Published: March 14, 2019
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By: Mekala Lehmunn, Cal State San Marcos
Hashtags: #CriticalAnalysis #culturalicons #culturalstudies #History #popculture #Research #TShirts #Writing
I finished this project in December 2018 for my LTWR 460: Cultural Studies course. The purpose of this assignment was to choose some aspect of modern day popular culture and analyze it as a cultural artifact. We must use at least one of the many cultural studies theories/perspectives learned during the course of the semester, and incorporate at least ten scholarly articles into our final project.
I chose to examine graphic T-shirts as American cultural icons. I detail their creation, history, and current status as both agents for and against consumerism. I learned that T-shirts have always played a rebellious role in American history: actor Marlon Brando wore one onscreen as the macho Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire and handsome James Dean donned one in the aptly-named Rebel without a Cause. However, companies also use them for free advertising: many graphic tees display brand names and company logos.
The result of this paradoxical discovery was my thesis: Because graphic T-shirts both support and condemn conformity and capitalism, they effectively mirror the dilemma within popular culture itself in that people buy goods and services but use them for their own individual purposes, often to undermine the status quo.