The good news is that, as of this writing, zero shirts bearing the above image have been sold.
The shirt above says "I Am The Yellow King," a reference to the popular (and concluding this weekend) HBO show True Detective. The Yellow King is at the center of a decade-spanning mystery, one that involves rape, murder and child kidnapping and molestation. All, it seems, perpetrated by or under the orders of The Yellow King. So what you're looking at here is a shirt that self-identifies with a ritualistic rapist and murderer.
Fandom's weird. I've always felt that. I come from horror fandom, and that's a world where we regularly lionize serial killers whose body counts approach genocide. It's a strange thing, and it's a fine line, but most of the horror icons operate either in semi-cartoonish worlds or operate as some sort of righteous hand of god. Jason Voorhees kills teens who break the rules, and so his appeal is being the enforcer. Freddy Krueger or Pinhead work in bizarre, over the top worlds that are removed from reality. And even outside of horror we often root for the bad guy. Scarface isn't immortal because we want Tony Montana to lose. And Breaking Bad had us, against our own best instincts, feeling tense about Walter White's fate right up until the end. Crooks and killers have always been heroes.
But there are lines, and True Detective is on the other side of it. The great beloved bad guys have depth of character, and they have a flair. The Yellow King is not much of a character and he, so far, has no real style. He's like John Doe in Seven, a character who is empty, or Buffalo Bill, who is just totally creepy. We can be enthralled by these characters, we can be fascinated by them, but we're not necessarily identifying with them. And The Yellow King is hard to identify with because we simply haven't seen him (or we have and he hasn't been identified).
It's very likely that somebody who wanted to cash in on a popular thing made this shirt and didn't think deeply about the meaning of it, but that's actually troubling. True Detective is a show that is very much about how men treat women, and I think in the end we're going to see that Marty Hart lives on a continuum with The Yellow King, that both men abuse and mistreat women, just in different ways. If you don't see that True Detective is telling a story about damaged men and how they hurt others, you're either going to hate the show or you're going to like it for reasons that are really, really creepy to contemplate. Sasha Stone of Awards Daily has talked on Twitter about reading comments from young men who think Marty is the hero of the show, and that his girlfriend had him trapped and did him wrong by going to his wife. It's okay to identify with Marty - we're all deeply flawed people and our flaws may be reflected in a character like that, especially one with such depth - but to misunderstand who Marty is and the relationships he has so profoundly speaks simply to unchecked misogyny.
Which brings us back to this shirt. The idea that someone could design and put up for sale a shirt that says "I Am The Yellow King" (obviously trying to play on the speculation about the identity of the killer, by the way) without thinking it through... it troubles me.
Like I said, at least nobody has bought one.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about the way movies and TV are consumed by people. There's stuff that's dark and twisted and fucked up - the stuff to which I've always been drawn - which I have always seen as obviously not promoting dark, twisted and fucked up thought processes. But it turns out that people will consume stuff however they want; no matter how smartly layered True Detective is, someone's always going to dig it for the wrong reasons. They're going to key into the stuff that's supposed to be sick, and they're going to key into it in the wrong way. They're going to side with the character who is clearly a mess. They're going to say Skyler is a bitch, you know?
But here's the thing: THERE'S NOTHING WE CAN DO ABOUT THIS. There will be some who find this sort of storytelling irresponsible because screwed up assholes will latch onto the wrong stuff. There re some who will say we should be protesting this kind of material, or even banning it. But these people will always latch onto the wrong part of something. They'll always find the creepiest way into a movie or a TV show. The only way to combat this is to talk about it - to have vigorous, smart discussions about Rust and Marty and what kind of men they are and what the show is saying about them. To analyse and yap about the stuff we consume. It's all part of the cycle - the world offers something to the artist who digests it into art which is then offered to the audience who digests it again and, perhaps, puts it back out into the world. So that's how we push back against the 'I Am The Yellow King' t-shirt.