T-shirt Tuesday - Hands Across America

T-shirt Tuesday - Hands Across America

Hands Across America logo mAy 25th 1986

You gotta hand it to them with this tee.

Hands Across America was a national fundraising campaign held on May 25, 1986 in which millions of Americans were encouraged to hold hands, forming one continuous chain across the continental United States. It was organized by the influential television and music producer, Ken Kragen. The intended goal of Hands was to keep the human link intact for a total of 15 minutes. The event raised approximately $15M in donations to help fight poverty and hunger.

Those who donated between $10-$15 received the famous t-shirt as commemoration and proof of their participation -- not that a shirt was needed to remind the public of the massive event. Judging from the ads, videos and media at the time, it was inescapable.

"Hands Across America was clearly built on hope -- a hope that the seeds we planted in fall 1985 would break through the ground, blossom and bear fruit in the spring of 1986," Kragen wrote in Hands Across America: The Official Record Book. "It planted new seeds of hope in millions of Americans and delivered the message that the first steps toward eliminating hunger and homelessness in this country is for each and every one of us to take responsibility."

Kragen also noted that people formed their own unofficial Hands events throughout the nation, including one in the middle of Highway 101 in Los Angeles, California. "There were more than 80 people in this impromptu line, singing along as their car radios blared the three songs 'We Are the World,' 'America the Beautiful' and the 'Hands Across America' theme," he recalled. 'There were Hands-related gatherings in virtually every state."

In the end, Hands Across America's ambitions were a bit too lofty, despite Kragen and advertisers' best efforts. Officials claimed the longest continuous connection ran only 2000 miles of the intended 4125-mile chain.

Even though the event was a success and clearly an inspiration for many, one can't help but feel the images of people clasping hands and singing together across the entire nation comes off as a bit -- creepy. Is there any way all those people were that happy in what was essentially a controlled social experiment? 

The inherently sinister undertones of the campaign were explored in Jordan Peele's 2019 horror film US. The cinematic shocker suggests everyone has their own sewer-dwelling doppelgänger who are constantly scheming to take their place. The flick's spine-chilling image of stone-faced, emotionless doubles sporting red jumpsuits and holding hands can be interpreted as a metaphor for Hands Across America's potentially cult-like aura. The doppelgängers' intent in US is to kill each of their well-off, society-living selves and unite hand-in-hand, Esquire writer Tyler Coates notes.

Of course, many people were on board with Hands Across America, especially those in the music industry. The popular tracks "We Are the World" and "Hands Across America" were recorded as a national call to unity, with the later featuring Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson among others. "We Are the World" sold 20 million copies and is the 8th best selling physical single of all time.

Looking over the design of the shirt, it perfectly conveys the idea of togetherness to the "tee." The graphic features 9 people (representing all Americans) triumphantly holding hands across the map of the US. Campaign sponsors Citibank, Coca-Cola and USA for Africa form a trio of advertisements below the map. Above the figures' heads is blue, and below their arms is red, symbolizing the joining of people across all political and cultural ideologies. Either way, the people on the shirt are never breaking from their dexterous embrace.

They want to hold your hand.

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A special guest post from our friend:

Brett Gubitosi