More New York Times Insanity: Hawaiian Shirts as Symbols of Extremism

July 1st, 2020 7:41 PM

The New York Times has identified a new villain in their insane cancel culture wars. Hawaiian shirts. I kid you not.

On Monday, freelancer Nathan Taylor Pemberton targeted Hawaiian shirts because some undesirable people wear them. His warning about the dire associations connected with that ubiquitous article of clothing came in "What Do You Do When Extremism Comes for the Hawaiian Shirt?"

It’s one of the most discussed street styles of the spring: tactical body armor, customized assault rifles, maybe a sidearm and helmet, paired with the languid floral patterns of a Hawaiian shirt.

While it’s not uncommon to see heavily armed white men toting military-grade gear on American streets, the addition of the Hawaiian shirt is a new twist. It turned up in February at gun rights rallies in Virginia and Kentucky, then in late April at coronavirus lockdown protests in Michigan and Texas.

Think of the shirts as a campy kind of uniform, but for members of extremist groups who adhere to the idea of the “boogaloo” — or, a second civil war in the United States. If that sounds silly to you, consider that these groups settled on the Hawaiian shirt thanks to a string of message board in-jokes.

Would it make you feel better about Hawaiian shirts if Antifa started wearing them?

The joke, for the uninitiated, involves a farrago of convoluted references to the 1984 film “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” and sound-alike terms like “big igloo” and “big luau.” Each is a reference to the movement’s insurrectionary appetites, which range from civil libertarian rebellion against the American government to full-fledged race war instigated by white nationalists, as reported by investigative journalism site Bellingcat. The boogaloo has taken to announcing itself with images of igloos and floral prints in memes, battle patches and flags — and by wearing old Hawaiian shirts.

Or the joke could be a farrago of convoluted references to Boo-Boo of the Yogi Bear Show.

SO, IT’S A STRANGE MOMENT for the Hawaiian shirt. Despite the occasional intervention by luxury designers at Prada or Louis Vuitton, the shirt is more commonly associated with midlife crises (and sometimes manic hipster energy) and, in some interpretations, American colonialism in Hawaii.

Ah! So now we get to the source of leftist antipathy towards Hawaiian shirts. They somehow interpret it as a symbol of American colonialism in Hawaii although ironically it is a big source of textile employment for many Hawaiians as well as worn by many of them although they refer to them as "Aloha shirts."

Which makes the current co-opting of the shirt seem a bit like an innocent bystander being dragged into the front lines of a high-stakes battle.

You really need to seek help, Nathan, but please make sure that your shrink does not wear a Hawaiian shirt while analyzing you as he writes on his pad, "Just plain nuts!" Then came the experts: 

Cynthia Miller-Idriss, who lectures on far-right extremism and intervention at American University in Washington, noted that the context in which the boogaloo members wear Hawaiian shirts is a fairly fixed one at the moment. Even so, she said, wearing them could quickly evolve into a new context...

Mr. [Joshua] Citarella, who focuses on younger people operating in extreme political spaces online, thinks it may be better to let the shirt go. “There’s a hazard with trying to take a symbol back from the alt-right, especially when there’s no precedent of use on the left,” he said. “You can never fully claim that it’s no longer poisoned. Plus, I didn’t see examples of a thriving youth culture wearing Hawaiian shirts before the memes first appeared.”

There's no precedent of Hawaiian-shirt use on the Left? That's overturned in the very next paragraph! Charlie "No Larval Scalias" Pierce takes umbrage: 

Then there’s the Esquire political columnist Charles P. Pierce, for whom the boogaloo appropriation feels like a direct invasion of his God-given right to wear a tacky shirt. “You don’t get to create a statement for me,” said Mr. Pierce, who said he owns more than 30 Hawaiian shirts.

“I will do whatever I can do to keep this from being hijacked by people with grim and bloody fantasies,” he said.

Sigh! To paraphrase Sigmund Freud: Sometimes a Hawaiian shirt is just a Hawaiian shirt. In fact that is what is should be, always.