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Black Bart Endures
December 12, 2012 10:50 AM   Subscribe

The early '90's t-shirt merchandising hysteria that accompanied The Simpsons' series premiere ignited an even larger bootleg "black Bart" social response that continues to resonate.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot (41 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
The whippersnappers on my lawn are always skeptical when I tell them about the great Bart Simpson T-shirt Moral Panic of the 90's, so thank you for that video... it's as absurd as I remember. There were edicts handed down from on high by those pettiest of tyrants, the high school vice principals.

I don't remember ever seeing any of the "black bart" knockoffs, though, even outside of school.
posted by usonian at 11:07 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ah, the days when "Eat my shorts" on a t-shirt was something that would get you sent home from school. Shirts were still as popular as the Batman logo on plain-black Ts of the same year.
posted by k5.user at 11:14 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had a bootleg (yellow) Bart t-shirt in elementary school. Not sure what its message was. My mother was appropriately horrified, my brother, who got the shirt for me, pleased. These really were A Thing, odd as it was.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:14 AM on December 12, 2012


I read about these Black Bart shirts in the unofficial, behind-the-scenes book that came out recently.

I too remember the moral panic, especially over "underachiever and proud of it". Then getting tired of the merch, then seeing the Halloween episode where everyone gets tired of the merch. Also, I had an onion on my belt.
posted by DU at 11:17 AM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


I remember those like it was yesterday. That was around the same time everyone was wearing Cross Colors and Girbaud jeans. Good to see they are still around.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:17 AM on December 12, 2012


We all laughed in the early 90s when George H W Bush ragged on The Simpsons. So the family had a dumb incompetent son who always screwed things up? It was just a TV show. Eight years later, we knew why he was so worried.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:18 AM on December 12, 2012 [37 favorites]


I have a friend who, as a school principal, banned the "underachiever" shirt from being worn at her school. I did not follow the fallout, but apparently this ban stuck until the shirts went out of style.
posted by Danf at 11:20 AM on December 12, 2012


My favourite early-'90s bootleg t-shirt was Chronic The Hemp Hog.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:20 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


There was also Bart's Foray into rap.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:23 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Back in the day when even 'round the way girls did the Bartman.

(4:22)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:26 AM on December 12, 2012


Shirts were still as popular as the Batman logo on plain-black Ts of the same year.

AKA the Goofy's Tonsils shirt. ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:29 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was a freshman at the University of Iowa, which would have been 1997, there were booths set up on campus, with folks trying to get gullible kids out on their own for the first time to sign up for credit cards with most likely terrible interest rates and the like. As incentive, they had these t-shirts with Cartman from South Park on them, since this was at the height of South Park's popularity. The issue was that, though they had Cartman's likeness on them, the t-shirts actually said Carmen. I don't know, maybe they were going for that large demographic who loved both Bizet and South Park.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 11:37 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's even got his own cave at Casa Bonita!
posted by Aquaman at 11:38 AM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Bart shirts were massive in the UK even though 95 per cent of the population had never seen the show (it was on Murdoch flop Sky One from Sept 1990).

Even the Black Bart ones (I think I remember 'By any means necessary, man!')
posted by colie at 11:38 AM on December 12, 2012


We all laughed in the early 90s when George H W Bush ragged on The Simpsons.

The Simpsons had their revenge, in what is definitely one of the highlights of the series. The moral of the story is don't pick a fight with comedy writers.
posted by dortmunder at 11:39 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


My school didn't allow kids to sport the "Who the hell are you?" shirts - they'd have to turn them inside out or somehow cover up the offending word - but the underachiever ones were fine.

I like the Obama shirt because it sort of suggests a continuity; it suggests that there is this little pocket universe, like ours in some ways but unlike ours in others, where Black Bart Simpson is a real thing and has been an actual part of the dominant culture since the early nineties, and sometimes, some of the merchandise from that place falls through a crack in spacetime into our own reality. And it's cruel and bizarre how this miracle, this thing that would completely alter our understanding of physics and the nature of reality itself, somehow only manifests in the spontaneous materialization of tee-shirts which are mistaken for bootlegs and not what they truly are: something much stranger, much more wonderful.

