Pondering ‘Pandering’

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There’s been a fair amount of chatter and debate about the “Pandering” NOB on the Uni Watch T-Shirt Club’s Independence Day 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. Every boldfaced statement on this page is either a direct quote or a paraphrase of something that someone has expressed to me (either via email or in the comments section), so these are not straw-man points — they’re direct responses to the real concerns of real readers.

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 (or the base color, or the script, or the patch, etc.), 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.

The T-Shirt Club’s goal has never been to maximize sales or revenue (well, except for the April shirt, because I wanted to raise as much money as possible for the Jackie Robinson Foundation). The goal is to come up with a conceptually satisfying creative project. If the project is popular, that’s great; if not, that’s fine too. Either way, I’ve been pursuing the project in way that makes sense to me, because it’s, you know, my project.

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.

I said all of this, in somewhat greater detail, a few weeks ago when I broke the story of this year’s MLB Independence Day caps. Everything I said in that piece can be boiled down to the word “Pandering.” Indeed, I’ve used that term to describe these types of uniforms for years — if you’ve been following Uni Watch for any length of time, this NOB can’t possibly be much of a surprise to you, because it’s completely consistent with what I’ve been saying all along. It encapsulates my feeling about the phenomenon of American flag-based uniforms, and serves as my commentary on that phenomenon.

But why did you have to express any commentary? The other T-Shirt Club NOBs don’t have any commentary.

That’s not true. The June design — the black shirt — has “BFBS” on the back. If we’d wanted a neutral descriptor, we would have used “Black”; instead we used “BFBS,” which is a critique of the trend toward pointless black jerseys. And looking ahead, if we end up doing a camouflage shirt (I haven’t decided about that yet), I can assure you that the NOB won’t be “Camouflage”; it will likely be “G.I. Joke” or something along those lines — which, again, shouldn’t surprise anyone. We might also do a pink shirt (haven’t decided), in which case the NOB will be “Pinkwashing,” which is a critical term. And so on.

Also, whether you realize it or not, the entire T-Shirt Club program is a form of commentary on the uni-verse, and on consumerism. The program will consist of 12 different designs that a baseball team could have in one season, the very notion of which is absurd, because no team needs more than two jerseys.

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 had been planning all along — like, since last winter, when we first conceived of the T-Shirt Club project — for the July shirt to feature a stars/stripes script with a “Pandering” NOB. When we decided to do a Canada Day design as well, which was a very late-breaking decision made at the suggestion of reader Mike O’Connor, I got in touch with several Canadian sports fans (including SportsLogos.net founder Chris Creamer, who’s from Toronto) and learned that most Canadian teams, aside from the 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 (which perhaps isn’t surprising, since there also seems to be no Canadian analog for American culture’s “U! S! A!” self-boosterism). 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.

But when you use the shirts for commentary, you’re basically turning the T-Shirt Club into a soapbox.

News flash: Uni Watch and its associated projects are my soapbox. You don’t have to agree with my opinions, of course, but it seems a little odd for you to tell me that I shouldn’t express my own opinions on my own website and my own T-shirts.

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.

Now, do you really think flag-based uniforms and merch, which are the things I’m critiquing, are “very important to lots of people”? If so, you’re certainly entitled to that opinion, but I would respectfully disagree. (And if I’m wrong and you’re right — if flag-based uniforms and merch really are very important to lots of people — I’d say that’s a much bigger problem than any T-shirt NOB.)

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

Again, I respectfully disagree. I happen to 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. But the NOB summarizes my feelings about stars/stripes uniforms and is therefore the right NOB for this shirt, because this is my project. Again, this shirt doesn’t say anything that I haven’t already said in greater detail many times on the site.

You’re always injecting politics into things, first with the Redskins, then with the camouflage, now with this. 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 camouflage and stars/stripes uniforms as I am. Because whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, repeatedly wrapping oneself in the flag and repeatedly glorifying the military to the near-exclusion of all other sectors of society are inherently political acts. When I critique these types of uniforms, I’m not “injecting politics” into the uni-verse; I’m just responding to the relentless political messaging from other parties (in this case MLB and its apparel partners). If they would stop doing that, I’d be able to stop critiquing it — and 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 terrible 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.

You accuse MLB of “pandering,” but this shirt is just pandering to a different audience.

No, it’s not. Pandering, by definition, is a broad-based appeal to cheap emotion, not to intellect. This shirt is a niche-based appeal designed to get people to think. That’s the very opposite of pandering.

You’ve made changes to some of the other shirts based on reader feedback. Why won’t you do that this time?

In a few instances, I’ve been unsure of the best way to proceed regarding certain design details, so I’ve solicited reader feedback and acted accordingly. In other instances, readers suggested good design adjustments that hadn’t occurred to me, so I acted upon them. In this case, though, I haven’t asked for any help and I haven’t heard any suggestions that would improve the existing design. I’m very content with this shirt and see no reason to change it. (It’s also worth noting that not all of the response to this NOB has been negative. Plenty of readers have said that they like it just the way it is.)

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 — this shirt isn’t for everyone, just like Uni Watch itself isn’t for everyone.

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.

I don’t agree with you on this issue, but I realize it’s your shirt program and support your right to do what you want. What really sucks, though, is that I’ve been doing the “Collect ’em all” thing, so now I’m forced to buy a shirt I don’t believe in.

Wait wait wait. Let’s be really clear about this: You are not being “forced” to do anything. Nobody said you had to buy all 12 designs (or even one design, for that matter). And once you chose to go down that road, nobody promised that it was going to be easy.

As I mentioned earlier, we might do a pink shirt at some point later this year. If we do, it will no doubt be spectacularly ugly. In other words, not every shirt is necessarily going to be something you’ll enjoy wearing. If the “Pandering” NOB puts this month’s shirt into that category for you, well, that’s the way it goes sometimes. If you want to buy all 12 designs anyway, that’s up to you.

And besides, we’ve given you an easy fallback option for the “Pandering” shirt: You can order the Canada Day shirt instead and still maintain your “Collect ’em all” eligibility.

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. As you all know by now, I’m a big 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!

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.”

Bottom line: I completely understand that this NOB may be a turn-off or even a dealbreaker for some of you, and that’s fine. I respect your decision not to partake of this design, just like I hope you’ll respect my decision to put it out there.