Category Archive 'Hawaiian Shirts'

13 Aug 2020

“On the Genealogy of Florals”

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I’ve never been a Hawaiian shirt man myself. Too demotic for me. But, if they’re going to be a symbol of anti-PC-ism, I’ll have to get some. The version Taj Mahal is wearing in “Six Days and Seven Nights” (1998) would be good.

The (Woke) Economist is indignant at a recent development in male fashion.

In the 1930s the Nazis designed their own shirts and commissioned Hugo Boss to produce them in black and brown. Their modern American cousins buy them off the rack at high-street beachwear boutiques. The “Boogaloo Boys” as they are known, an amorphous coalition of gun-loving anti-statists, white supremacists, preppers and libertarians, have adopted the Aloha shirt as regulation. A garment once associated with golfing seniors and barbecue dads now wraps the bodies of American militiamen gagging for a second civil war.

The Boogaloo Boys are harder to classify than previous generations of right-wing militias. Some of their actions are predictable, like holding rallies against gun laws and coronavirus safety measures, but they’re also turning up in their tropical togs to Black Lives Matter (BLM) marches. This is not always, as some reports have suggested, to insist on the importance of White Lives – but because they hate the cops. “We’re against the state,” a smooth-faced young man told BLM protesters in Texas on May 30th: “We won’t stop you burning down the police station.” He was wearing a baseball cap, a Kevlar jacket and a short-sleeved shirt, hot with yellow and turquoise flowers.

This Aloha habit first became legible in late 2018, when Joshua Citarella, a visual artist who studies online culture, noticed the shirts adding colour to the plainer alt-right ensemble of streetwear, assault weapon and bottle of Jack Daniels. Like so much extremist culture, the trend developed from a confluence of internet jokes and memes – the same kind of semiotic tangle that spawned Pepe, the amphibian mascot of anti-liberal politics, from 4Chan gaming slang and the image of Kek, the frog-headed Ancient Egyptian god of Chaos. The word “Boogaloo” is borrowed from a film, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo”, a hastily shot 1984 sequel to a popular break-dancing movie. When an activist posts a picture of himself in a respirator and Aloha shirt and pronounces himself “ready to boog”, he’s casting himself in the sequel to a well-known historical event starring Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. A further pun, “big luau” – the name for a Hawaiian hog roast – encodes hostility towards the police and it leads, somehow, to cotton printed with palms, petals and piña coladas.

Want a less convoluted explanation? You’ll find it in a self-published novel from 2019 by an author who writes under a pseudonym, Carl Snuffy. (Nobody knows his real identity: he’s the Elena Ferrante of alt-right gun-fan forums.) “Boogaloo” is set in the near-future during an internecine conflict in which armed American Marxists – whose battle cry is “For BERNIE! FOR AOC!” – have taken refuge in the sewers much as the Viet Cong occupied the Cu Chi tunnels. On the eve of his first battle, the hero is issued with a Hawaiian shirt to ensure that no one mistakes him for a member of the hated Antifa, an amorphous group of anti-fascists: “If we have these on…we won’t get shot at by the cops or vigilantes.”

In Honolulu, which many of the Boogaloo Boys doubtless refuse to believe is President Barack Obama’s place of birth, there is understandable disquiet. “We’re Hawaii”, thundered the capital’s main newspaper, “and we want our shirts back.”


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