THE MICKEY MOUSE T-SHIRT

I’m not the biggest Disney fan – never was. I always was more of a Tex Avery kid. I hold the Disney corporations precious approach to their films for this. I wasn’t going to buy ’em or squander a rental on a ‘U’ when I could be watching a ‘PG’ at the very least. Got ‘The Jungle Book’ as a book and tape and saw ‘Dumbo’ as an end-of-term school screening, but bar Donald flipping out after chipmunk troubles, the unexpectedly terrifying ‘Sleepy Hollow’ short and the glimpse of the black and white efforts on a Bank Holiday, I was never a Disney Club candidate. As I grew up as a tinpot socialist in my late teens, I treated Disney output with contempt.

I was a fool.

I’m no fan of Mr.Disney’s politics, but every time I see an atrocious ‘street artist’ use an appropriation (D*Face for example) of Disney logos or characters, my allegiance to the evil empire grows. The reason? Because these legal wall painting, fly postering, money-grabbing, A-level politicking, culture commodifying, watered-down wastes of Stolen Space don’t have a fraction of the talent that Mickey Mouse’s originator and animation legend Ube Iwerks or the cartoonist Floyd Gottfredson carried. In fact, anyone who painted a single cell for Disney’s key motion pictures of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s deserves a magazine cover over these clowns. And the Lichtenstein bites four decades too late? ‘Satirical’ reapproriations of Jack Kirby? Don’t get me fucking started. These frauds are Mickey Mouse in the most negative way.

I noticed that Supreme, a brand that does understand the relevance and cultural resonance of the imagery they play with season after season are releasing Mickey Mouse t-shirts in a variety of colours for the new season. Some might cry cop-out at the finished product, but it’s undeniably an iconic piece of apparel. As Walt opened up avenues for licensing in the ’30s, he unleashed an avalanche of merchandising. Toy-wise, according to Portbello.com.au,

“…in 1930 Disney contracted a leading doll manufacturer, the George Borgfeldt Company, to produce Mickey and Minnie Mouse toys.

Borgfeldt had been distributing a Micky (with no “e”) Mouse toy for the Performo-Toy Company since 1926. The two toys co-existed until 1931 when  Disney sued Performo-Toy claiming that they copied their Micky from Disney’s. Despite Performo-Toy having patented its “animal toy” in 1926, Disney won and the small Performo-Toy Company went out of business.”

The Mickey t-shirt and watch stick out to me as the most timeless pieces. An early high-profile example of a Mickey tee (though a long sleeve one) worn onscreen is dancer/actor Buddy Ebsen in 1935’s ‘Broadway Melody Of 1936’ – it’s that slightly skinnier, basic Mickey, and it has to be noted, with a collared shirt under it, it’s a strong look. Reportedly, Walt was so delighted at this act of promotion, he hired Buddy for movies later in his career. Proto-product placement in effect.  If you’re wondering how MGM, for whom ‘Broadway Melody…’ was a showcase, themselves onetime animation giants would allow the garment in question to be shown, they didn’t open their animation department until 1937 – two years later.

In the ’60s when it suddenly became acceptable to wear a shirt containing a sly pop culture reference to prove that you were so bright and self-aware that you could consciously dumb down, the shirt seems to hit a whole new crowd, with Mickey riding the wave of popularity as tees became a printed trend piece rather than utilitarian underwear. In Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of ‘The Outsiders’, set in the ’60s, Emilio Estevez’s switchblade wielding prankster, ‘Two-Bit’ Matthews, whose Soc-baiting mockery, “Hey check out their pants! So, you guys waitin’ for a floodin‘?” is as relevant as ever now, sports a sleeveless Mickey ringer tee, at odds with the basic attire of his Greaser associates. Apparently this was Emilio’s wardrobe decision rather than Francis’s, but it’s an effective one, seemingly digitally removed from many publicity materials.

Michael (as seen far above) sported a shirt too in his early days, but it’s the ’00s that get very interesting indeed. There was a late ’90s panic when Disney realised that Mickey’s visage might enter the public domain for 2003. After a brief hoo-ha, they got to keep their properties in a landmark cpyright extension decision. When the vintage boom pushed an old ‘Purple Rain’ tour tee a la Mouth from ‘The Goonies’ to mortgage prices, Mickey’s shirt stock rose. In 2003, Jackie Brander’s boutique vintage Mickey pieces blew up, and Disney’s ‘Ink and Paint’ brand put out a bestselling pre-faded Mouse print shirt that briefly became the A-list accessory of choice. The perfect accompaniment to a Von Dutch hat.

If you’re going to do a Mickey parody, do it well. Minnesota’s ‘Life Sucks Die’ magazine (deserving of a blog post of its own) being the breeding ground for the design geniuses at Burlesque, created a superb t-shirt promoted in 2001’s issue 9 (the final edition) depicting an evil Mickey with an axe behind his back, which I believe, (though I’m open to correction) was drawn by George Thompson who works with Rhymesayers, who had a similar picture of Mickey getting a hatchet to the head for the original cover of EL-P’s 2002 single ‘Dead Disnee’ pulled before release. I’m guessing the tee generated legal letters too, seeing as all traces of it online are gone. Fortunately, I found the image in question as a ribcage tattoo. Interestingly, in 2008, Disney commisioned one of the magazine’s founders, the writer Ewok, to make an official piece depicting Mickey for Bloc28.

Burlesque’s talent for t-shirt parodies is present as Horkey knows best  with the Aaron Horkey ‘Horkamania’ shirt.

This leads us to August’s Licensing Expo announcement that the ‘Mickey By’ collection is going to make 2010 the year of the Mouse, seemingly following the steet level approach of last year’s Bloc28 programme, After Neighborhood worked with Mickey, is the Supreme hookup a taste of things to come? If you can’t beat ’em, it looks like Disney’s sussed how to join ’em again.

Anyhow, as the cartoon below attests, Mickey’s got a hardrock side…

0 thoughts on “THE MICKEY MOUSE T-SHIRT

  1. Over the last thirty years I’ve know that a Mickey tee was naff, then you come along, apply some reason and logic and hey presto, I was wrong. I was wrong all this time. Damn you and your reasonings and logics 😉