Much cooler than Los Pollos Hermanos
Is it good or bad if somebody does a good thing, but for a bad or evil reason? For example, if a rich man gives his fortune to charity, but he does it solely as a means to make sure his children get nothing when he dies (because he is a mean old bastard) does that undo the goodness?
— Dylan, South Park
Ok. Why not. I’ll take a shot at this.
If I had to explain this by way of analogy — which is the way I usually explain things because I’m secretly no good at coming up with any ideas on my own, so I tend to upcycle other ideas for my own purposes — I’d say it’s exactly like the imitation novelty logo t-shirts you can almost always buy from internet shops, and sometimes buy from popular fast fashion outlets.
I’m sure you know the shirts I mean. They have logos and slogans on them, like, “Mitch’s Country Diner — The Best Fried Chicken West of the Mississippi, East of the Mississippi, On the Mississippi, or Under the Mississippi!” and there’s a picture of a vaguely Foghorn Leghorn looking chicken wearing a hat and cannibalistically eating a chicken drumstick or something like that. It looks like the kind of kitschy t-shirt you might pick up on a whim at a truck stop gift shop on a road trip through the middle of the country somewhere, except it’s not for a real place, it’s the concoction of some underpaid graphic designer trying to make a joke out of writing the word ‘Mississippi’ too many times.
I have a really specific emotional reaction to those shirts. It’s exactly 51 percent repulsion and 49 percent fascination. The repulsion part is pretty easy to explain. The way I see it, there are only two ways to come by a novelty t-shirt: (1) you go to the place, do the thing, and buy the t-shirt; or (2) you discover the t-shirt at the bottom of a bin in a dirty thrift store for $1, at which point you’re entitled to ironically piggyback onto somebody else’s experiences. The idea of a consumer product offering a slick workaround to that process is a perfect example of fundamentally doing something for exactly the wrong reason. The shirt memorializes the experience, and you can’t create an experience ex nihilo by simply wearing a shirt. It doesn’t work that way.
On the other hand, I’m fascinated by this impetus, because it’s something I can’t wrap my head around. In a world where the genuine article is always easily within reach, why opt for the simulacrum, even if its somehow appealing?
One caveat before I go. This rule doesn’t apply to tribute shirts, that is to say, t-shirts made for fictional bars, restaurants, other small businesses, and important locales from songs, TVs, and movies. Tribute shirts are badass when they’re done right, but only if they’re obscure. For example, a shirt with the logo from the Breaking Bad chicken restaurant is lame and mainstream; but a shirt that does a fair take on the Chokey Chicken logo from Rocko’s Modern Life is darn cool.
All this is to say that, no, you don’t get credit for doing something if you do it for the wrong reason, at least if my analogy holds any weight.