China banned these "Oba-Mao" T-shirts, which were selling at a brisk pace in Beijing, last week in an apparent effort to avoid embarrassing Barack Obama during his visit. The weird thing is, in China, it's a pro-Obama shirt.
The generational and cross-cultural refractions obscuring exactly what a T-shirt depicting Obama as a Chairman Mao is supposed to mean are positively cosmic. So the Chinese authorities decided to just ban the things outright. And they're taking this so seriously that security guards at a subway station, apparently aware of how Glenn Beck would use pictures of young Chinese people wearing T-shirts comparing our president to their great leader, detained a CNN reporter for two hours yesterday after she tried to tape a report about the banned T-shirts.
In China, the image comes across as witty and cool.... [They are] popular with young people who admire Obama and who get the Andy Warhol-esque joke about icons.
"Mao is kitschy and cool," says Mr. Jenne. "He gets a pass" in a way that other 20th century dictators don't.
But in the U.S., some folks are importing them from China and selling them to the teabag crowd, who wear them to announce their genuinely held belief that Barack Obama is literally like Mao Tse-Tung and will soon begin collectivizing farms. So a shirt that Chinese kids wear ironically because they understand a) how silly it is to compare Obama to Mao, but at the same time b) how Obama has through his style and rhetoric become nearly as iconic as Mao, and c) that even though Mao was a monster, through the passage of time the imagery associated with him has taken on a different, more light-hearted meaning, is also worn in earnest by American teabaggers who understand none of the above and think "kitschy" is Hebrew or something. This reminds us of stories about Christmas displays at Japanese malls featuring crucified Santas. We can't quite wrap our heads around it.
Anyway, the Chinese government was so terrified Politico might see one of these T-shirts that they banned them, and detained CNN's Emily Chang for two hours when they caught her walking around with one in a Shanghai mall. How long before the same thing happens here?