T-Shirt, Bumper Sticker, Mask: Who Am You?

We know this. Ever since human beings got to talking to each other (and themselves) the fundamental question — Who am I? — has gotten a lot of play. I’m getting up there in age, but I still ask myself that question at least twice a week (usually in the shower looking down).

So, yes, “Who am you?” as my father sometimes asked me when he was either exasperated or, occasionally, impressed. “Who am you, boy?”

Humanity has tried all sorts of ways to answer that question, or at least to facilitate the means by which folks can at least lay claim to attempting an answer. One can argue that all the weird stuff in cultures beyond satisfying basic needs is definitely in the “Who Am I?” facilitation category — haircuts, clothing, special scents, artistic endeavors, piercings, how you dance, what your team is, etc.

Civilization hit a high water mark back in the late 1960s when T-shirt slogans (and the art that goes along with all that pithiness) hit the scene. I hope to never forget the first two shirts that allowed my 10-year-old self to begin the process of attempting to define who he was. We bought them at the Penney’s that anchored Parkade Plaza on the western side of town. One shirt was of a giant red and black lady bug that said, “Please Don’t Litter.” The other was the classic caricature of Uncle Sam that said, “I Want You – to Vote.” I loved those shirts. They made me look cool. Even at ten I understood the messaging: Littering is immoral and voting is the bedrock of human rights and democracy. I still feel that way. And whenever I go out in public, I’m always aware that what I put on says something about who I am (although, trying to look cool is no longer in the cards).

As the sixties came to an end, I also began to proudly wear a tee festooned with a large peace sign on it (red, white, and blue), as well as another that became my favorite with the original environmental (we used the term ecology back then) flag on it.

Later, in my early teen years, of course, I rocked plenty of drug related t-shirts — cannabis leaf symbols, Mr. Natural, psychedelic mushroom images galore, etc. I had a few Grateful Dead ones I wore all the time and a New Riders of the Purple Sage one as well. Those were such great days.

In that same era, of course, America also fell in love with bumper stickers. The ones I remember most are the ones that directly attacked people like me. The classic was: “America: Love It or Leave It.” Another seemed weirdly personal” “I hope all you environmentalists freeze to death in the dark.” The one I cherished and slapped onto the back of our banana yellow VW bug was “Question Authority.”

Probably the most important bumper sticker (and t-shirt slogan) has to be “Practice random Kindness & Senseless Acts of Beauty.” The street poetry of our world is essential.

So, now we have a new opportunity to define ourselves with face coverings in this mass war we are fighting against SARS-CoV-2. Masks aren’t just about health, they’re a great new opportunity to answer that age old question and to demonstrate that we actually understand the secret of life (which, if you didn’t know, is all about creating your own reality and expressing yourself in the great goofy dance that we call society … because that’s who you am).

It’s quite obvious that a lot of people have figured all of this out. I get that I’m not really writing deep insightful cultural analysis here. Lots of people are wandering around wearing masks that represent their favorite sports teams (these are usually a bit cheap and probably not as effective as they need to be). Folks are also out there with their slogans. “Black Lives Matter” is obviously a key one for this new dimension we’re trapped in. “Vote” is another great one. I want to find a “Solar Powered” one for my wife, because, well, you may not actually think about it, but we are each almost completely solar powered in the final analysis.

If we continue to be stuck here in this alternative reality, it’s obvious that all sorts of companies could do a favor to their customers by making masks available with their logos on them. Imagine walking into Target and being able to pick up a bag of a dozen bullseye ear loop masks for, say, $3.99. Heck, if I ran any company at all I would be giving away masks to everyone who came near my store — and not the cheap ones either.

What spurred this post is a great consumer fashion article in the LA Times that I read last month called “‘Wear a damn mask.’ And remain stylish. Here are 31 of our favorite masks.” I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there are some pretty dang fabulous artistic face coverings bobbing around America (especially in your chosen social media sites) these days. This LATimes piece has some of the coolest design work I’ve seen yet. And I’d like to point out that this work may just be the beginning. I mean, whoever you think you are or want to be today, that’s going to change considerably over the next year as we battle this asshole-jerk virus and our own phenomenal lunacy as a nation.

Note here that I would have loved to write a serious cultural analysis about why some people idiotically refuse to wear facial protection to guard against both giving others covid-19 and to protect themselves, but I try not t to go too far down negative paths these days. Ultimately, though, I have to wonder if the people who can’t see the value of face coverings are simply unable to figure out that the question “Who am I?” is something that always requires re-answering. I’d feel bad for these people, except that they’re also demonstrating a good deal of unnecessary hate and disregard for others. Is that who they think they are, then? Or, maybe better, who they wish they were? That’s very sad.

Let me close, though, with a plug for my favorite mask designers. I’ve got three of their products and love to go shopping and bopping around downtown in them. The company is called Diop. You can reach them through this link: WearDiop.com. As a writer, I don’t actually like to wear words anymore if I can wear art and color. Diop certainly puts the art and color option on the front-burner.

Whatever you wear over your mouth and nose, have patience with those who seem to be negative about dealing with coronavirus. Living in a dystopia does not mean you have to be a jerk. I’m confident they’ll figure it out soon enough. In the mean time, enjoy this odd time on earth and know that you are who you say you are by all you do and all you wear.

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