It was unfortunate timing that on Memorial Day, a holiday that asks America to pause and both remember and honor those who have died serving in our country’s armed forces (no, it’s not just the unofficial kickoff to summer), one shopper discovered a PacSun T-shirt with the United States flag printed upside-down on the front.
The contentious T-shirt. Photo: PacSun.com
The black tee, a piece from rapper A$AP Rocky’s line for the surf and skate apparel brand, is causing quite the controversy. Treating a flag, or portraying one, in a discourteous manner is actually against federal law. And this particular item, which was being sold for $24, has been removed from the retailer’s website following a social media boycott started by a customer who spotted the shirt at an outlet store in Alabama. “I understand freedom of speech but this shirt, displayed prominently at the entrance of your store, for Memorial Day weekend is more distasteful and disrespectful than anything I thought I’d see,” Rachel Zawacki-Kuss wrote on Facebook. “I will not be shopping at PacSun again.”
Her post was liked more than 2,500 times and received nearly 8,000 shares. On Twitter, the hashtag #BoycottPacSun took off; actor James Woods even shared his point of view.
PacSun swiftly responded to the outcry. “As a retailer grounded in youth culture, PacSun values artistic and creative expression through the brands that we sell in our stores. Out of respect for those who have put their lives on the line for our country, we have decided to stop selling the licensed flag t-shirt and are removing it from our stores and website immediately,” the company posted on Facebook. “We thank the men and women in uniform for their extraordinary service.”
Upside-down flags waved by the crowd at an A$AP Rocky concert. Photo: Getty Images
But should the blame really be placed on PacSun? A$AP Rocky, the musician from whom the retailer licensed the shirt, has a long history of using U.S. flags in his art. His concerts are set against a mural of an upside down black and white flag, which he’s used to represent his brand for a while now; his fans even wave small handheld ones in the audience. The 26-year-old said the flag in its distressed state is emblematic of hip-hop’s revolution. “We have upside-down American flags. We have camouflage and war gear and sh**. All of it is a metaphor for what we’re fighting for. We want to show them that we’re all one generation and that things like discrimination shouldn’t exist anymore,” he told brobible.com. “If you look at ‘LiveLoveASAP,’ it’s the same shit. Except instead of the flag being behind me, it’s kind of the weight of the world on my shoulders now.”
Moreover, A$AP isn’t even the first to flip the American flag on its head. An upside down stars and stripes is the logo for American Records, the label started by legendary producer Rick Rubin after he left Def Jam in 1988. Rubin’s worked with everyone from Johnny Cash to Kanye West, winning seven Grammy Awards along the way, a place on the Time 100, and titles like, “the most important producer of the last 20 years.” Though no one’s ever mentioned his logo.
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