Frat Boy Madness

“Frat Boy” is a lasting meme. Rowdy, out-of-control college fraternity boys made a common theme in 19th century humor.

I mean, get a bunch of privileged teenaged boys together in a house, let them govern themselves, and watch what happens. Hilarity ensues, of course; sometimes, police. Very occasionally, the coroner.

Yeah, that’s a stereotype; memes often are. Some frats are subdued and constructive. But… some are known for wild, hammering parties where things go too far. And all the other things that an eighteen year old boy thinks he might want a piece of.

But face it, every frat wants to look a little daring for rush week, when new students are invited to try out for membership. The Sigma Nu tee at right refers to rush week as “Gopher Daze,” gophers being the lowest of the low in a frat.

The ideal rush week frat shirt does not say “Hi, welcome to our frat; we’re serious and boring and throw lousy parties. Girls don’t come around much.” Yeah, that’ll draw ‘em. Not.

Hence the other side of the Sigma Nu“Gopher Daze” tee.

Truth in advertising? Well, could be: but it’s definitely projecting the classic “Animal House” image. That movie made a lot of money and painted a lasting cultural picture of what the ultimate cool, outsider frat would be like.

Independent clothiers also cater to the frat boy (and girl) market. Prominent among these was Abercrombie and Fitch, a mall clothing store chain that used to target college-age men and women with clothing that was racy, attitudinal, or both.

For men they offered a line of “witty” suggestive t-shirts, with or without college themes. At one point I picked up an old A&F shirt with the words“Cunning Linguist” printed across the chest in fancy type. I got tired of looking at it, and let it go.

But awhile later a different A&F shirt came into my hands down at the old thrift. This one, I kept.

Says “Abercrombie’s” in hard-to-read blue letters against the red above “Pizza Dojo,” and also “You Love Long Time” in the same blue-or-red lettering.

Back around 2002 A&F rolled out a whole line of “playful” Chinese stereotype t-shirts for the college crowd. Later, A&F spokesmen would say: we thought our Asian-American clientele would enjoy them.

Many did not. Many.

There was screaming: for stereotypical slant eyes and conical hats, for pidgin-English slogans, and for the portrayal of Chinese as subservient semi-humans.

You can’t see the blue letters well, but to the left of the grinning pizza coolie lie the words “You love long time.” The same design repeats on the other side. Other A&F Chinese-themed tees advertise “Wong Brothers Laundry,” where “Two Wongs Make it White,” or urge you to get your Buddha on the floor. Check them out, below. And there were others.

Some of the others.

Public uproar forced A&F to pull the Chinese-themed tees within a few weeks. But give A&F credit for knowing their audience: while those tees were on the shelves they sold really, really well. I suspect that purchasers were not predominantly Asian. I could be wrong.

After the tees left the stores, they traded at high prices on eBay for awhile. At one point people were asking as much as $250 for my “Pizza Dojo” shirt and the others. (They still are, though online I saw a Pizza Dojo shirt like mine marked down from $200 to $60 — where it sold.)

Since then, Abercrombie and Fitch has abandoned the college-age market for a preppy, post-college clientele. No more suggestive t-shirts. Their most attitudinal tee reads, “For a Better Life, Try Not Golfing.”

But fear not. Online, numerous vendors will still sell you a “Cunning Linguist” t-shirt whenever you desire one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.