Just about any time something truly momentous happens on the world stage, a cagey but dedicated consortium of tchotchke makers proves that the souvenir business may just be the most agile arm of the retailing universe. Case in point: Hours after Navy Seals greeted Osama Bin Laden by introducing two bullets into his skull, a slew of T-shirts appeared in New York and Washington to commemorate the occasion.
The messages on the shirts were largely what you'd expect: Sophomoric, tasteless, clever. They range from the almost cute ("Ding Dong Osama's Dead") to the digitally tinged ("Dead LOL"); from the political ("It Took Obama to Get Osama") to the consummately crude ("Rest in Piss"). Street prices in D.C. started at 10 bucks; vendors in San Francisco—where the cost of living is higher, of course—wanted $24.
Maybe the long-awaited death of the world's most notorious terrorist isn't the occasion to talk about marketing, but you still have to wonder: What brands make these things? Well, none, really. Most of the shirts seem to be no-name efforts run quickly off local silk-screening machines by quick-thinking entrepreneurs. Given that the first T-shirts appeared just hours after Obama's death, that would preclude even the quickest shipments from China. For the record, at least one recognized retail entity (tshirthell.com) is vending a $20 "Got Him" shirt that you can customize with your own name.
While there are doubtless many people who'd consider these shirts to be an inappropriate response to anyone's death—even a guy who deserved it as much as Bin Laden did—the lowest common denominator invariably sets the standard, and the shirts sold. Besides, when former President George W. Bush was in the White House, he used to say that Bin Laden hated our way of life. Seeing as how that way of life includes free enterprise, maybe a T-shirt making fun of a dead Al Qaeda founder is the best epitaph this country can produce.