Empires are built on blood. The engine that drives imperialism takes bodies in and reduces them to coin for the wealthy. This endless cycle of exploitation and homogenization is the beating heart under the floorboards of Sami Callihan’s “Samibreed.”
This shirt is dominated by three images, each signifying a different tool of American Imperialism; fire, barbed wire, and baseball bats. These are layered on top of each other reflecting not only their intertwined nature, but also the steps taken by empire and how, over time its brutality becomes normalized.
At the top we have the hard imperialism of fire. The most obvious and brutal tactic. Subjugation by force was what brought empire to this continent. War is what paved the way for the current nation. And it was the state’s use of force that expanded it from sea to shining sea. If it truly desires something, be it land, people, or just the raw natural resources without regard for the other two, war is how America gets it.
Below the fires, is barbed wire, a symbol of containment. The prisons used to keep a populace in line. You act against the state and it’s will, then you will be seeing a lot of barbed wire. Barbed wire is the ultimate automation of the violence of state. Barbed wire doesn’t need to react, it needs only to wait and the harm will come. When I go for long walks in my neighborhood I pass a construction equipment rental service, their fences are adorned with this passive threat. Every time I see this I am left to wonder about how the tools of the state are co-opted by capital, how this kind of violence is so clandestine that it is literally, within walking distance of my home. It’s the guy at the grocery talking about how he is packing “just in case,” for a day that will never come. Completely unnecessary and totally unextractable from life in the U.S. of A.
Underneath all of this, is the final cudgel wielded by Empire, a control over culture. Baseball is almost synonymous with America, and the MLB lays claim to a world championship, despite only fielding teams from two countries. This soft imperialism is where America truly shines. You would be hard pressed to find any place in this world that is free of American culture, be it the latest epic Disney produced battle over a glowing blue bauble, the cool refreshing taste of a Coke of Cola, or the distinct plink of wood on leather, American culture has pervaded every inhabitable inch of this planet. As Sami demonstrates here, it comes wrapped in the threat of violence, and surrounded by the horrors this country has wrought.
To top off all of this potent imagery, we see two distinct phrases, “Sami Callihan,” and in a much smaller font “The Rise of the Death Machine.” As someone working and living in America, Sami understands that he too fuels the Death Machine. While we can understand the functions of empire, and try to undermine it where we can, we cannot truly escape its pull. We still need to drive to work, we still need to eat, and until radical revolution takes place our ties to the systems will be so much louder and prominent than our calls to defeat it.