I have to admit that I don’t wear a lot of message tees. When I do, it’s because I got them for free. Or because they are part of a campaign I helped create. It’s not that I don’t like them – I’m just not one for any kind of logo or message on my clothes, usually. I’ve just never seen myself as an effective walking billboard comfortable with the attention that brings.
One shirt I will be wearing regularly, however, is the new Arm the Animals shirt that my friend sent me as a surprise gift. When I pulled it out of the envelope, my first reaction was, “Oh, it’s so cute! Look at that adorable bulldog!” I have a thing for brachiocephalic dogs…
My second thought was, “Oh, crap, how will people react to this?” That’s problematic. As I explain often, I work within the human-exclusive social justice realm, specifically in violence prevention. We tend to police each other for putting out anything that in any way implies violence. To the extreme. So much so that my friend, who does the same work as me, said, “I saw it and thought of you but I hoped it wasn’t too violent.” My response was, “If I ever see a bulldog carrying a knife, I’ll think about the message I’m putting out there.” It’s a bulldog carrying a knife. A bulldog…carrying a knife…
Hey, I fully believe we need to attend to the messages we put out there. After all, we have to create environments that support health, peace, safety, and justice. To do that, we have to promote the good stuff, right? We have to create strong communities that are inhospitable to violence, inequity, and other manifestations of oppression. But again, it’s a bulldog….with a knife.
What do you think? In my work, we talk a lot about shifting norms, often unspoken standards for behavior. Does this shirt promote/support a norm of violence? No one person is going to perceive the message in the same way, and that’s what makes social and behavioral change so hard…and so nuanced and exciting.
When I look at this shirt, I get a message that the world would look quite different if non-human animals, who are horribly exploited by humans, were able to fight back. I don’t get triggered by a traumatic experience I had in childhood. I don’t see an ACTUAL call to arm bulldogs with knives. I don’t even see a “meet violence with violence” message. But that’s just me, my lens. What do you see?
Categories: Animals, Connectionist Perspectives, Public Health