T-Shirts of Trauma: From Suicide Notes to Blood Spatter Patterns

A good friend of mine recently posted a link to a young girl wearing a mass-production t-shirt on Facebook. Why would you even click the link? What’s the issue?

KurtcobainThis is the issue. This is the t-shirt. One of many actually. This t-shirt comes in different shapes and colours all bearing the same design – Kurt Cobain’s thought-provoking and emotionally crippling suicide note. Here is the text of the suicide note, for any who have not previously read it:

To Boddah

Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complain-ee. This note should be pretty easy to understand. All the warnings from the punk rock 101 courses over the years, since my first introduction to the, shall we say, ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has proven to be very true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guilty beyond words about these things. For example when we’re back stage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins., it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seemed to love, relish in the the love and adoration from the crowd which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is, I can’t fool you, any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do,God, believe me I do, but it’s not enough). I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. It must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they’re gone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasms I once had as a child. On our last 3 tours, I’ve had a much better appreciation for all the people I’ve known personally, and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone. There’s good in all of us and I think I simply love people too much, so much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man. Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know! I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what i used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become. I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along that have empathy. Only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess. Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. Peace, love, empathy.

Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your alter.

Please keep going Courtney, for Frances. For her life, which will be so much happier without me.



Mass-producing t-shirts with the print of this heartfelt letter is simply a trivialisation of mental illness, of suicide and of Kurt Cobain’s existence. The sentiment of aforementioned friend was an interesting one – that these t-shirts glamourise suicide and self-harm in a way in which no video game or song lyric can because it is real. The words and thoughts behind that print came from a man who many of us have seen and heard and know existed in his worst moments, the moments before he took his own life.

In a similarly offensive spate of design failures (or publicity stunts), Urban Outfitters are one of the biggest culprits for producing inappropriate clothing items. One of the worst being their Kent State sweatshirt.

the-young-hipster-shopping-mecca-urban-outfitters-offends-yet-againThis isn’t a used item. No, this is how it’s produced! Tasteful blood spatters adorn the shirt alongside a very clear Kent State University logo.

For anyone who doesn’t know the history of the Kent State shootings (and to be fair, I didn’t know a great deal before seeing this a while back), this is what happened as described by history.com:

On April 30, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon appeared on national television to announce the invasion of Cambodia by the United States and the need to draft 150,000 more soldiers for an expansion of the Vietnam War effort. This provoked massive protests on campuses throughout the country. At Kent State University in Ohio, protesters launched a demonstration that included setting fire to the ROTC building, prompting the governor of Ohio to dispatch 900 National Guardsmen to the campus.

During an altercation on May 4, twenty-eight guardsmen opened fire on a crowd, killing four students and wounding nine. Following the killings, the unrest across the country escalated even further. Almost five hundred colleges were shut down or disrupted by protests.Despite the public outcry, the Justice Department initially declined to conduct a grand jury investigation. A report by the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest did acknowledge, however, that the action of the guardsmen had been “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.” Eventually, a grand jury indicted eight of the guardsmen, but the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence.



Front page from May 5th, 1970

Kent_State_massacre pols_feature1-3Here are just a handful of the other controversial products released by Urban Outfitters:

A crop top that reads 'depression' over and over and over again

A crop top that reads ‘depression’ over and over and over again

A blatantly racist St. Patrick's Day sports cap

A blatantly racist St. Patrick’s Day sports cap

And, last but not least…

A t-shirt reading 'Eat Less' in a senseless provocation of anorexia

A t-shirt reading ‘Eat Less’ in a senseless provocation of anorexia

If you find anything similar or want to share your views, please comment below 🙂

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