I hate it when people ask “are you making a statement with that shirt?” No, idiot, it’s just a shirt and I like it.

Problem is…I do have reasons for wearing what I wear, they’re just super personal, and I’d feel like an idiot trying to explain them. I don’t know why I’m so self-conscious about sharing my thoughts and beliefs, but I want to change that starting…now.

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Atari Shirts:

Know where the name Atari came from? It’s a Japanese word that means a fortuitous turn of events…kinda like “Yay! I won the lottery!” Video game pioneers Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, however, didn’t always have occasion to exclaim their companies’ namesake.

The pair’s first video game venture, Computer Space, was a commercial flop. It’s controls were so complicated that reportedly engineering graduate students struggled to understand them. Plus, the public just wasn’t ready for video games yet. The oddly shaped blue arcade game was regarded as a passing fad; an experiment in engineering.

Atari again in 1993 made a bold move in the Atari Jaguar, the world’s first 64-bit video game console. A bold move indeed since most video game consoles at that time were a measly 16-bits. However, with few quality games, few third-party developers, and, again, massively complicated controllers, the Jaguar was a spectacular crash and burn.

Nathan Fillion recently gave some advice to an aspiring actress that I think sums up the spirit of my Atari apparel well:

“Do things that scare you. Fail constantly.”

Yes, Atari was a bit rubbish, but they were first! They were the trailblazers, taking enormous risks where others wouldn’t. Without the crazies leading the pack, would the overly conservative and risk-averse corporations have pushed forward themselves? I don’t know. Regardless, you gotta respect the Atari guys for never being afraid of failure.

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Fan-made Sci-fi Shirts:

I love seeing old things in new ways. I think that’s part of what attracts so many of us to sci-fi and fantasy. There are so many stories out there, so many morals, so many truths…but over the years their repetition has turned them into noise. Sci-fi allows us to dig deep into the ancient annals of life and wisdom, search through dusty parchments, and use them to breathe new life into tired and weary souls.

At the risk of going meta, fan-made sci-fi shirts take that re-framing of the ordinary, and re-frames it…like…again. It’s fun to see your favorite sci-fi through somebody else’s perspective. The Tardis and DeLorean bumping into each other? A Firefly class transport in a jar with holes poked in the lid? I love it all over again.

Plus, these aren’t the typical mass-produced commercial promotional items churned out in bulk. There’s something special about them, personal even, helping to maintain a sense of identity at a time when sci-fi and fandom culture are increasingly mainstream.

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Film Festival Shirts:

Nothing feels more validating to an independent filmmaker than a pair of laurels. Even getting accepted into a film festival these days is a feat. In just the last few years, festival submissions have jumped from a couple hundred, to several thousand.

I like to wear shirts from the festivals my films have screened at as a reminder, not that I’m better than others, but that somebody saw value in who I am and what I’m doing. Filmmaking is a slow and difficult process, and often becomes a test of how well you can maintain a vision despite grave odds. Our recent short, Avarice, took over three years to complete. It wasn’t easy.

Some days all I have to keep me going is knowing that somebody out there has my back.

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“I Am The Stig” Shirt:

Growing up, I was the kid left out of all the automotive discussions. I couldn’t have told a Geo Metro from a Shelby GT 500. So, how on earth did I get hooked on British car show Top Gear (where the mysterious Stig is a recurring character)?

Because it’s flipping awesome, that’s how.

It’s an odd mix of car reviews, Mythbusters, and explosions…but mostly it follows three blundering middle-aged men as they go to ridiculous lengths to make ludicrous claims about absurd cars. It’s the perfect weekday evening entertainment.

But shenanigans aside, there’s a central theme that came out best when Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson interviewed British treasure Dame Ellen MacArthur. At the age of 28, Dame Ellen broke the world record for a solo circumnavigation of the globe. In the interview she relays the dangers and challenges of her 71 day journey. Clarkson thanks her, saying if it weren’t for brave people like her, mankind would still be living in caves.

And that’s the truth behind the show. LIke Atari, without the brilliant, brave, and passionate explorers in the world, we’d go nowhere. Imagination and heart trump legislation and dogma every time.

Want to simultaneously be inspired and made to feel like a sluggard? Check out Dame Ellen MacArthur’s interview on Top Gear, and the startling outcome of her “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” lap:

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A T-shirt I Designed for NASA:

I’ve loved space for as long as I can remember…and I desperately hope that in my lifetime, commercial spaceflight will be a reality. Until then, the closest I’ll get to zero-g is a t-shirt I designed for NASA.

A few years back a friend of mine who worked at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in my hometown, Las Cruces, NM, was organizing a work safety expo. She needed a t-shirt designed for the event, and knowing how excited I’d be about being a part of a NASA event, offered me the gig. Heck yes.

Originally the shirt was to be a lighter blue, and the printing in color; the glowing lightbulb/person was supposed to be orange, and the NASA logo (they call it the meat ball) would be featured at the bottom. Unfortunately the printer dropped the ball at the last-minute, and only printed a stripped down white graphic on a black t-shirt. A bummer, sure, but I still got to design a t-shirt for NASA. How many people get to say that?

skull-shirts
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Skulls:

Death is scary. It stares us all down. It reminds us that our time is short and of incredible value. It puts goals and relationships in perspective.

But the anxiety of death is not just faced at the end of our lives, it is faced daily; in order for a new, stronger thing to live in us, an old, weaker thing must die.

I wear skulls because I want to be reminded that the old, childish things in my life must come to an end, so that I can more and more become the man I am meant to be. I believe that to be true of you, as well. There is purpose and value in all of our lives. Don’t let the tyranny of fear and ego choke out your potential. Embrace death so you might experience rebirth.

What are your favorite shirts? Share them in the comments.

Dan Baker

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Dan works out his social anxieties by producing and directing films. He's a proud New Mexican, and prefers green over red.

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