Monday, January 22, 2007

T-Shirt Police

Here's the setup: this Australian fellow, who lives in London, tried to board a Quantas flight in Melbourne. He was wearing a t-shirt that labeled Bush as a terrorist. Quantas refused to let him fly their PC skies when he refused to change the shirt. They insisted that comments made verbally or on a T-shirt which had the potential to offend other travelers or threaten the security of aircraft “will not be tolerated.”


Let me just say, up front, I didn't bring this up to debate the "truthiness," or lack of same, of the t-shirt sentiment. Suffice it to say, in any given group, in any given country, you will find folks who both agree and disagree and, please, let's leave it at that. The message on the t-shirt isn't the point -- unless you just take it as a given that folks won't stop to think when the T word is used anywhere near an airplane, in any context. No, it's the inherent arrogance of the Quantas position of moral authority that I'm wondering about.

In the first place, they might as well enforce a policy banning all t-shirts with slogans because there are bound to be some passengers who will take offense, no matter what they read. There might, for instance, be a salad of vegetarians aboard who would be appalled at a t-shirt that hollered, "Where's the beef?" That way, Quantas could avoid being accused of discriminating against some slogans, in favor of others. They could simply take the position that all t-shirt slogans are socially challenged.

If one is offended by what's written on a t-shirt, one can shun the wearer. Or wear a t-shirt with an opposing point of view. Or, at the very least, ignore it like the ads in a magazine. T-shirt slogans are passive statements that do not require --and sometimes don't deserve-- response. Want to make somebody regret spending $19.95 plus postage and handling for that shirt? Look at it, sigh mournfully -- and turn away. I would suggest muffled giggling and pointing but some people are encouraged by that.

In the second place, I'm finding it difficult to imagine how a t-shirt slogan can threaten the security of the aircraft. Given the lengths to which security goes to disarm passengers, even if the slogan incited a riot, about all the passengers could do is have a food fight. On some flights, that could be a Good Thang. Or they could beat the living crap out of the offender, in which case, it's that individual's security that has been threatened, not the aircraft's.

Okay, maybe it's possible that if all the passengers jumped on top of the culprit at once, it might tip the plane over. But, hey, the pilots are skilled professionals. That's why they get paid the Big Bucks. They could easily bring the plane back to its normal position so everyone could scramble for the barf bags.

The thing about t-shirt slogans is that the wearers are revealing something about themselves, for good or ill. Conversely, the thing about reading a t-shirt slogan is that your reaction reveals something about you. Sometimes that can be the most interesting aspect of the wearer-reader gestalt. I've learned not to read slogans out loud, in public, because it's embarrassing when you get to a punchline that's racier than you expected. And, ohboyhowdy, there are plenty of t-shirts with less-than-tasteful punchlines.

In fact, I own one of those, but I don't have the guts to wear it. I consider it a collector's item. It's from an infamous, now-defunct, house of ill repute near Vegas and says, "Mustang Ranch -- where the customer always comes first." (Hey! It was a gag gift, okay?)

I suppose I could wear it as a test, to see if Quantas would deem me offensive or threatening. But if they let me on board, I'd have to worry about the reaction of the sweaty guy sitting next to me. It might be safer to wear the one that says, "Support mental health or I'll kill you."


bb said...

PC gone to far it is.

John Bailey said...

Ah well. You can Bush some of the people some of the time, but you can't Bush all of the people all of the time. Roll on Nov. 2008... :-)

wayne said...

It seems the entire world has become over run with mind police. It really bothers me most when businesses try to enforce conformity.