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The G-Bomb and the natural limits of t-shirt satire

by Andy Davis / 20.02.2014

“Hey bru, that’s pretty gay!” I’ve said it often enough. Normally while bantering with jocks. I actually said it quite naturally in a conversation this morning and then caught myself and made a mental note not to say that, again. In my mind, my usage of “gay” in this sense has almost entirely been scrubbed of any homophobic intent. It just means “lame”. The term, the diss, definitely comes from a less LGBT friendly time, a kind of knee-jerk, puerile intolerance of homosexuals, but today its usage has become so ubiquitous that it has made it into the common parlance of some straight people. People who have never been prejudiced against for their sexual orientation. The term, seemingly to us non-gays, has been stripped of its bigotry, hurtful intent and homophobia. It is cleansed and acceptable. Just ask any American high school jock. And because we hear it in the media, in movies and on TV; we sports and vagina-loving straights, tend to make the mistake of thinking that it’s okay. That it doesn’t hurt.

But therein lies the rub. The term gay is only an insult if you mean it as an insult. It assumes that being gay is all those things, weak, lame and pathetic. But the shifting, organic nature of language makes it weird and kind of complex. In the past, I’ve even been comfortable using the term “gay” amongst my gay friends, in reference to the kind of “lame” shit we encounter every day. But after dropping the G-bomb, it always kinda sticks in the craw. You can laugh it off, pretend that there wasn’t that millisecond of discomfort, but if we’re honest, it was always there and my gay friends are just kind and magnanimous enough to accept me for the fun-loving, unthinkingly bigoted, cock-rocking jock that I am.

Now if a gay person chooses to use the G-bomb, to describe the weak, lame and pathetic shit we encounter in every day life, well that’d be fine. It changes the nuance, like a jew owning heeb, or a black owning nigger, or a coloured owning klonk – it’s an act of reinterpreting a hateful term in a way that gives them control and agency over it. When gay people use the term gay as a diss, it often means the same thing as when jocks like me do it, but that’s their right, not mine. I’m the privileged otherer, they the othered minority.

But it’s complex. Before gay referred to homosexuality, everyone was having, “a gay old time”? I had a great aunt whose name was Gay. Back in the day being gay just meant you were happy, carefree and upbeat. It could also mean frivolous, showy and unconventional. But then by the 1950s, the term gay had shifted even further “left” and became more associated with idea of being carefree and from there morphed towards hedonistic and uninhibited. Chuck in a liberal and somewhat camp “showy” dress sense and it’s just a small, bumble through the murk of bigotry to homosexual.

The offending T

And that brings us to Laugh It Off (LIO) versus Jay Jays. In December last year, I was at Lanseria Airport and a freshly raged matriculant, heading back to his new life in JHB was wearing what I recognised as a rip off of the Laugh It Off shirt. For the whole of 2013 Mahala shared office space with Laugh It Off, so we know what their product looks like. I took a picture and sent it to Bartlett, the CEO of LIO, knowing that that guy likes a good scrap with an offending corporate behemoth. And this looked like a pretty clear cut case of wholesale theft and mass reproduction of the original LIO WTF panda t-shirt (itself a spoof of the World Wildlife Fund’s pomping panda logo). The offence here is that Jay Jays aren’t contributing anything to the creative debate, they’re just ripping off someone else’s creativity and mass producing it on cheap Chinese t-shirts for their own profit. Which I think we can all admit, is a pretty kak vibe.

What happened next was predictable, Laugh It Off, who famously beat SAB at the Constitutional Court, and thereby enshrined our right to spoof big brands on t-shirts under freedom of speech; came out all guns blazing and produced a spoof of Jay Jays, as Gay Gays. They attempted to mitigate the uncomfortable homophobia of this statement by saying, ”we don’t mean that in the awesome, homosexual sense, but rather in the lame, weak and creatively bankrupt way“. Unfortunately, there’s just no divorcing the bigotry inherent in calling someone gay as a diss. As a commentator on our Facebook page said yesterday, “it’s like saying Jew Jews, But not in the ‘people descended from the Israelites’ sense, but in the greedy, taking stuff that doesn’t belong to you way.” The Daily Maverick described Laugh It Off’s Jay Jays spoof as “spectacularly misguided”. Which is generous of them. And you can understand it. Everyone wants to love the underdog and hate the big, bullying, thieving corporate. But right now, in this instance, LIO are hard to love.

