Friday, December 22, 2006

Problem Solved T-Shirt

Kennebec Journal

A children's T-shirt has aroused the ire of a local shopper. The T-shirt depicts two panels of stick figures, with a male figure pushing a female figure out of a box. Captioned "Problem Solved," the shirt has appalled people engaged in deterring domestic violence.

"I thought that shirt was very offensive, and I'm sure people who made that shirt thought it was cute," District Attorney Evert Fowle said Friday. "But when you prosecute 728 domestic violence cases a year, it's not cute."

The shirt was removed briefly after a customer protested -- but later returned to the shelves of the Augusta Kmart.

To me the term offensive doesn't accurately describe the message of this T-shirt.

In the first frame the girl stick figure is jumping up in excitement while the boy stick figure appears to be frowning at her with his hands at his waist. Underneath that frame is the word Problem.

In the second frame the boy figure is smirking and has one arm fully extended toward where the girl was, but now there is now only empty space beside him. The far wall of the second frame has been shattered sending bits of the frame wall out. Two lines show the path of the girl's descent and she is shown falling head first. Underneath the second frame is the word Solved.

Her crash landing is left to the imagination. Which makes sense since what happens to her isn't relevant to this boy's problem and his solution.

This attitude T-shirt is unintentionally educational.

In only 2 frames it captures the dynamics of a common and sometimes deadly form of interpersonal violence that happens in the real world. It perfectly illustrates the imbalance between the stimulus and the response. She annoys him and he shoves her through a wall. He's left with a feeling of satisfied power and that's all that matters.

Just as with this T-shirt, many people don't understand why the dynamic captured in this T-shirt is offensive. They think nobody should make a fuss about this because it's a cartoon. Those who do make a fuss must have no funny bone.

This isn't satire or humor. It is reality in stick-figure form. And it makes some people smile or laugh.

That's the real problem.

So often when a man murders a woman in his life, people ask where this violence comes from. How could an otherwise nice man do something this horrific? This T-shirt gives the answer.

Murder as simple problem solving. She was annoying and now she's not.

That leaves the question of how we would illustrate a third box in this same style if the back of the T-shirt continued this story.

If the boy stick figure ended up in the hangman's noose with the caption Justice (printed hangman style), would those who find the original version funny still be laughing or calling this T-shirt cute?

Would they think the revised T-shirt would be an appropriate Christmas present?

Update (12/23): Auguste took my idea and created a third panel. Go check it out.

Also Pandagon has a take on this. In the comments RepubAnon suggests, "Change the third picture to the guy sleeping and the woman holding a pair of scissors and wearing a Lorena Bobbett T-Shirt? Still pretty sick, but Lorena's image is everything that someone who’d wear that disgusting shirt fears most. Snip, snip…"

Here's my response (edited for clarity and to add relevant points):

The problem with this is it continues the pattern of taking violence as a punch line. This T-shirt has the girl plummeting head first which your third picture magically turns into a harmless act. To then further transform her into a violent woman is to imply she deserved to be shoved through that wall.

RepubAnon’s use of a third frame where the woman is about to "dismember" a sleeping man also turns what was an unprovoked act of violence (shoving someone through a wall is not self-defense against shouting) into a mutually violent relationship.

Rather than acknowledging the reality in the original "Problem Solved" T-shirt this suggestion for a third frame turns a victim into just another perpetrator. It also uses an example that is so atypical that it is identified with a specific woman. The original 2 frames are so common that we would never give either stick figure a name.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:02 AM   3 comments links to this post

3 Comments:

At December 22, 2006 6:33 AM, Blogger ms_xeno said...

Unfortunately, you wouldn't be very safe with that hangman image on your back, unless you had eyes in the back of your head. But the thought of a redesign of the shirt with that missing 3rd panel is amusing. Personally, I'd settle for an image of a sad Mr. Stick behind cartoon bars with the phrase "Fifty Years" over his head. But I've always been an easygoing person. ;)

 
At December 22, 2006 6:26 PM, Blogger Corley said...

I would wear a shirt with a third panel showing him hang. Hell, I might just make one myself.

 
At January 22, 2007 4:04 PM, Anonymous Jessica Morgan said...

I work at Hardy Girls Healthy Women, a nonprofit in Maine. We are beginning to put some energy behind this evil shirt. Could you contact me, if you like? I'd like to hear more about what you think. info@hghw.org Thanks!

 

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