Sarcastic T-shirts and Melania Trump’s Jacket

I own this shirt:

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It is a shirt that says “WORLDS OKAYEST SISTER” on it. You can buy it here.

I bought two others shirts for my two little sisters, hoping that someday we might wear them on the same day and parade around in public in our okay-ness.

This shirt seems to fall into a larger trend of shirts-with-sarcastic-things written on them:

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This one says “I donut give a damn on it,” another one proudly declares: “Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come”.

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And so, when I saw the now-infamous picture of Melania Trump wearing a jacket which “I REALLY DON’T REALLY CARE, DO U?” emblazoned on the back of it to go meet detained migrant children, I thought of these shirts.

Not wanting to demean the awfulness of wearing that particular jacket at this particular moment (or interrogating the fascist implications of the phrase, which I will discuss later in this post) I do think it might be helpful to look at all of the above shirts, and the jacket, as part of a larger cultural trend.

Are they similar, though? The “I donut give a damn” shirt, in particular, seems to have a similar meaning to Melania Trump’s “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” jacket. An embrace of not-caring, of being above it all, of being cool.

But what else do these shirts communicate? What emotions, what cultural concepts, are transmitted by these shirts?

Not wit, certainly. The “jokes” they contain are overdone: puns, awards for mediocrity… nothing particularly original there.

When I see these shirts, I think: exhaustion at our society’s desire to always be going, getting more money, being “the best”; a humorous self-depreciation at my own (or the wearer’s own) comfort in being just “okay” or “late”; a desire to admit to the world that one does really like donuts, even if they are “bad” for you…

But I suppose “I really don’t care, do u?” doesn’t really fit the mold of the other shirts. There’s an attack in there — why do YOU care, when I don’t? — that some have linked to fascism.

In “A brief (fascist) history of “I don’t care“, Giovanni Tiso discusses the way the phrase “I don’t care” was used in fascist Italy in the 1920s and continues to be memorialized and remembered by neo-fascists. Tiso writes:

Fascism lay its roots in the campaign for Italy’s late entry in the First World War, of which Mussolini was one of the leaders. It was at this time that the phrase ‘me ne frego’ – which at the time was still considered quite vulgar, along the lines of the English ‘I don’t give a fuck’ – was sung by members of the special force known as arditi (literally: ‘the daring ones’) who volunteered for the front, to signify that they didn’t care if they should lose their lives.

As for the phrase’s use now, Tiso notes (and posts images of) t-shirts, posters, and stickers of the phrase. Tiso continues:

The international neofascist movement is of course well aware of this lineage. By way of example, if you search for it online you’ll find a long-running English-language podcast called Me ne frego which recycles this imagery in support of arguments against immigration and multiculturalism, or to opine on the subject of ‘the Jewish question’.


Do I think Melania Trump wore that jacket knowing the fascist history of the phrase “I don’t care?” I doubt it. Do I think Zara, the manufacturers of the jacket, knew this? Possibly. However, this points to a larger cultural trend of thinking fascists and fascism look cool. The discussion over the so-called “Nazi-haircut,” discussed here and here, for example, seems to fit this trend. “They know what they want and they take it, ethics be damned,” is, I think, the appeal.

So, maybe the shirts above have little-to-nothing to do with Melania Trump’s jacket. The shirts above seem softer, somehow: I am slightly inadequate, I didn’t want to attend this meeitng, I am only an “okay” sister, I like donuts and don’t care what you think about it…

(Yes, even the “I DONUT GIVE A DAMN” feels different than the I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” jacket. The shirt is not an attack on YOU for not caring, and the pun and the image of the donut on the shirt seems to soften the message.)

But I’m not sure.

One thing I am sure about, though: we will start seeing lots of shirts and jackets that say some iteration of “Yes, I care” on them soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Sarcastic T-shirts and Melania Trump’s Jacket

  1. This is so fascinating, Maria — Zara is a Spanish company and sure Franco was maybe a weak-sauce fascist but nonetheless a fascist. (I do see a difference between the self-effacing humor of “okayest” & donut puns and the aggressive nihilism of “I don’t care” &c. “I donut give a damn” is less about giving a damn than inviting the beholder to share a donut joke. Melania’s jacket I can only read as aggressive? Why would you care if I care when you just said you didn’t care? If I don’t care why would I answer? I honestly assumed at first that she had accidentally put on her kid’s jacket, mistaking it for her own. Also that he had shoplifted it bc why would teen trump shop at Zara? I’m certain Melania doesn’t.) The whole thing makes more sense with the fascist context restored, thank you!

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    1. Thanks, Seren! I’m still thinking about this…. it’s such a weird jacket, such a weird sentiment…. I’m sure we will see more people talking about this in the future!

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