Why he'd be called Black Bart Simpson if he's the regular Bart Simpson in his world, I don't know. Maybe there's another Bart Simpson over there that gained a little traction and it wound up like how the Ghostbusters cartoon was still called The Real Ghostbusters long after the other Ghostbusters franchise had slipped into the dustbin of history. Or like how Downtown Julie Brown was called Downtown Julie Brown to distinguish herself from the comedienne Julie Brown, and she still is, even though the odds of either of them being mistaken for anyone at all, let alone each other, anymore are kind of minuscule.

Yeah. That's what the Obama shirt makes me think of.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:40 AM on December 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


I had several friends that had the black Bart t-shirts. For my own part, my mother bought us all Simpsons t-shirts one day at JC Penney toward the end of the craze. I think I was in about 5th or 6th grade. My rapscallion brother got the "Underachiever" shirt. Mine just said, in a vertical stack of words:

"The Good": With Lisa standing next to it
"The Bad": of course Bart was next to it
"And the Snuggly": little Maggie Simpson sleeping away.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:41 AM on December 12, 2012


Aw man, I was hoping this would have something to do with Mel Brooks and Cleavon Little.
posted by davelog at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2012


"I've labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you've tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches."
-- Black Bart the Po8, 1877
 
posted by Herodios at 11:47 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


i am a hard-core (well, as hard core as i can get) Simpsons fan; i have a "Underachiever and Proud of It" t-Shirt, which I still wear.

What's funny, though, is that Bart Simpson, the character, never came across as an underachiever. He never seemed to be anti-intellectual or anti-education or anti-achievement; he just didn't care for school. More importantly, he seemed to be a good kid overall.

That being said, I can somewhat understand the "moral panic" among educators and parents who didn't really watch the show - I mean, if I didn't know the show, would I really want to celebrate underachievement? Don't we as mefites abhor anyone who does not consider the importance of education, for our children or for ourselves?

The T-Shirt was probably more about marketing to the lowest-common denominator, rather than accurately reflecting Bart's character. And Matt Groening probably went along with it because he probably loved trolling all of those pearl clutchers (including me). It was good for business.
posted by bitteroldman at 11:49 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't we as mefites abhor anyone who does not consider the importance of education, for our children or for ourselves?

Well there's education, and then there's the stuff Bart was getting from Skinner and Krabappel...
posted by colie at 11:51 AM on December 12, 2012


My favorite bootleg Simpsons' shirt is the very recent release from Teen Witch 666* which is not available anymore and will not be available again because of litigation threats. Limited edition indeed.


*local (to chicago) fairly prominent zine publisher, bad-tastemaker, club promoter, "dj," & seapunk, and a pretty nice talented dude
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:52 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


In retrospect I'm bummed that if schools were going to ban one they didn't ban the underachiever one. Too busy focused on hell...
posted by glhaynes at 11:55 AM on December 12, 2012


I had the underachiever shirt and could not wear it to school. I also remember Co-Ed Naked shirts and the Big Johnson shirts also being banned (or at least you were asked to turn them inside out).

Ahhhhh high school in the 90s.

Possible NSFW ads in links depending on where you work.
posted by stltony at 11:55 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Really puts the Jesus Is A Cunt shirt controversies of the early 00's into perspective.
posted by mediocre at 11:57 AM on December 12, 2012


I had a Co-Ed Naked Volleyball hat at summer camp one year, and our much beloved camp director saw it one day and gave me the most disappointed look I've ever received in my life. Still feels bad.
posted by yellowbinder at 12:03 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The "black Bart" shirts emblazoned with Comic Sans looking letters reading "IT'S A BLACK THANG, YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND" were a fad for the better part of an entire school year when I was in high school. It was an interesting issue, because there was no response from the administration about it. However, you could be sent home and subsequently suspended for wearing a White Trash t-shirt with nothing but a rocking horse on it (logo of a skateboard company). America is such a weird place sometimes.

