Another Art Ban: Here We Go Again
I knew my Confascist Cross (aka the Confascerate Cross) design would be controversial. But "art ban" controversial? Well, apparently, it is. And is not.
Confused? Imagine my feelings.
What I was hoping was that this design wasn't too hot for the tshirt site we're currently working with: Teepublic. Well, alas, it appears that it is. Or maybe not. At this point, who can say? All I know is that they've nuked one of two designs which, graphically speaking, are identical.
The differences are in the text, which probably means it's the verbiage of the tee in question. Or maybe not. 'Cause it could also be something else, or it could be the mistake of an overzealous intern, or the mistake could be that both shirts should have been taken down.
On top of this uncertainty is another problem. That being, knowing exactly what is going on! With Teepublic, like all the other POD (print on demand) sites do nowadays, with a rejection you get a referral to their not-very-helpful TOS. When it's not real obvious, it's up to you to puzzle out the arcane reasoning behind the ban, which means you have to get into the head of some unknown, unseen, unnamed censor.
Fat chance, right?
And when it's not obvious what the issue is...
In some cases the reason for an art ban is plain. I mean, if the artwork in question consists of a giant, veiny, spurting, throbbing phallus, it wouldn't take a psychic and a lawyer to figure out what the issue is. Am I right?
But when one of two nearly identical designs gets the kiss off, the offended party doesn't tell you what the actual issue is, the TOS is less than enlightening and there's nobody to talk to about it, I think you can understand, dear reader, why this poor artist is at a bit of a loss.
Did THIS Tshirt Design Get the Art Ban?
The Art Ban I Didn't Expect
I figured the Confascist/Confascerate Cross would upset the GOP right wingers who continue to pretend that their increasingly fascististic party and would-be dictator/president-for-life POTUS is not the monster he so obviously is. That was the plan. After all, not all Trumpers are hopelessly stupid. Some (percentage unknown) will get the gag.
What I half-way expected here was that Teepublic would get a bunch of complaints from Trumpers and do the thing which tshirt platforms, in my experience, usually do. That being, weasel out and bail.
But the design has only been live for a few days. Hardly anybody's even seen it yet, so I doubt this was outside pressure forcing Teepublic to duck and cover.
What I didn't expect was that the design itself would get the heave ho before it really even got any traction.
I also figured there was a chance the really far gone, less than bright Trump goonsquad would entirely fail to get the joke and co-opt the Cross for it's own use. They, in turn, would be thinking they were simplifying/unifying their message and strengthening their overall "brand."
After all... It's two, two, TWO signs of hate in one!™
Unfortunately, I also figured the design would upset well-meaning folks who didn't or couldn't see the joke. But this was a risk I was willing to take to make the larger point.
Anyway, that's what went through my head for this simple but shocking "rebrand" project.
The new combination/merger of two old racist hate signs is really a visual pun, but if there's one thing I've learned as a graphic artist in this world (and even at a very early age when most of your family is left-brained* and you are not) it is that most people are not terribly visually literate. Which is a nice way of saying that when it comes to what they see, most folks see only the most obvious aspects of things, and probably miss the nuance(s) entirely.
Not to be an art snob, but it's the difference between seeing a Monet as a rich, vital explosion of color and life versus seeing it as "a confused bunch of dots" (which I overheard an acquaintance utter many years ago) is pretty freakin' enormous.
So, the above explains why I expect some (maybe even a lot) of the NeverTrumpers, anti Trumpers and hardcore Trump haters to also miss the gag here, and be as indignant as the MAGAts and Trump Cultists.
But Teepublic? I didn't see that one coming.
Oh well. As the great Howard DeVoto said once upon a time: "Shot by both sides." And to quote the profound and illustrious Donald Trump: "It is what it is."
Or Did THIS Tshirt Design Get the Art Ban?
Art Ban Central
As you probably know, I'm the Creative Director and main designer for AAATEE. Down through the years, "me and AAATEE" (to butcher English grammar) have had to fight numerous battles with overly timorous tshirt platforms. It's gotten old. Really, really old, I don't mind telling you.
The worst of these platforms is also the biggest and potentially most lucrative: Amazon Merch. For those who don't know, Merch is a program which allows independent artists to sell their tshirt designs on the world's largest marketplace.
In theory, it's a great thing. In practice (and IMHO) it's really not.
Our Amazon Merch tale is a long, ugly one of woe in and of itself, perhaps to be related some other time, but suffice it to say they simply aren't interested in political and/or controversial work.
In short, any artwork the low-paid interns stuck with the unenviable task of shoveling a Bandini Mountain worth of digital shit don't like, understand or think might offend somebody, somewhere, get's pitched onto the manure heap. To use a D&Dism, it's "Death, no saving throw." A profile in commercial courage (or support of free speech) Amazon Merch is not.
You wanna post cute cat shirts on Merch? Have at it. You wanna sell "I Love [Insert Neutral and Uncontroversial Subject Here]" shirts? Go right ahead. You wanna sell a shirt with a likeness—even a cartoon one, or a silhouette—of a public figure, even a politician? Fuggedaboudit. You need a signed release. Which, in the case of a non-public figure makes perfect sense. But for a "man" like Donald Trump, such a requirement is nonsense, and a craven cop-out at best.
NOTE: And in case you're thinking "I've seen some pretty out there and offensive tees on Amazon," you would be right. But please understand that these are most often sold by independent vendors via the platform, not participants in Merch. That's an entirely different issue for Amazon in that the vendor is liable for any potential legal headaches, not Merch itself.
