Remember when Jesse Jackson ran for President back in 1988? Well, Asia does…sort of.
Apparently, Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential run t-shirts are a thing in Asia now where folks are sporting the shirts with logos that read “JESSE JACKSON ’88 — FOR PRESIDENT,” “JESSE JACKSON ’88 — BLESS YOU,” or even the misspelled “JESS JACKSON ’88”.
The trend seems to have started with college students in South Korea earlier this year with celebrities like Rapper Moonbyul rocking the shirt in the music video for her song “In My Room.” Now, they’ve spread everywhere from China to Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.
But as we’ve seen before when folks in Asia “appropriate” Western symbols, the actual meaning or context of those symbols has nothing to do with their popularity. In fact, most of those wearing the shirts are not pining for a return to the ’80s or even know who Jackson is.
“I think it’s just about the design,” says Korean social media influencer Han Yoo Ra. “People may be aware of the English but they don’t know the deeper meaning or that it’s meant to be political. The word ‘Jesse’ is just cute. It’s nothing more serious than that.”
In fact, the retailers selling the shirts make no effort to provide the context for the shirts. For example, Yuiiyuii, a Korean fashion site, talks about the shirt’s “smart color scheme” and “sensuous lettering” while retailer NSmall sells the shirt alongside the Chupa Chups lollipop logo.
Which means, in twenty years when red “MAGA” caps become a fashion accessory in Asia due to its “smart color scheme” and “sensuous lettering”, we can…sorry, just threw up in my mouth a little.