If you keep a close eye on the quatrains of Nostradamus—and I do not, although I once watched a terrifying History Channel “documentary” on the soothsayer’s “Lost Book,” which informed me that the world would almost certainly be blown up by a mysterious man wearing a sky-blue turban by the fall of 2010—you likely know that comets often portend great disaster.
Well, last week, for once, Nostradamus may have been proven right. Here’s how CNN tells the tale:
While the world watched the historic landing of a space probe on a comet 310 million miles from Earth, many were distracted by what was happening closer to home.
Rosetta Project scientist Matt Taylor caused a firestorm with his choice of fashion during the European Space Agency’s live stream of Wednesday’s Philae landing. Taylor initially sported a shirt featuring women in lingerie, possibly not the wisest choice of attire given all of the discussion surrounding the challenges for women in the tech and science fields.
Imma let you finish, CNN, but first, let’s get some facts straight. First, it was not just “a shirt”—it was a magnificent, “Big Lebowski”-style bowling shirt. Second, it did not just feature “women in lingerie.” It featured women wearing crazy bondage-style undergarments, all while smirking, scowling, cavorting amid random spotlights and explosions, and shooting massive guns as well as what appear to be various space-age lasers.
It was, in other words, a baffling, dazzling rainbow. It was a mosaic of intricate tackiness. It was a Technicolor dreamshirt, both horrible and amazing at the same time. Alas, much like the fabled Icarus of yore, last Wednesday rocket scientist Matt Taylor flew too close to the proverbial sartorial sun. And the Internet, for the second time in one week—a quick “thank you,” everyone, to Kim Kardashian’s shiny, Crisco-lined posterior, which also kind of resembles the our solar system’s majestic, eye-blinding lone star—burst into flames.
Cue the Manufactured Feminist Outrage
Feminists across the globe condemned Taylor for his “offensive,” “appalling” garment. They slammed his insensitivity to women. Using the hashtags #ShirtStorm and #ShirtGate, Twitter activists expressed their horror at the offending piece of cloth, which was, somewhat ironically, designed and crafted by a woman and gifted to Taylor for his birthday. “This is the sort of casual misogyny that stops women from entering certain scientific fields,” huffed Chris Plante and Arielle Duhaime-Ross at The Verge. “They see a guy like that on TV and they don’t feel welcome.”
Actually, when I see a guy like that on TV, I think he might be kind of hilarious, or at least entertainingly quirky. And for what it’s worth, speaking as a woman, I didn’t become a scientist because, well, I didn’t want to be a scientist. Having to dissect a wild-eyed, stiff-limbed, formaldehyde-frozen cat in high school Advanced Placement Biology—certain guys in the class thought it was hilarious to sneak up behind you with their terrifying, half-dissected cats, poise them in pounce position behind your shoulder, and yell “ROWR!”—pretty much killed both that and a medical career for me. A third-wave feminist, now that I think about it, would probably blame my current lack of a lab coat on the “hostile male environment” in my class, not the fact that I had to poke around the organs of a fur-free, very dead cat on the same table where I would later eat lunch. But I’m not perpetually outraged, so what do I know?
Cue Matt Taylor’s Tearful Apology Over…What, Again?
“I don’t care what scientists wear,” tweeted astrophysicist Katie Mack. “But a shirt featuring women in lingerie isn’t appropriate for a broadcast if you care about women in STEM.” Half of what Mack says is correct: Of course the shirt wasn’t appropriate for broadcast. It’s inappropriate for just about anything outside of a routine costume change for Steve Buscemi’s bumbling hit man in “Fargo.” But the shirt’s inappropriateness also makes it kind of funny, particularly when it shows up at a press conference for a bunch of rocket scientists landing a robot probe on a comet.
I’m not crazy, right? It is kind of funny, right? No confident woman interested in science would really care about this, right? If you’ve been paying attention, you can probably guess the “correct” answer. By Friday, Taylor was so browbeaten that he offered a tearful apology, broadcast to the world. “I made a big mistake,” he said, choking up. “I offended many people and I am very sorry about this.”
Taylor’s colleague, embarrassed and stiff, patted his back. The Internet, coiled taut like a cobra, slowly began to unspool. Rose Eveleth, a technology writer for The Atlantic and enthusiastic participant in previous Taylor-bashing, responded accordingly: Now that Taylor had “recognized his mistake and apologized,” she wrote on Twitter, “we can both move along with our lives.”
Yes, she really wrote that.
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of miles away, a comet soars, quiet and mysterious, a trail of fire—brighter than all the lasers on all the millions of offensive bowling shirts that planet Earth has to offer—left in its cosmic wake. Comets cause us, as Walt Whitman once wrote, to “think a thought of the clef of the universes, and of the future.” They lead us to ponder the meaning of human life, our potential, and our limits.
Well, some of us, anyway. Others would rather concoct a bunch of random outrage about a goofy shirt. It kind of makes you want to buy one, doesn’t it? Oh, and I just discovered the darndest thing. There’s one for the ladies, too.