What does it mean when an object loses its referent? The Flipper T-Shirt above is currently for sale in Forever21 stores, but the design is borrowed/stolen/appropriated from Kurt Cobain.
As the story goes, shortly before performing on SNL in 1992, Cobain found a marker and quickly doodled the Flipper design on a T-shirt (itself an homage to the hardcore punk band Flipper):
It is not surprising at all that a clothing store for hip young consumers is appropriating a design from a dead rock star. I was, however, completely surprised to see that Forever21 chose not to make mention of Nirvana or Kurt Cobain at all: “A crew neck tee with sketched ‘Flipper’ graphic at front.”
And then it dawned on me: I’m old. And so are all the other bloggers freaking out about Kurt Cobain’s Flipper T-shirt. One must remember that your typical 16 year old Forever21 shopper (born in 1996) would be about as familiar with Kurt Cobain as I was with the band Flipper in 1992. In other words: 30 year olds in 1992 were probably pissed that up and coming rock star (read: sell out) Kurt Cobain was wearing a shirt with a hardcore punk logo on Saturday Night Live. Flipper fans were, I’m sure, uninterested in the bizzarre irony of it.
And so to are we uninterested in the irony today. We snark the existence of the shirt in order to protect ourselves from the inevitable truth that culture, once so in love with us, is passing us by. And ultimately that’s what getting older is: the pain of seeing beloved childhood objects reappropriated without care or concern for our own childhoods.