And that brings us to the natural limits of spoofing brands on t-shirts. You can see the LIO conundrum clearly. When we were sharing offices, Bartlett would often complain that the more nuanced satirical t-shirts like Toyi-Toyi instead of Toyota or Googlethu for Google, just don’t sell as well as the dumb jock jokes like a spoof of Spar as Sperm, or Balls instead of Bells whiskey. Creatively, calling the Ackerman’s corporate giant Jay Jays gay “in the lame, weak and creatively bankrupt way” for stealing their original design is just the low-hanging fruit of t-shirt satire. But that shit has worked for LIO in the past. The Jay Jays brand only lends itself to LIO’s satirical jiu-jitsu in certain ways. It still needs to be recognisable to the original brand for the spoof to have any effect. The collateral damage in this case just happens to be the LGBT community. A group that is, to our great collective shame, facing a rising tide of violent homophobia in our country and on the African continent.

At the end of the day, LIO’s Jay Jays spoof was a giant mistake, so big that it basically lets Jay Jays off the hook for stealing and exploiting the originality of another broke creative and puts the focus straight back on Laugh It Off, the homophobes. You can almost hear the machine gun crackle of a thousand high fives coming from the Ackermans building. And now we’re trading in offenses, while the moral high ground is being occupied in the comments section.

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RESPONSES (30)
  1. Spicer says:

    Nice one Andy! Mind you, this whole debacle could have been averted had the gone with “Va Jay Jays”.

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  2. Drew says:

    it hasn’t become cleansed. it hasn’t become acceptable. that’s like saying you and your friends feel like re-introducing the word kaffir into the popular lexicon, because you feel “it’s time.” it doesn’t work like that.
    Justin has used the word gay because he is aware of it’s painful sting. he also knows full well that it still stands as a fully fledged put down, because it still works. because large swathes of hetero men refuse to graduate highschool in their heads, the insult still operates.

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  3. Margot says:

    Jesus, even the graphic depicts a pink, laughing clown. Do you honestly not know how to apologise?

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  4. Martib says:

    TLDR

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  5. Andy says:

    Spicer, I knew there was a creative solution lurking somewhere

    Drew, i think we’re singing from the same hymn sheet. Mea culpa.

    Margot, you see what you want to see. We googled “Nuclear Explosion” and tinged it pink in photoshop. Image to accompany story resolved. The laughing clown is a tromp l’oeil – never even noticed it until you pointed it out. But it’s in the actual image. And the image is of a bonafide nuclear explosion. So ja, not intentional. But you’re upset anyway, right?

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  6. Sebastian says:

    Right Spicer – so instead of denigrating homosexuals, they should have denigrated women? Nice. Because we don’t have a problem in this country with the way women are treated… Dick.

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  7. Paula says:

    Hi Andy – pareidolia, not tromp l’oeil. Or anamorphosis maybe…

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  8. Margot says:

    Lol Andy I’m not upset. I think it’s kind of funny that you basically drew a moustache on your own long earnest justification.

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  9. Spicer says:

    Hey Sebastian – your reference to me as a “dick” in a negative context (you don’t like what i’ve said, or me for that matter, thus I am a dick) would be deemed denigrating towards men. Roll with a joke or go troll some-other website…

    XOXO

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  10. brandon says:

    Isn’t “…exploiting the originality of another broke creative” pretty much your Huffpo-inspired business model, Andy?

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  11. Rob says:

    Thanks for the response Andy. Justin Nurse’s silence is deafening, unless he is the author of those Laugh If Ott tweets from yesterday, in which case, major facepalm.

    Just want to take exception to a few points. I don’t think you’re being entirely intellectually honest with us, or yourself, when you say that heteros believe the word gay has been cleansed of all its anti-gayness. I think when non-gays use it it contains ALL of those meanings, new AND old – lame, stupid, effeminate, weak, faggy, camp. Which is precisely why people still use it – it’s such a potent diss.

    Although you mention gay friends, you don’t seem to have to have a particularly firm grasp on the gay experience. For example, gays VERY RARELY, IF EVER use the word ‘gay’ to mean lame or dumb. In the same way that nigger has come to mean something more like ‘homie’ for example – not something pejorative. When oppressed minorities reclaim words they also usually re-purpose them. If we gays rag on each other for being too camp occasionally or too queeny or whatever that’s only because we cant quite cleanse our own minds of the pervasive dumb jock mentality that you admit to being steeped in yourself, and as a result, more often than we care to admit, we still harbour some shame associated with not living up to bogus mainstream gender stereotypes. That’s thanks to you non-gays.

    I also want to address the subject of how exactly language evolves. Whenever the G-bomb gets dropped and gays are miffed about it there are inevitably one or two commenters who are like, “but gay used to mean happy once! do you homos get to own the word now, wtf?” So to them I would say, sure, language changes over time but often the changes aren’t just random and we can understand them better by considering the context in which those changes take place.

