Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Stop Looking at My Chest

T-shirt slogans are probably one of the greater ironies of life. How on earth a guy can read the text on the front of a woman's shirt without getting either a slap (or at least, a very withering look) is beyond me.

That's why slogans like "Stop looking at my chest" are so amusing, I think. We go through all that effort to perform some discreet casual reading, just to be reminded of exactly what kind of awkwardness we're wading through. It gets the obvious laugh response out of us.

Personally, I'd like to have a shirt made that reads "Stop looking at MY chest". That would be about enough for five seconds of funny, I think.

T-shirts like these illustrate single-line humor: the ability to make people laugh by compressing the entire joke into a few words of text. This actually seems somewhat common among shirts with slogans. There was this old one, for instance:

I'm with stupid.


Before it closed down, the WB Store used to have a line of shirts that ran on this precept. They would have the picture of one of their characters on the front of each shirt, followed by an appropriate quotation. In fact, I still have a shirt that goes:

(Marvin the Martian)
You're making me angry. Very, very angry.


Shirt slogans come with a ready reference - if you happen to be reading the shirt, then you can safely assume that the person wearing it is obviously present. Any slogan that can accurately reflect its wearer can therefore be immediately funny:

For a toddler:

BABY ON BOARD

For a fat man:

WIDE LOAD

For any male person from the college years onwards:

STUD MUFFIN

Personally, though, the image of a 90-year-old man wearing a "Stud Muffin" t-shirt feels a lot funnier. And scarier, in a way. *Shudders*

The best one-liner that I've ever seen on a t-shirt, however, was the simple:

Mattahunny

If you don't get it, throw in a comment and I'll explain it to you. That's how the joke's supposed to work, after all.

T-shirt slogans are, essentially, gold mines for spontaneous comedy. I once mused out loud that it might be funny to have a t-shirt that reads as follows:

Front:
WORLD DOMINATION!

Back:
...Is that so much to ask?
http://lengthofwords.blogspot.com


Not only would it stun people with the question as to whether it was funny or not, but it would raise the possibility of them dropping by this blog to investigate. Genius!

The two-line setup, however, appears to be somewhat uncommon in t-shirts. The main problem with it, I think, is that a viewer stands a good chance of reading either the front or the back slogan, but not necessarily both. Nevertheless, one can come up with more than a few good lines in this way.

Front:
Take my wife, please.

Back:
No, really! Please! I'll give you a hundred bucks to take her away!

Single-line shirts are far more common, however, which is a bit of a shame. I kind of like situations that involve both a setup and a punchline.

What I really never see nowadays, however, are the picture-and-line setups. These are the shirts that (usually) have a picture in the front, and a punchline in the back.

I think that the old "Got Milk?" ads had a line of shirts at some point in time. These tended to be fairly simple - they just had the image of a celebrity or famous figure in front sporting a milk mustache, and the line "Got Milk?" printed on the back. Interestingly enough, the "Got Milk?" promotion was so popular that you could recognize the shirt for what it was no matter what side you were looking at.

The real danger with this setup, however, is that there are a lot of shirts that have a picture in front and nothing else. The "Got Milk?" line was popular enough to overcome this, but if anything, t-shirts that use this setup really need a provocative image in front -- something that gets you asking questions:



Now, if you had this image on the front of a shirt, what could you possibly place on the back once you've gotten a viewer's attention? A direct definition would obviously make it clearer to non-Filipino readers, but wouldn't be necessarily funny:

Suman (soo-män): A dish of sticky rice, usually wrapped in banana leaves.

Another possible solution would be to refer to peoples' knowledge that the image in front is a widely-liked Filipino delicacy:

You are getting hungry. Very, very hungry.

Or:

Hungry? Eat suman!

Or:

Ang sarap ng suman latik! What say you, Dean?

Yet another approach would involve the total logical disconnect. This refers to a concept that a reader cannot immediately relate to the image at hand, and the idea of fusing the two simply triggers a laugh response:

I am NOT a phallic symbol!

Or:

The suman shall inherit the earth.

Or even the simple but telling phrase:

Eat me.

A final alternative, of course, would be to simply use the image in order to plug an existing venue, service or organization. For that matter, it could just as easily note:

Proud member of the Suman Latik web ring



Blurb-Man
Panda-Girl
Lady Sakura
The Captain
Peanut-Man
Queelocke
Idiot Savant
Kel Bell
Banzai Cat
The Woman in Red
Whitepaper
The Geekette
Funnyman

11 comments:

gumdrop said...

What's Mattahunny?
-katz

Sean said...

"What's a Mattahunny?"

"Nothing, honey. Whassa matter wid' you?"

:)

The t-shirt was specifically designed to lure unknowing victims into asking "What's a Mattahunny?" to begin with, you see.

kat said...

There's this shirt that my friend got from, I think, Scotland. On the front-middle, just below the neckline, it says "IN"

On the back-middle, just at the edge of the shirt, it says "OUT"

I love the Suman-Latik webring. :D

Dominique said...

There's this shirt I saw many years ago in college. It's in Bisaya, and all other translations just cannot do it justice:

Front: Tan-aw ra ba!

Back: Lingi pa gyud!

Or roughly (in English):

Front: What are you looking at?

Back: Don't you be turning your head!

Not an exact translation, of course, but I never could find the appropriate one.

Kel said...

How about "I need suman to love me?"

I'll get back to posting about Suman next week. I'm kind of sick right now...

Sean said...

I think everyone's got an "interesting t-shirt" story, really. Chances are, each of us has at least one of those "interesting t-shirts", too. :)

eClair said...

You really are creative, Sean. This is what i love about your blog *hugs*

naughty girl said...

i enjoyed reading this

Sean said...

Glad to hear that. :)

andrea nicolasa said...

*roll* you forgot spoof shirts. *starbuko r0cks* lolz. but now i think i'll go get me got milk? one... :D

Sean said...

Andrea: Yeah, the spoof shirts are pretty good. I'd plug them here, only I'm not sure if I can... :)