Opinion: Hey buddy, wanna buy the Impeach shirt?


Need to impeach merchandise

The latest wearable political slogans: Need to impeach merchandise.


By Dr Chris Galloway

As impeachment clouds gather inside the Washington beltway, American entrepreneurs are showing us the true face of capitalism: there is ALWAYS a silver (sometimes literally silver) lining. Donald Trump might be pondering his next late-night tweet, or who to blame next for his multiplying woes, but the market has spoken.

Just go to shop.needtoimpeach.com for all your impeachment accessories, including 36 varieties of t-shirt (my favourite is the one about “impeachmint”), socks, tote bags, and best of all, the “Need to impeach” baby onesie – featuring a peach with distinctive orange hair, and a steal at a mere $US20.

This commodification of politics is, of course, nothing new. One can still buy Iraq-related shirts with meaningful messages such as, “Who’s your Baghdaddy?” If nostalgia is your thing, there are plenty of Rhodesia-related garments around, including one that highlights the ruthlessly effective Rhodesian Fireforce paratroopers, which says, “Let us drop in: it’ll change your life.”

Does this commercial exploitation matter? As the ancient sage Sun Tzu is supposed to have said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”. If you’re a marketer, never was a truer word spoken.

Even crises, personal or otherwise, are not immune to profiteering, like the shirt that proclaims, “Be nice to the crisis counsellor: Santa is watching”. But there’s a serious point: the gamification of political dramas such as the one playing out in America can trivialise the high stakes at issue.

We’re talking about a leader (well, an office occupant) who can make war – not to mention split families, wreak havoc on the environment, hob-nob with brutal dictators who write him “nice” letters and cancel a state visit because a sovereign country won’t talk about selling part of its territory.

Dr Chris Galloway.


Slogans – substance or spin?

There’s some precedent in American history for a media-manipulating president – in this case, Teddy Roosevelt during the revolution in Spanish-controlled Cuba.

An artist sent to produce illustrations of the uprising wrote back to newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in January 1897, saying “Everything is quiet. There will be no war. I wish to return.” The answer came back: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I will furnish the war”.

And that’s one of the issues now. Both sides of the impeachment question are already, indeed have been for some time, manufacturing “facts” as assiduously as Hearst did in relation to Cuba.

The problem is that most punters don’t bother much to work out how much substance, if any, lurks behind the spin. Many are, in the evocative academic phrase, “cognitive misers” – which means we don’t like to work our brains terribly hard.

There lies the dilemma of the slogan-carrying t-shirt: some voters will laugh, some will object, and the simplistic, sometimes emotional response may well have a carry-over effect when it comes time to enter the voting booth.

Funnily enough, perhaps, Dr Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, had something on point to say about this. He was talking a few years before the Nazis took seats in the German Parliament, the Reichstag.

Here’s what he said: “We enter the Reichstag to arm ourselves with democracy’s weapons. If democracy is foolish enough to give us free railway passes and salaries, that is its problem... We are coming neither as friends or neutrals. We come as enemies! As the wolf attacks the sheep, so come we.”

Do wolves come in Impeach t-shirts? Probably not. But Goebbels is a reminder of an age where political symbols mattered and many lives hung in the balance. They still do.

Back in New Zealand, far from madding crowds at rallies and the like, we can pack up our troubles in our Impeach tote ($US20, a bargain) and try to think nice thoughts about the very stable genius who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Dr Chris Galloway is a senior lecturer in public relations with Massey University’s School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing.

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