'Disrespectful' American Flag T-Shirt Causes an Uproar Over Memorial Day (PHOTO)

american flag

Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, but it can be a tricky thing, too -- particularly when the "speech" in question can be misconstrued as anti-American in any way, shape or form. Just ask ubiquitous mall clothing chain store Pac Sun, which recently got into some seriously hot water for selling a t-shirt with an upside down American flag as part of a partnership with rapper A$AP Rocky, who uses the symbol in his performances.


The inverted flag isn't necessarily meant to be disrespectful, according to A$AP Rocky: "The reason that those flags are upside down are because our world is upside down. We're just trying to be understood," he's said of the symbol. But shocked consumers were definitely having a hard time seeing the t-shirt as a form of artistic expression, particularly over Memorial Day weekend, and they took to social media to voice their outrage. Here's the shirt:

Shopper Rachel Zawacki-Kuss summed up the feelings of many when she posted this message on Facebook with a picture of the shirt:

"I saw this at your location at Tanger Outlets this morning in Foley, Alabama. I understand freedom of speech but this shirt, displayed prominently at the entrance of your store, for Memorial Day weekend is more distasteful and disrespectful than anything I thought I'd see. I will not be shopping at PacSun again."

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pac Sun quickly buckled under the pressure of disgusted (and vocal) customers like Zawacki-Kuss and pulled the shirt from store shelves. They also released the following statement to E! News:

"As a retailer grounded in youth culture, PacSun values artistic and creative expression through the brands that we sell in our stores. Out of respect for those who have put their lives on the line for our country, we have decided to stop selling the licensed flag t-shirt and are removing it from our stores and website immediately. We thank the men and women in uniform for their extraordinary service."

From a business perspective, Pac Sun was left with little choice, to be sure. Even the U.S. code of law states that "The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property." So I don't blame the store for halting sales of this shirt, nor do I blame the many patriotic people who spoke out against it. But here's the thing: I actually don't think A$AP Rocky is trying to be offensive, or even un-patriotic, by using this design. The truth is, our country IS upside down right now, as anyone who's watched the news in the past year (or 10) knows. Riots, poverty, unemployment, polarizing politics ... things are tough, and have been for awhile. Americans are suffering. That doesn't mean this isn't a great country, of course. Isn't it possible to both recognize our nation's flaws and love and honor what it stands for at the same time? Besides, how can we ever hope to fix the problems we face if we don't recognize and name them first?

That said, the image of an upside down flag is harsh -- maybe too harsh. (My WWII vet grandfather is no doubt rolling in his grave at the very idea!) Perhaps A$AP Rocky (and artists like him) can find less offensive, but still effective, symbolism to get their points across. Because unfortunately, while going for shock value might get you attention, it doesn't always make people listen -- oftentimes, it simply alienates your intended audience.

Still, getting back to that whole freedom of speech thing, the concept IS part of what makes this country great. That's what makes cases like this one such a tough call. 

What do you think of Pac Sun's decision to pull the upside down American flag t-shirt? 


Image via kara huff/Flickr

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