Have you ever wondered where these particular types of unfunny T-shirts come from? the ones that say things like “HORNEY IN 2.5” or “Impeach President Clinton… AND HER HUSBAND TOO!!”? Mystery solved. They come from State Fair Expos. Right here on the main floor’s a monster-sized booth, more like an open bodega, with shirts and laminated buttons and license-plate borders, all of which, for this subphylum, Testify. This booth seems integral, somehow. The seamiest fold of the Midwestern underbelly. The Lascaux Caves of a certain rural mentality. “40 Isn’t Old… IF YOU’RE A TREE” and “The More Hair I Lose, The More Head I Get” and “Retired: No Worries, No Paycheck” and “I Fight Poverty… I WORK!!” As with New Yorker cartoons, there’s an elusive sameness about the shirts’ messages. A lot serve to I.D. the wearer as part of a certain group and then congratulate that group for its sexual dynamism—“Coon Hunters Do It All Night” and “Hairdressers Tease It Till It Stands Up” and “Save A Horse: Ride A Cowboy.” Some presume a weird kind of aggressive relation between the shirt’s wearer and its reader—“We’d Get Along Better… If You Were A BEER” and “Lead Me Not Into Temptation, I Know The Way MYSELF” and “What Part Of NO Don’t You Understand?” There’s something complex and compelling about the fact that these messages are not just uttered but worn, like they’re a badge or credential. The message compliments the wearer somehow, and the wearer in turn endorses the message by spreading it across his chest, which fact is then in further turn supposed to endorse the wearer as a person of plucky or risqué wit. It’s also meant to cast the wearer as an Individual, the sort of person who not only makes but wears a Personal Statement. What’s depressing is that the T-shirts’ statements are not only preprinted and mass-produced, but so dumbly unfunny that they serve to place the wearer squarely in that large and unfortunate group of people who think such messages not only Individual but funny. It all gets tremendously complex and depressing. The lady running the booth’s register is dressed like a ’68 Yippie but has a hard carny face and wants to know why I’m standing here memorizing T-shirts. All I can manage to tell her is that the “HORNEY” on these “2.5 BEERS”-shirts is misspelled; and now I really feel like an East-Coast snob, laying judgments and semiotic theories on these people who ask of life only a Republican in the White House and a black velvet Elvis on the wood-grain mantel of their mobile home.
David Foster Wallace, Ticket to the fair, Harper’s July 1994
Added to diary 26 January 2018