    We may not be able to account for the fact that the word faggot once meant a bundle of sticks, and now means dirty homo, but the word gay is not the same kind of etymological mystery. That the word suddenly took on a meaning of “bad, unwanted, shit, no good” at the very moment that gays were becoming more visible and more vocal in demanding fair treatment in a largely homophobic world is no accident. One meaning CAUSED the other. They are INEXTRICABLY linked, no matter what you want to believe. Now, gays don’t want to play thought police and control what you think or say, all we ask is that you consider an alternative, you know, just to be nice. Is it really such a hardship?

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  12. Wtf? says:

    How is it that writers on Mahala are always dissing Mahala? Reading Brandon and Roger and whoever having a little comments hissy fit is so fucking tiring and whiny… Not to mention unprofessional.
    Stay classy.

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  13. Anony says:

    …grabs chair and munches on popcorn.

    I’m a woman and I really think Spicer’s Va Jay Jays would have been awesome! But then my vagina is so warm, soft and velvety- not sure I can say the same about the Ackermans thieves(as they are said to be)

    Now it feels insulted… 🙁

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  14. brandon says:

    Painting a single calm, rational question as a “hissy fit” is just a bullying, Putin-esque means of avoiding the question – which was about the exploitative business model of this website, based, as it is, on mostly unpaid contributors.

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  15. Ang says:

    This is the problem right here, Andy: “When gay people use the term gay as a diss, it often means the same thing as when jocks like me do it, but that’s their right, not mine.” I agree, langauge is organic and complex, but unlike the word ‘dyke’ or ‘queer’, the LGBTI community haven’t ”reclaimed” the negative sense of the word ‘gay’ – we don’t subvert it and it’s still VERY much in the straight lexicon. Like it has been pointed out, ”nigga” has been reclaimed, but ‘kaffir’ has not. Same thing with the word ‘gay’.

    And to Spicer: you’ve missed the point, entirely. Yes, ‘dick’ can be used in a negative sense – but we live in this thing called a patriarchal society: just think about all the words that can be used to insult men, as opposed to women (if you have a long think, you’ll find that the latter come out tops, thanks to society’s long history of misogyny).

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  16. Spicer says:

    Ang, “Va Jay Jay’s” is not a derogatory reference to anyone – simply a pun on the word name “Jay Jay’s”. Sure, it’s a reference to female anatomy, but not in a negative context. On the other hand, referring to someone you don’t like as a “dick” (with no pun or anything to even speak of) DOES make use of male anatomy in a derogatory sense, thereby taking away from what is the beauty of most males’ prized possession. I was merely pointing out the loop-hole in Sebastian’s troll-esque lil rant where he actually chastised me and in doing so committed exactly the crime he/she/it was accusing me of.

    Anony, thanks for the support! I’m sure your vagina is as warm, soft and velvety as can be. May it not feel insulted for much longer and reign supreme ad infinitum!

    Salud!

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  17. M says:

    Look where i found the WTF panda – in america check out website
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/WTF-What-the-Funny-Retro-Panda-T-Shirt-XXXL-/110449165252

    gees this is really original as it is everywhere in the world! WTF!!!

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  18. John says:

    What a poor article on trying to justifying the “Gay Gays” Article. Its truly bizarre. Andy I am not sure that you actually have a brain ? You just don’t get it do you ? Seems like the time you spent sharing offices some LIO rubbed off on you. Did you even read the Jay Jays response yet ? Justin is clearly an ass hole. After the response I read from Jay Jays that its clear that he will not win in a court on this issue. So now he has resorted to some poorly written article to try and “expose” jay jays. This what I call childish ! I can also tell you now that your gay friends do not appreciate the “oh that’s so gay” term. They are probably just tolerating it because of some bizarre sense of friendship they have with you. I hope Jay Jays sues LIO !

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  19. Anonymous says:

    Hey guess what, some gay people like sports! And some gay people are women who like vaginas! Jesus. The fact that we even need to be having this conversation makes it very clear that certain (white hetero male) sectors of our society still haven’t figured out little things like empathy, or imagining what life is like if you’re not white, hetero and male.

    Why not just say fucking sorry instead of this half-arsed attempt at linguistics? Justin Nurse’s macho counter-culture posturing is seriously undercut by this lapse in taste and judgement, and Mahala is showing itself to be seriously out of touch with a hell of a lot of people by publishing this.

    Just because da kidz say it doesn’t mean it’s right. Critical thinking FFS.

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  20. Rob says:

    You’re right, anonymous, that “sports and vagina-loving straights” part – ARGH.

