"Death to tyranny" reads one of the t-shirts offered from right wing radio host Glenn Beck's new denim and clothing brand, 1791. The tyranny shirt is sold, online only, alongside jeans and other message shirts with shallow, jingoistic messages of Americana including cherry trees and Native Americans. All products are, of course, made in America.
The 1791 brand, which launched as a charity clothing line 11 months ago, is the latest extension of a dwindling Beck empire. It is also the latest brand line from a right wing radio host looking to leverage popularity to fill his own pockets. The problem for Beck's particular endeavor is that the market is currently filled with a glut of Tea Party-focused products.
Beck's opinions on the denim business took off just over a year ago when the radio host saw Levi's "Go Forth" campaign and complained that it “glorifies revolution." The ads were running at the same time London riots were intensifying and, as we noted, a lot of Levi's ad imagery seemed a spooky mirror of events in London. At the time, Beck lamented what had happened to his bellowed American brand:
“I put on a pair of old Levi’s and I said to my wife, ‘I love Levi’s! I’ve loved them since I was a kid. They’re my favorite jeans! I don’t know why I don’t wear them all the time!’ I am turning my red tabs in. I will not wear a pair of Levi’s. Won’t do it.”
(Of course, as we've also noted, this isn't the first time Beck has used his wife in his messaging; just months earlier that same year, Beck ran an ad where he more or less called his wife fat.) Now, a year later, Beck has launched a Levi's competitor with 1791, a brand is named after the year in which the Constitution came to incorporate the Bill of Rights.
One curious detail about 1791 its that the brand has been around since June of 2011, a full three months before Beck had his meltdown about Levi's. (According to his Facebook page, "1791: Supply & Co. joined Facebook on June 22, 2011.")
By September 2011, when Beck took aim at a Levi's campaign that had already been running for months, 1791: Supply & Co. (then called "1791: The Blueprint") was offering Glenn Beck-branded merchandise on the radio host's website. One of the products already on sale in August 2011 was an older version of the "Death to Tyranny" now sold under the 1791 brand:
"Take a sneak peek into the new 1791 clothing line with it’s debut t-shirt, 1791 'Death to Tyranny.' The mission of the 1791 clothing is to help inspire Americans to remember who we are-and empower them to lead rather than hand everything off to a government bureaucracy. The item to kick-start this movement and mark as our first official 1791 item is the ‘Death to Tyranny’ tee."
In Beck's paranoid world of conspiracy theories, one might even suspect that the radio personality timed his Levi's rant to coincide with the launch of a brand that he had been cultivating months earlier.
This being a Glenn Beck product, the symbolism is ripe with irony. Take, for example, the 1791 brand's constant use of Native American iconography, despite 1791 being a year when the United States Army was actively at war with Native American tribes. In fact, The United States did not extend to Native Amerticans the rights guaranteed under Beck's favorite document until the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968. (Maybe Adidas would have had more luck with its recent "slavery" ankle shackle shoe if it had sold it as the "1791 shoe?")
On the brand's Facebook page and website, 1791 uses old photos from a century after 1791 to promote its "Made in America" pedigree. The message: "Keeping jobs in America." That the photo displays the kind of turn-of-the-century Industrial Revolution East Coast sweatshop that hired children, abused workers, killed many and gave rise to the labor unions Beck despises is just another of the little ironies that can always be found in any Glenn Beck endeavor.
Case in point, as Bloomberg Businessweek points out about Beck's new brand: "1791 uses the same denim mill that Levi’s uses for its own Made in the USA products, most of its vintage collection, and some of its 501 jeans."
A bigger problem for Beck is that the market is flooded with flag-waving, iconographic, Go USA!-wear. There is the 1776 Clothing Co. Certainly a direct competitor for 1791 is Gadsden & Culpeper, a brand putting out stylish, modern styles that incorporate the same tea party themes 1791 is aiming for, such as "infidel" shirts and the "Don't Tread on Me" snake image. In fact, Gadsden & Culpeper takes its brand name from the "Gadsden flag" (yellow) and Culpeper Minutemen flag (white) that originally used the snake logo.
Beck's advantage is that he has a daily platform from which the shill his jeans. Beck fans should settle in and be ready for a daily dose of 1791 brand commentary. As a model, they can look to Rush Limbaugh. Last year Limbaugh launched "Two if By Tea," a brand of bottled ice teas that play of the revolution legend of "one if by land, two if by sea" and the rise of the conservative "tea party." Ever since the launch, Limbaugh has incorporated news about Two of By Tea into daily programming, including promotions and giveaways.
A year after blasting Levi's, Beck spent September 2012 criticizing American Airlines and announcing a personal boycott of the carrier. This can only mean we can look forward to the 2013 launch of 1903: the Glenn Beck airline named after the year of the Wright brothers' first flight.