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Pondering ‘Pandering’

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Some people have had strong reactions to the Uni Watch Stars and Stripes T-shirt. Rather than cycle through the same arguments again and again, I’ve taken a bunch of the points that have been raised and used them to create this FAQ-style page. Ready? Here we go.

I really like the shirt, but I’m not a fan of the “Pandering” NOB. Can you change it?

With all due respect, if you have issues with the NOB, then you don’t like the shirt. The shirt is the totality of its design, including the NOB. If you don’t like the NOB, then I guess this shirt is not for you. Nothing wrong with that — some shirts are more popular than others.

Okay, but this shirt would be for me, and would be more popular, if you’d change the NOB. And you’d sell a lot more of them that way.

You’re probably right. Not only that, but I’d probably sell even more shirts if I put a bikini-clad girl on the front, but I’m not going to do that either.

My goal has never been to maximize sales or revenue. My goal is to come up with conceptually satisfying creative projects. If the project is popular, that’s great; if not, that’s fine too. All things being equal, I’d prefer to have a shirt that’s popular — duh. But if I start changing things to satisfy other people instead of being true to my own creative instincts, then all things are no longer equal.

Exactly what point are you trying to make with the “Pandering” NOB?

As I have written many times over the course of many years, I think the incessant use of American flag-based imagery on sports uniforms, and the sale of merchandised versions of those uniforms, cheapens and debases the flag and the values it stands for. I think it’s pandering to cheap rah-rah-ism that has nothing to do with real patriotism, real civic values, or thoughtful citizenship. Everything I’ve said about this over the years can be boiled down to the word “Pandering,” so that’s what we’ve put on the back of this shirt. It encapsulates my feeling about the phenomenon of American flag-based uniforms and serves as my commentary on that phenomenon.

Why does the Independence Day shirt have a “Pandering” NOB, while the Canada Day shirt just has “Canada Day”? You’re picking on America while giving Canada a free pass.

I consulted several Canadian sports fans (including founder Chris Creamer, who’s from Toronto) and learned that most Canadian teams, aside from the Toronto Blue Jays, don’t wear special uniforms for Canada Day. Moreover, Canadian teams don’t tend to wear flag-based uniforms for any occasion — Canada Day or otherwise. In short, pandering to cheap patriotism doesn’t seem to be a major characteristic of the Canadian uni-verse like it is here in the States. So there was no need to embed any commentary into the Canada Day shirt’s NOB. But the commentary was appropriate for the Independence Day shirt.

Don’t you realize that you’re ridiculing something that’s very important to lots of people?

I’m not sure what you mean by that. If you’re suggesting that I’m ridiculing the flag, you’re mistaken. I think the American flag is beautiful, and over the years it has stood for many very wonderful things (along with a few very awful things, but history is messy that way). This shirt is not a commentary on the flag.

If you think I’m ridiculing Independence Day, that too is mistaken. I love Independence Day — I always make a point to read the Declaration of Independence on the morning of July 4th (I should really do it more than once a year), and I always either carry a small flag with me or have one displayed, depending on what I’m doing that day. It’s one of my favorite holidays. This shirt is not a commentary on Independence Day.

But am I ridiculing and critiquing the explosion of flag-based uniforms, and the sale of associated merchandise? Definitely. As noted above, I think such uniforms and merchandise cheapen the flag and what it stands for.

But using the term “Pandering” in conjunction with the flag is in really bad taste.

I respectfully disagree. I think the explosion of flag-based uniforms, and the sale of associated merchandise, is what’s in really bad taste. This shirt is a commentary on that phenomenon. If you disagree with that commentary, no problem — then this shirt is not for you. Again, this shirt doesn’t say anything that I haven’t already said in greater detail many times in the course of my writing.

You’re always injecting politics into things. Don’t you know sports and politics don’t mix?

If you’re truly opposed to politics being imposed on the sports world, then you should be as opposed to stars/stripes uniforms as I am. Because whether you realize it or not, repeatedly wrapping oneself in the flag is an inherently political act. When I critique this type of uniform, I’m not “injecting politics” into anything; I’m just responding to the relentless political messaging that the sports world communicates via these uniforms. If they would stop doing that, I’d be able to stop critiquing it — and then there’d be no reason for a shirt with a “Pandering” NOB.

The Fourth of July is supposed to be a non-controversial holiday that everyone can feel good about, but you’ve managed to ruin it. Congratulations.

I agree that Independence Day should be something we can all feel good about. Unfortunately, MLB keeps cheapening and polluting the holiday with star-spangled uniforms that look like clown costumes and make a mockery of the flag’s values. Then they turn the holiday into just another way to sell merchandise. Maybe you don’t think those things are “controversial,” but I do. This T-shirt is simply a way of expressing my disapproval of all that.

How dare you! Don’t you know people died for the American flag?

I have nothing but respect for people who’ve given their lives while serving in the American military, but those people did not die for the flag. They died for the values the flag represents and, especially, for the Constitution, which is the source of those values. And they sure as hell didn’t die for sports uniforms with tacky stars/stripes patterns. As I’ve already explained, this shirt is not critiquing or disparaging the flag; it is critiquing the way the flag is cheapened and misappropriated by stars/stripes uniforms.

I basically agree with you on this stuff. But if I wear this shirt to the ballpark, or to a bar, or around certain friends and family members, I’ll have to explain the NOB, and then things could get messy.

Then don’t wear it to the ballpark, or to the bar, or around those people. Or don’t buy it at all! Again, the goal here is not to create the ideal all-purpose garment for every social situation; the goal is to have a conceptually satisfying creative project, and the “Pandering” NOB is part of that. If that particular facet of the project doesn’t work for you, for whatever reason, no problem — don’t buy the shirt.

I do think it’s worth noting, however, that discussing real ideas about the meaning of civic values, citizenship, symbolism, patriotism, and so on with other people — including people with whom one disagrees — is not exactly the worst thing in the world. I express my own thoughts on those issues (among many others) here on this website on a regular basis, and the resulting back-and-forth debates are, in my opinion, a good thing. They make me think, they make other people think, and they provide good food for further thought down the road. If this shirt led to more of that (which I think it already has), I’d consider that a big positive.

Maybe I’ll buy the shirt and put a cover-up NOB on it. And maybe the cover-up will say “God Bless America” or “Fuck You, Paul Lukas.” What do you think of that, smart guy?

I think that would be awesome. I’m a longtime fan of DIYing. If you can take my creative project and repurpose it into your own creative project, I’m all in favor of that. Go for it!

I disagree with your opinion of stars/stripes uniforms. I really like them and am glad teams wear them!

We’ll have to agree to disagree on that point.

Go suck an egg. I will never give you a dollar for anything.

I don’t really have a response to this. I just think it’s hilarious that someone actually said, “Go suck an egg.”