    But blah blah blah homophobia. You know what’s also funny about this story? What that guy Shaun from Jay Jays said appears to be true – LIO didn’t design this either. A quick Google search reveals quit e a few different versions of the same stupid gag floating around online. Are we to believe that all of these people somehow saw LIO’s design and copied it? Or that LIO’s designer was too baked (you can tell by her shit use of type) to remember copying it from somewhere else?

    So that whole David-Goliath thing isn’t even happening!

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  21. Mary Mavis says:

    Andy, the American high school jocks to which you refer use “phaggot” to diss on forums, not “gay”, an internet-mutated word similar to “mirin”. Even your appropriation is flawed. “Faggot” itself refers to the burning of bundles of homos during the Middle Ages to get the flames nice and hot for the witches placed over them, a time you would seemingly have us return. Not mirin, brah.

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  22. WTF says:

    @brandon the website may well not pay most of its contributors (I wouldn’t know), but it pays them with an audience and engaging comment threads. If you don’t like it, don’t write for them or go and create your own website with an audience. Dressing up your dissatisfaction as a calm rational question (read ‘pointed hypocritical stick’), is lame in the extreme.

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  23. Exploding says:

    Pot meet Kettle – somehow you managed to forget to credit the CGI photographer who created the image you ripped off … must have been a slip-up. The copyright belongs to Thomas Mangold – http://www.thomasmangold.com/?portfolio=playstation-mushroom-clown

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  24. Chris says:

    You’re all full of shite!! We need more people like Justin Nurse and the Mahala team to make us laugh, scream, cry – more of the edginess and dodginess and humour to push the boundaries and the buttons of the sanctimonious folk who can’t handle a little jibe or a little diss. Come on! If we tip-toe around every group that’s ‘sensitive’ about themselves we’d be left with boring, insipid, harmless platitudes. Learn to laugh at yourselves, for fxxk sake! More edgy, more challenging, more humour, more satire please. You’re bound to step on a few toes along the way. Don’t apologise. The real story is Jay Jays shameless rip-off of someone’s creativity for monetary gain – now that is sickening.

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  25. Hilda says:

    ^ straight white man speaks with forked tongue

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  26. Roger Young says:

    @WTF

    I stopped writing for Mahala in April 2012.

    PS: Andy, your Copyright lower right is still on 2013.

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  27. Sangha-Oubangui says:

    LOL very good and funny storys. thank you mahala magazine.

    white people is very good make funny misteak.

    is shop name really gaygay? very strange names

    godbles Sangha

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  28. Anonymous says:

    “Just ask any American high school jock.”

    It’s okay guys, American high school jocks said it was.

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  29. Anonymous says:

    Also, Andy, you posted this whole mess initially I assume to champion the cause of artists getting their shit jacked.
    But then use a stolen image as the heading of this article. Good job.

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  30. Anonymous says:

    Just to sum this all up: L.I.O. steals an image and idea off the internet, Jayjays steals the same image and Laugh it Off are having none of that, cause they stole it first.
    They respond by using homophobic slurs and call for mass response to fight in their name, completely ignoring that it’s been proven that their design was not original (which really should be getting more attention, since this was the basis of their justification). They reference South Park episodes as a defense, letting us know if we dont get it we must be ‘too old’.
    Andy Davis steps up in defence, and uses brilliant debate points such as:
    – AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL JOCKS KNOW THE DIFFERENCE LOL WHY DONT YOU.
    – LOL I ACTUALLY SAID GAY THIS MORNING YOU GET IT? I’M A JOCK. THE YOUTH TODAY WILL UNDERSTAND AT LEAST.
    – ACTUALLY LOL GAY USED TO MEAN HAPPY MY AUNT WAS NAMED GAY (GEEZ ARE YOU NOT OLD ENOUGH TO GET THIS??)
    – LAUGH IT OFF TRIED TO BE CLEVER IN THE PAST BUT BECAUSE IT’S BAD $$ THEY USE GAY JOKES NOW INSTEAD LOL.
    – OH YES PS: I’M SORRY BUT NOT REALLY LOL.
    – OH YES ALSO BY THE WAY I STOLE THIS IMAGE BANNER AND MADE IT PINK LOL WHAT YOU MEAN IT’S A CLOWN I ADMIT I JUST GOOGLED EXPLOSION AND FOUND THIS PICTURE I DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE THE CLOWN I’M NOT HAVING A LAUGH THATS L.I.O’S JOB AND IN CASE YOU FORGOT WE GIVING PEOPLE SHIT FOR FINDING IMAGES ON GOOGLE HERE INSTEAD OF USING THOSE HIGH QUALITY LOCAL DESIGNERS BUT LOL FUCK DA POLICE.
    – PS IF JOCKS WERENT SO DUMB WE WOULDN’T HAVE TO MAKE GAY JOKES.

    This was obviously well thought out and very smart.

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