Thursday, August 28, 2008
Mao Zedong’s face stares arrogantly from a white T-shirt. A crowd of soldiers salutes him from the bottom of the image. Below, black lettering reads: “Rock the Vote.”
Mao’s visage is still a common sight in Beijing– where his image remains on various walls of the city as a symbol of the powerful regime of the Communist Party of China. It’s not as common in the consumer-driven malls of America. And, according to conventional wisdom, Mao is even less likely to appear in the clothing line of youthful, colorful and generally all-American outfitter Anchor Blue.
“I was in the store when I saw Chairman Mao’s face on a wall display,” says one outraged customer, Kit Elliott, a political activist and a senior at UCSC. “I couldn’t believe that they were glorifying a murderer and a dictator. What’s next? A Hitler tee?”
Mao Zedong served as chairman of the Communist Party of China from 1945–1976, and remains one of the most controversial and important personas of modern history. In China, he is generally revered as a great revolutionary and leader. But outside China, and for those who fled his regime, he’s a violent and oppressive figure, responsible for tens of millions of deaths.
Anchor Blue is a chain with 180 stores nationwide. Its employees don’t seem concerned– or even aware of– any controversy.
“Our buyers choose all of our T-shirts based on what our demo is interested in,” says Marla White, an Anchor Blue spokeswoman. “We’re not political at all, but we can’t disclose our vendors.”
An Anchor Blue manager at the Del Monte Center gives a similar response. “We got these shirts in the middle of the summer,” Andy Garcia says. “We’ve sold about 33 since then, which is definitely above average.”
So, what draws people to these shirts?
“Vote or die, man,” says Garcia. “They’re the only political stuff we have, and we expect more by the middle of next month.”
Garcia says few buy the shirt for the portrait– and even fewer notice that it’s Mao Zedong.
Other employees seem equally unaware. “The point of the shirt?” ponders one, “Well, rock the vote, I guess. I mean, it’s got some Korean guy on it, right?”
According to Elliott, the shirt– and consumers’ attitudes about it– is indicative of our culture. “It’s like that old ’80s adage,” he says, “ ‘I just want my MTV.’ Don’t bother me with anything else.”