America is the home of instant gratification. We like our cars, movies, internet, and jokes the way we like our food: fast. In the spirit of this America has become one of the first groups of people who took our humor from the internet and elsewhere and pasted it on our shirts, because why leave the funnies behind when you have to go to the store? Not only do we put jokes on our shirts, but lately the quality of these jokes has become more defined and begun to outline a real profile of American humor. After 300 years of bickering we’ve finally agreed that a few things are just plain hilarious, and we can stand behind them united at last. Here are a few great defining American joke genres that we wear on our shirts with pride.
Ever since the world discovered 4chan and reddit the meme has taken over the internet. The truth is that memes have opened up an entirely new genre of humor in which a picture is reinterpreted out of context repeatedly, usually until one or several win out as the accepted best (I can haz cheeseburger?) or a theme is discovered after which the meme will be named (Sad Keanu). With a variety of texts superimposed over a picture we often no longer need anything in writing by the time they make their way onto a T-shirt. We’ll be standing in line behind one at Wal-Mart, and a variety of hilarious interpretations will immediately spew forth from our mouths even as a chorus of hipsters expresses their disdain.
What I mean by counter-irony is humor that is so obvious that it’s ironic to mention. The quintessential example of this type of humor can be found by googling “I beat Anorexia” in an image search, which will result in a gentleman wearing a shirt the size of a tent depicting the above-mentioned text along with some strategically placed grease stains. This type of humor originated in the t-shirt market, presumably the result of a brilliant shirt producer who decided to take the risk of offending some people in exchange for a solid chance at good all-American profit.
It would be ridiculous to say that making fun of famous people is a pastime reserved purely for Americans. We certainly didn’t invent it. We however do pay more attention to our entertainers than anyone else in the world, and unlike politicians, these celebrities often feel free to express their personalities whichever way they please. As a result we get things like Tom Cruise’s scientology, or Britney Spears’ head shaving incident as material to use in comedy.
Seeming slightly counter-productive one of the most common types of funny shirts we see every day are inside jokes. We don’t know why they’re funny and we don’t bother to figure it out. But every once in a while someone will begin laughing hysterically and utter an equally inconspicuous sounding quote as though it were comedic nirvana. These of course are references to web comics, TV-shows with cult followings, or comedians.
America has a unique comedic landscape expressed through our clothing. Our sense of humor reflects our culture in many ways. And the way we express it does so no less. The things we make fun of, the way we do so, and what mediums we use are all important in facilitating proper understanding and defining ourselves as a nation.
Alice Jenkins is a graphic designer, writer, and avid t-shirt wearer. She enjoys blogging about all aspects of design, but particularly current trends in pop and alternative-culture fashion. She currently writes for youdesignit.com, where you can make Custom Design T Shirts Online.