It’s no secret that Peoples Temple “merchandise” is available on eBay, ranging from various books, videos/dvds, and even bootlegs of He’s Able. T-shirts also appear, though much more sporadically. However, the concept of Jonestown apparel is not limited to eBay, nor is it even a new phenomenon. A simple Google search shows any number of sites, such as Hexes.BitCartel.com and Interpunk, that sell what I will politely call “Joneswear.” A major venue for such sundry items are websites that allow vendors to create a design which the site will print on demand for a buyer, and yes, a number of these have sellers hawking shirts with Jim Jones or at least a Peoples Temple theme. RedBubble and Zazzle are popular examples, but almost certainly the most heavily-trafficked is CafePress.
As of this writing (August 2011), there are roughly a half-dozen items related to Jim Jones available on CafePress. This does not include tangentially-related items, such as shirts that reference “drinking the Kool-Aid” in some other context.
A quick word about how CafePress works, with a clarification that it is representative of other sites of its ilk. Let’s say I come up with some design that I think someone would be interested in. It doesn’t even have to be a “real” picture; it could be a box with the text of some snazzy saying in it. I create an account, e-sign their “terms of service” contract (more on that in a moment), upload a picture of my design, put in a few descriptive product “tags,” and hope someone surfs the site looking for something matching my tag. That person orders something with my design, CafePress prints and ships it, and we split the money.
Let me also mention that CafePress is in no means limited to just t-shirts. Aside from polos, jerseys, pajamas, and even underwear, they will put the design on coffee mugs, mousepads, and bumper stickers. This can lead to some unusual combinations. Can you get a white hoodie with Barack Obama? Yep. A pair of Sarah Palin panties? You betcha!
Their Terms of Service, and specifically their Content Usage Policy, have a couple of interesting provisions. Most notable, and most germane to this present article, is the last entry under prohibited content:
Material that is generally offensive or in bad taste, as determined by CafePress.
Obviously, what constitutes being “offensive or in bad taste” is a grey, subjective quagmire one can get stuck in trying to define and justify. This is especially true with subjects which are religious, political, or “counterculture.” Peoples Temple falls into all three categories, so this is quite likely why CafePress is rather lax in enforcing this rather murky morality code on their own merchandise.
My one direct contact with CafePress helps illustrate this. In 2006 a movie called A Scanner Darkly came out, and one evening I was surfing the Web looking for related merchandise. I was rather surprised at what I saw available at CafePress: a full page of buyable designs, most of them obviously unauthorized and of shoddy quality. One caught my attention: an attempted quote of the movie. You’ll notice I say “attempted.” There’s a line in the film: “If I knew it was harmless I’d have killed it myself.” The shirt read: “If I knew it was heartless I’d have killed it myself.” I fired off an email to CafePress customer service, telling them about the misprint. I no longer have their reply, but essentially it was “We’re not responsible for the vendor’s content; go complain to them.”
This seems consistent with CafePress’s overall attitude toward content: they don’t police their own wares, but instead leave that up to the buyers. This is explicitly stated under the TOS:
CafePress.com provides an automated service to a rich and vibrant community of international users. Unfortunately, because our service is automated, sometimes content that is not consistent with our Content Usage Policy is posted on CafePress.com. If you have any issues or questions regarding our shopkeepers’ content, please contact the Content Usage Team.
From a purely capitalistic standpoint, CafePress (and its clones) offer an interesting business model, and the nature of their wares allows them to cater to all manner of buyers. I think most will agree that in terms of client desire, “Joneswear” is a niche market in the greater scheme of things. Of course, readers of the jonestown report quite likely fall into this niche, though whether they would actually buy any of the items is a different matter. Personally, I have trouble seeing any relatives of the deceased buying a shirt proclaiming them a Jonestown Bartender, but who knows?
Of course, this brings up one final point about CafePress and sites of its kind. Potential buyers are effectively at the mercy of the vender and their artistic talent (or lack thereof) in terms of what’s available. Fortunately, if you don’t like any of the designs, CafePress and its brethren have a feature which lets a customer upload their own picture and print off a customized t-shirt or such based on it. So, if anyone is unhappy or outraged with the available merchandise, they can easily respond by making their own “I (heart) Jim Jones” or “Rot in Hell, JJ!” shirt. If you’re feeling plucky enough, you can even create an account and try to sell them yourself.