Hail Fido, King of T-Shirts

[Today’s guest post is by Rob Curran. Rob has written for The Wall Street Journal, the Liffey Champion and fanzine Analogue Bubblebath].

Somewhere in the sweatshops of Indonesia, one of the criminally abused labourers who we depended on for our leisurewear must have hit the one-billion button instead of the one-million. And so Fido Dido’s Irish campaign began. He sounded interesting, the bastard son of a family dog and a maudlin Carthaginian queen, but he was so much less than that.

Even 7-Up, his father, couldn’t stomach the John Lennon sunglasses, spindly limbs and frizzy hair for more than a few ads.

And so, the young man primed to be the Ronald McDonald of fizzy drinks filled a brief interregnum in the ancestral rule of bubbles, floating lemons and vague refreshment claims.

Other nations tore down the Fido Dido posters, and forgot he ever existed. Ireland should have condemned him to the same advertising Glasnevin as the Caramel bunny and the Thataway Indian, the latter of whom would probably have rolled over upon Dido’s arrival and said: “I don’t get it. What exactly is your shtick? I point people the wrong way. Bunny gets people to relax by flirting and giving them chocolate. What do you do? Just look smug and drink 7-Up?” He was patently a gobshite. But Fido Dido was to imprint himself on our consciousness forever through sheer t-shirt affordability.

This was 89-90, the golden age of t-shirt printing. In the Virgin Megastore, annotated Taxidriver portraits held eye-scalding-rainbow-brite Never Mind the Bollocks XLs at double gunpoint. There were cryptic one-liner t-shirts and long-form narrative joke t-shirts. T-shirts were how we twittered our beliefs, how we booked our faces in the minds of others, how we belonged to a network of like-t-shirted people.

Not even the greatest of the t-shirt artists would see their work attain the ubiquity of Fido Dido. Designers of Italia 90 t-shirts came close, perhaps, but these were the t-shirt equivalent of standard-issue army uniforms. Imaginative as the artists may have been with their Charltons and Sheedys, Italia 90 was far from a t-shirt led phenomenon.

Fido Dido was his own man, and soon putsched the 7-Up logo from his t-shirts. The 1990 Beat on the Street on Westmoreland Street was his Nuremberg Rally. Anyone who couldn’t afford a fish-tailed shirt had the frizzy one on their chest.

Fido Dido’s cultural icon status had struck me a few weeks earlier when “Fats” Kelly used him in an Irish sentence, chuaighing him go dtí the siopa as if he were a mathair or a madra. (“Fats” appealed against his nickname around this time, contesting it on the grounds that a) he was not fat, b) the appellation hardly did justice to his athletic status as the first-choice keeper on a school footie team that was bound for the Leinsters, and c) we should stop being such wankers. His defense made perfect sense until you considered that Fat Shite wasn’t fat either.)

Bop’s clipped response: “Cé hé Fido Dido?” sent an existential shiver through the room. How could you explain Fido Dido? How could you explain why he was absorbing the runoff from the roll-on deodarant beneath so many of our grey shirts? And how could you explain anything as Gaeilge?

There are three theories on the rise of Fido Dido:

First, there is the “Bart Simpson conflation” theory. The Simpsons were just taking off around this time. Bart, around whom the cartoon was initially built, was a popular t-shirt figure among those who had no musical affiliation but some counter-cultural leanings. Bart’s animators had rendered him crude in every sense, and the t-shirt artists rendition was even more aesthetically displeasing. With a flat(tish) top haircut and basketball shorts, Fido Dido bore a superficial resemblance to Bart. There’s some evidence that the two figures were conflated in the popular imagination, and that sporting a Fido Dido shirt became a way of endorsing Bart without bearing a yellow blot on one’s chest.

Second, there is the “Mas liked Fido Dido” theory. Nominally, most people over the age of 15 bought their own clothes in 1990 Ireland. In reality, many spent the money they got to buy jeans at the Pierrot arcade, and mothers were still the de facto source of raiment. It’s conceivable that presented with a choice between the borderline nudity of the Pixies’ Come On Pilgrim t-shirt and the relatively well clothed Fido, they would lean Fido.

And lastly, there is the self-explanatory “At Three Pounds for a Semi-cool shirt, are you Really going to Shell out Thirteen for that Quintessence of Cool Cramps T-shirt?” theory.

I had been slagging Fido Dido off for some months by the time my mother bought me one of the t-shirts, presumably from Gogarty’s on the Main Street. At a time when most people were wearing more experimental Fidos, she had opted for an introductory design: a simple black t-shirt with the grinning Frizzman holding a can from his lemon-and-lime sponsor (a side note: surely the limes don’t add anything that the lemons haven’t already brought to the picture). I was outraged, and considered making the t-shirt a reprisal for my defaced Crass poster. But I bore the gift in silence. Eventually, underarm injuries to my Off The Bone t-shirt forced me to introduce Fido into the rotation, and he eventually went an entire week without substitution. I told myself my Fido was clearly ironic, but that’s probably what everyone at the Beat on the Street thought.

If 7-Up’s goal in flooding the Irish market with surplus Fido t-shirts was to make their drink more popular, the move could not have fired further back. Before Fido, 7-Up was one of the most popular things in Ireland, full stop. It was the white wine to Coke’s red. Anno Fido 23, and 7-Up is only seen at hospital bedsides and (green fading from the can) last in the line-up on the refreshment stand at carnivals.

Fido Dido, meanwhile, is still a meme, though he has migrated from the t-shirt to the Internet.

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7 thoughts on “Hail Fido, King of T-Shirts

  1. deeharvey says:

    This post makes it clear to me what a cultural backwater Bray was in the early 90s. Fido Dido t-shirts never made it big there. We all just wore smelly second-hand blazers from those shops beside the Central Bank.

  2. fústar says:

    “The 1990 Beat on the Street on Westmoreland Street was his Nuremberg Rally”.

    Har! At least The Simpsons eventually took the piss out of Bart’s early appropriation as a crap pop-cultural icon (by those who liked their “counter culture” cosy and t-shirt-shaped), with the whole “I didn’t do it!” thing. And Bart was, at least, linked to something that actually mattered (back then). Something important. Fido Dido was like those giant Swatch watches you’d hang on your bedroom wall. An empty signifier of some kind of conservative Euro-teen (corporate) “cool”. His existence is a sober corrective to those who idealise the early 90s as the age of the Pixies. Compared to the cultural clout of Fido Dido, they were but…er…farts in the wind. I hated him then and I hate him now. As everybody should.

  3. Jo says:

    Hang on, though. I had a book of the cartoon. Which I presume was created before 7UP got hold of him. It was… funny.

    • fústar says:

      Jo – I refuse to even entertain the vaguest possibility of Fido Dido ever being funny. Or ever being anything other than a smug prick.

      I will, however, say one thing for him. Detestable as he was, he was (miraculously) less shit than the mascot who succeeded him. Ladies and gentlemen I give you “Coolspot”. The “Poochie” of the carbonated drinks world.

      Coolspot

      • Jo says:

        But the cartoons were different to the ads. He had a little dog. And the black and white/white and black was kind of cool. I mean, I was 12, or whatever, but really… funny.

  4. fústar says:

    No. No. No. On this, I must stand firm.

  5. kirstie McDermott says:

    tears of laughter. Mention of Gogarty’s as place to buy fashion items; hysterics

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