was never installed, maybe the false alarm rate is terrible. etc.)

    A functioning society has a lot of little safety mechanisms cushioning stuff, and is inefficient because it is not constantly functioning on the margin of failure. Make radical changes to a society, on purpose, and you will damage some of the safety mechanisms. Trying for ‘efficiency with a safety margin’ can instead, because of measuring and estimating incorrectly, result in operating at the margin of failure, or sliding beyond without noticing. (People are much harder to measure and to estimate than machines, not easier. People /look/ easier, when the observer does not care, or fails to compare the means of calibrating the measurements.)

    Anyway, pressure valves can be designed to whistle when they go off. Whistle is a signal, an alarm, and if often false makes it impossible to operate. You filter it out mentally, or you wire the thing shut.

    In human society, people who say ‘no’ can function as an alarm or a safety mechanism. There are folks who really have a problem with being told ‘no’. The second group can get into a position where they can ‘bypass’ the first group, by shutting the first group up, or ignoring them and going ahead anyway.

    There is a reason that totalitarian societies are very often also really bad at industrial safety.

    Some circles talk about ‘the part of history just before they start to draw all the arrows on the map’. Well, there is also the period of the time containing the incidents that will be listed on the ’causes leading to’ diagram.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These t-shirts are meant to shock and offend. And frankly, I take offense to that. If you’re going to insult people, it should be like homicide: targeted, specific, and with malice aforethought.


    I was actually going to
    1) say roughly this
    2) mention that I had to explain to an e-friend that it’s why I wasn’t going to buy a hilarious shirt. Because the humor hinged on it being insulting.

    I don’t want to insult people. One of the English things I kept is that I’m more likely to insult a beloved friend than someone I dislike, although I will return insults.
    (insulting friends is like roughhousing)

    OTOH, we’re traveling with a camp trailer, and I did buy a shirt… “sorry for what I said when we were parking the trailer”.

    I’m probably going to wear it every time we us the trailer. >.>

    Liked by 2 people

  5. They just had a case of a dead guy whose family ordered him an elaborate tombstone, with front and back inscriptions — and the capitalized first letter of each of the back inscription’s lines was an acrostic of a bad word.

    The family just can’t believe that the cemetery refused to install the tombstone as is, and they are offended that other folks who have kin in the graveyard don’t want the tombstone around their dead family.

    (One also gets the feeling that the family thought they had been so so clever, and that they were shocked and amazed that the cemetery company could figure out their clever joke.)

    (Of course this is stupid, because of course local monument companies work with local cemeteries all the time, and usually have been doing it for a hundred years or so. And the monument guys probably noticed it right away.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What I’ve noticed is the publicly played *music*. It was bad enough when I would poke my head into the YA section at the library and hear vulgar lyrics blaring, but I was FUMING when I took my baby sister to the local froyo (where people take their *small children*) and the song playing was particularly crass– and when I asked them to change it, the next song was somehow WORSE.

    Liked by 1 person

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