Pushing the Envelope or Crossing the Line?

This past week a “post-apocalyptic” streetwear brand, Bstroy, unveiled their latest menswear collection In New York City. The styles prominently featured models wearing hoodies that not only depicted the names of schools such as Stoneman Douglas, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, but also used distressed details in the fabric that created the impression of bullet holes. Days later, The Onion – a satirical digital and print media company – posted a “ironic” story about a fictitious school shooting that poked fun at the tragedy and the gun violence debate.

Praising those who had leapt into action to prevent the incident from escalating, relieved authorities announced Wednesday that they had thankfully stopped a school shooter before he did enough damage to restart the national gun debate. “We’re all certainly glad that the shooter was only able to kill two students and injure a teacher before law enforcement arrived and prevented it from becoming a full-blown national dialogue,” said police chief Walter McMurray, adding that his department’s quick response ensured that tens of millions of Americans could sleep soundly knowing that they’d never have to discuss this particular shooting.

Both Bstroy and The Onion didn’t give much thought to the way their actions would be received, and didn’t care, or clearly wanted to offend only for the sake of offending. Bstroy released a statement claiming that their intention was "to make a comment on gun violence and the type of gun violence that needs preventative attention and what its origins are, while also empowering the survivors of tragedy through storytelling in the clothes." And while they originally claimed that there had been no plans to sell those hoodies, in subsequent interviews the company changed direction and indicated they were considering doing just that.

In light of recent gun violence events including the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, as well as the on-going issue of active shooter threats in schools nationwide, it’s obvious both companies made extremely tasteless and poorly thought-out decisions. The intention may have been to start a dialogue but there is nothing humorous about the way they depicted the effects of school shootings or the debate about gun violence. All Americans – especially parents of children in school – are familiar with the daily threat of school violence, active shooter threats, and mass shootings. The shootings in El Paso and Dayton happened only six weeks ago. The conversation about ending gun violence in schools and in our country has been going on for decades and bullet-ridden sweatshirts with the names of Sandy Hook or Columbine are not furthering that conversation in a productive, positive, or meaningful way. Bstroy and the writers at The Onion should have shown some shred of sensitivity to anyone involved with this issue. The hoodies and the article are not artistic – not trendy – not ironic. They are repulsive and disgusting and demean the lives of every victim of gun violence as well as their families.

School safety is the number one concern for educators, administrators, and parents, and is not something to be taken lightly.

Fashion and satire can provoke. Engage. Empower. There are many ways of making an artistic statement and initiating thought-provoking dialogue--neither of these attempts are one of them. There’s a very fine line between thoughtful provocation and gratuitous shock tactics, and school shooting-themed hoodies and callously written “news articles” cross that line.