All About Merch

Although I’d heard of it uncomprehendingly when I was in seminary, I first joined the Society of Biblical Literature in 1991, while a doctoral student.  I religiously *ahem* attended the annual meetings until I lost my job and my ability to afford it.  When I landed in publishing I started attending again, and over all these years I’ve started to notice a lot of swag creeping in.  Publishers sell bauble headed theologians (aren’t they all?), playful knick-knacks, and even socks bearing the cover design of established commentary series.  It’s as if we want to tell the world that studying the Bible is cool.  (Why not purchase some nice warm socks?)  So I wasn’t really surprised when the society itself, fondly known as SBL, started selling its own merch.

On most SBL electronic newsletters there’s a link to the vendor that produces shirts and mugs with jokes that only other biblical scholars will get.  (I never found this a very humor-laden community, being under duress, as it is, and as deeply conflicted as the country that hosts it.)  Eventually I grew curious and clicked on the link to the novelty tee-shirts and mugs.  It took me to a company called Redbubble.  SBL Press has its own page there with a strange header photo, apparently of a G. I. Joe and G. I. Jane reading some of SBL’s books.  Weird marketing is fine, of course.  Some of us have almost a connoisseur sensitivity to the bizarre.  As for the merch itself, it includes limited designs since, I suspect, most professors aren’t novelty tee-shirt fans.  What caught my attention was the button at the bottom that said “Mature content: hidden.”

Did the Society have some top shelf items?  The Bible certainly has quite a bit of mature content itself.  Questionable stuff as well as scenes that are, well, let’s just say scenes that are left out of children’s Bibles.  Of course I clicked the link.  It took me off the SBL Press page, naturally.  Redbubble has, I’m sure, many clients.  SBL’s demographics are slowly changing but the field is one still dominated, in numbers at least, by white men.  They’re the ones who benefit the most, I suspect, from a society that bases itself on the biblical outlook of the world.  At least as far as how it’s been applied in northern Europe and its colonial enterprises.  SBL tries to attract younger scholars, of course.  And everyone like knick-knacks and inside jokes. 

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