Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
There are few sadder things than looking at a Facebook ad, and there are fewer still than looking at one that is trying to sell you this:
Mine, of course, says “Jennings,” but if you’ve seen similar merchandise popping up on Facebook, it likely bears your own name (often last, sometimes first). I’ve noticed this phenomenon over the past year or so, and at first I was amused (“What! How’d they know?”), which was followed by an obvious realization (“Oh, duh, Facebook advertising is a terrifying octopus whose tentacles are constantly seeping into our most private crevices”); I ended with my normal state of being over the past year, which is both horrified and numb.
I didn’t really give it much thought again until one of my coworkers discovered her own last name immortalized on a T-shirt:
It was just like mine, except instead of valorizing the blood of some mythical pool of Jenningses, it was valorizing the blood of some mythical pool of Mackeys.
Soon enough, other coworkers unearthed their own versions, ranging from the weirdly religious:
...to the mildly intimidating:
...to the grammatically unforgivable:
...to the criminally uncreative:
A lot of them really leaned into the whole “blood” thing:
A few were actually kind of sweet:
(Most were not, though.)
This one’s got a real plot twist:
After staring at dozens of these shirts, one after the other and each bearing a different name, some patterns began to emerge. Their tone is often boastful and unnecessarily antagonistic, like wearing the away team’s colors and sitting on the home team’s side. It’s tribal in the Shakespearean sense — Capulets, Montagues, etc. — but as far as I know, these days Brookes and O’Connells aren’t feuding with each other.
They speak of bloodlines and declare things like “Faith Loyalty Honor” as if these were qualities unique to having the last name “Okun.” They posit that God bestowed supernatural strength onto all Rubins the world over. (And if your last name is Dvalidze or Chittal or Wischhover or another name less common in the States, welp, guess your blood sucks!)
And yet here is where their true sadness lies: These shirts, whose entire raison d’etre is to convey the specialness of the wearer, are entirely interchangeable. They are manufactured ad infinitum with thousands of last names, each claiming superiority over the others.
For instance, you can find the following on Teespring.com currently:
It would be a strange coincidence if every single one of these families happened to share the motto “strength, courage, wisdom!” But also, this is America in 2018 and not medieval France, and last names don’t have mottos that travel from generation to generation.
Which confirms my suspicion that these sad, sad T-shirts are really a way for us, who live in a country without a history of nobility and who often know very little about where our families came from, to carve some kind of meaning about our identities using the most basic information available.
It is inherently meaningless to be proud of “Jennings blood.” Every person is a mix of hundreds of thousands of millions of people’s blood, spanning back to the beginning of human life. Your last name is not special. And, really, neither are you! And a screen-printed T-shirt will not save you from your fate, which is to fade into nothingness, left unremembered by your ancestors, who will also die, forgotten.