It might be worth mentioning that I attended high school in a state with an official anti-choice license plate available from the DMV (you don't need to ask if there was a pro-choice one available as well). The plantations will ascend encore, or whatever that phrase is.
posted by trackofalljades at 12:09 PM on December 12, 2012


I lived in DC when this happened. Black Bart was insanely popular in the entire metro area. Never heard any word about a moral panic though.

Does anyone remember the Africa + Bat Symbol bootleg merch when the Michael Keaton movie came out?
posted by clarknova at 12:12 PM on December 12, 2012


That being said, I can somewhat understand the "moral panic" among educators and parents who didn't really watch the show - I mean, if I didn't know the show, would I really want to celebrate underachievement? Don't we as mefites abhor anyone who does not consider the importance of education, for our children or for ourselves?

My father, who zealously screened everything I watched* heard about the Simpsons and moral panic about it and watched it an episode. I still haven't figured out which episode he watched, but his objection to it was that it thought it didn't have enough respect for Marge and Homer's marriage and forbid me to watch. A ban that I respected until I was probably in eighth grade and suddenly realized I was probably allowed to watch it.

*This is the man who forbid me from watching What Would You Do because he found it "disrespectful to authority figures."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:20 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Set the stage nicely for the following year when 2 Live Crew albums were heralded as the next undoing of western civilization.
posted by dr_dank at 12:26 PM on December 12, 2012


I didn't do it.
posted by Melismata at 12:31 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


To whoever spraypainted a cholo Bart Simpson on my house last night
posted by Greg Nog at 12:34 PM on December 12, 2012


My officemate said "Eat my shorts!" about something yesterday (I think her exact phrasing was "Everyone can just eat my shorts!"), and I mentally paused for a moment, remembering the days when that would've been utterly scandalous. Great timing on this!
posted by limeonaire at 12:42 PM on December 12, 2012


Fukengruven
posted by asockpuppet at 12:53 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Remember when they had the yard sale, and there were the "I didn't do it' T-shirts among the other items?) :)
posted by Melismata at 1:37 PM on December 12, 2012


My father was a public school administrator in a very small, very conservative town in Indiana. As a father, he wouldn't let his kids watch MTV, Roseanne, Married with Children, or Blossom.

But in his capacities as both school administrator and father, he fully endorsed The Simpsons. He originally and always thought it was hilarious. I don't really know what it is about the show, specifically, that trips his trigger, but he is like Mr. Uber Big Fan.

The Simpsons CD was probably the first CD I ever completely memorized. Deep, deep, trouble...

Man, the 90s!! As for Coed Naked Soccer shirts, I present the definitive post.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:39 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's so strange how the Simpson's was portrayed as being anti-social when it's a nuclear family with a stay-at-home mom with three kids, and they all regularly go to church on Sundays.

I pointed this out to an evangelical coworker back in the mid-90's, and his mind was blown. He watched the show and actually enjoyed it.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:04 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is no clothing fad so stupid that some adult somewhere won't lose their shit about it.

My dad was convinced by some religious whackadoo somewhere that neon colors (big in the 80s!) were somehow whorish and forbid me to wear them. Even in baggy oversized clothes, or socks, or jewelry.

I still don't know what the fuck that was about. And now he's gone so I can't ask him.
posted by emjaybee at 4:54 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


[PDF autodownload warning]
posted by 1000monkeys at 6:19 PM on December 12, 2012


I had to explain my quip today of "And I remember when the Simpsons were edgy." to one of my tutoring students. It was only when I realized she's younger than my car by a year that I head-desked so hard I shook the wall.
posted by strixus at 8:01 PM on December 12, 2012


It's so strange how the Simpson's was portrayed as being anti-social when it's a nuclear family with a stay-at-home mom with three kids, and they all regularly go to church on Sundays.

I've always been struck by how healthy Marge and Homer's sex life is as well.

The family has all sorts of rows, but always remains gloriously free of genuine neurosis or sorrow.
posted by colie at 5:32 AM on December 13, 2012


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