Donald Trump, Tshirt Platforms & Free Speech
Among other things, it is a long standing American tradition that political satire is protected speech. It's what has allowed everybody from political cartoonists to stand up comedians to muckrake against public figures for centuries without fear of losing their fortunes, their freedom or even their heads.
And given the very thin skin of President Cheeto, it's no wonder he wants to change the liability laws to his benefit (in that he could start suing anybody and any site that said something about him he didn't like). Presumably, this would include using his sychophantic bootlicking quisling lapdog AG Barr and the Department of Justice itself in an effort to destroy anyone who dares criticize the Trump regime.
Talk about an "art ban." Such a move would have a chilling effect on free speech itself. In fact, it would fundamentally alter American society. Yeah, it's that big of a deal. And it would not alter it for the better.
#ManBaby may be the single most litigious a-hole in the modern history of the human race, having been involved in thousands of cases (somewhere between 3000 and 5000, depending on who you believe). But even he can't sue over his depiction in the public square. At least not at the moment.
Further, no court in the land, despite the personal feelings of the judge, would allow such a case to move forward. It would upend over 200 years of legal precedent and have the potential to chill any and all political speech across the land. Or so various attorneys have reassured me over the years.
Of course, if one looks at Trump's history in the courts, it's clear he believes in using his great wealth (at least relative to most people) as a weapon. He knows full well that simply taking people to court is enough to get a "win" even if the lawsuit is frivolous. The concomitant costs and hassles see to that.
The simple truth is, in America you need money to fight a civil case, especially one in federal court, and if you ain't got it, you're S-O-L (i.e.: sh*t outta luck).
Screenshot of FU letter from Teepublic. Name of tshirt redacted.
Amazon & Teepublic: Profiles In Cowardice?
So one could argue that when a platform like Teepublic or Amazon Merch doesn't allow a politically controversial design to be posted—in effect, proactively applying an art ban of it's own before a piece ever gets before the public—it is doing a poor starving artist a big favor. After all, not too many of us could survive an onslaught by Trump Org or anything like it.
But you can also argue that they're doing all of us a big disservice, too. Why? Because like so much of Korporate Amerika today, they're perfectly happy to take advantage of all the things in society which benefit them (in this case, the internet and ecom), while at the same time doing little or nothing to protect the interests of the very people they depend on for business.
What does this say about such successful online companies? Not much that's commendable, that's for sure.
In fact, such a company is contributing to the general state of fear, anxiety and loathing in the country today, since by way of their cowardly practices they contribute to both the dumbing down of the nation and suppression of free thought and expression. As I said before, profiles in corporate courage these companies are not.
Basically, my read on Amazon Merch and so many of the others is that they don't want the hassle of even the hint of a lawsuit, much less having to deal with a real one. It's better to side with extreme caution than take a potential risk, no matter how ridiculous, absurd or gutless.
To me, as a former big-brand, high-end Creative Director in the marketing end of the ad business, this is not only gutless, it's stupid. If I were Amazon or Teepublic, I'd welcome the lawsuits of the likes of Donald Trump. Imagine the publicity! And imagine how heroic such a company would appear in the eyes of the public!
Tee shirt company takes stand for artist! Assembles top notch legal team to fight for the 1st Amendment! Takes on stupid, thin-skinned politician and countersues, arguing suit against it is frivolous, unconstitutional and unAmerican!
I can hear it now. Can't you?
Unfortunately, I expect such fainthearted fecklessness from Amazon, having fought with them a number of times over this and similar issues. But Teepublic? Their art ban was completely unexpected! To say I'm peeved and disappointed would be a considerable understatement.
The More You Know...
So I hope the above gives you, dear reader, some sense of what us poor tshirt designers have to deal with sometimes—especially when we're doing cutting-edge, controversial stuff.
Sometimes I think I should focus entirely on kitties and daffodils.
But by now (phew), you're probably wondering; which of the two Confascist/Confascerate Cross designs is the one which got the art ban? Which one?
Well, as they say in intelligence circles, "I could tell ya, but then I'd have to kill ya."
Seriously, I'd love you to know which one it is, but I'd really like to know which one YOU think it is. Would you do me a big solid and tell me about it in the comments, below? That would be so cool, and very much appreciated!
Once you've done that, if you want to find out the answer to the current mystery, you can klik on over to our shop on Teepublic. One of the two designs will be missing, and there will be your answer. If you're really dedicated to supporting my efforts, please loop back here and comment on your comment; didya guess right?
While you're over there at Teepublic, why not pick up a tshirt or three? Did you know all the designs are also available as stickers (cheap!), mugs (cool!), phone cases (badass!) and more? No? Well, now you do!
Once you're there, if you've got an account (set up takes seconds), I'd REALLY APPRECIATE if you could Follow my page! Even if you don't buy, that would help a lot—so long as I/we stay on Teepublic, that is.
Anyway, thanks in advance for any (or all) of the above! And as always, thanks for your interest and, where applicable, patronage.
If you want to tell Teepublic what you think about this really rather absurd art ban (and I would appreciate any support you can give), you can drop them a line here: firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to send them my love.
As I wrap this up, I'm waiting to hear back from Teepublic legal on why one of these two nearly identical Confascist/Confascerate Cross designs got the boot.
Will I get a real answer, much less any kind of answer at all? Who knows? Probably not, but we shall see. I'll update this post when I know something for sure.
*Left-brained: This has nothing to do with politics. At least not directly. It may, in a way, in reverse. Left-brained people tend to be more rigid in their thinking, less creative and anxious about change—even when it's good! Right-brained people tend to be more open-minded, creative and open to new ideas and experiences, if far less detailed oriented (i.e. anal). So the irony here is that left-brained people tend to be righties, and right-brained people tend to be lefties. Ironic, right?