People | Intersections

The Forgotten History of Banana Republic

“Why do the stores still have that insulting name?”

This is Intersections, a column by Kashana Cauley.Every other month, Cauley will explore the intersection of class and culture in her life.

It’s spring 1998, and I’m stuck in a high school English class, transfixed by the jungle print T-shirt on a guy’s back. We live in Madison, Wisconsin, smack in the middle of the Midwest’s prairie flatlands, as far from the jungle as a person could physically or spiritually be. Yet I’m sitting behind this guy who, as a short distance track runner, I know primarily as someone who can perform the superhuman act of running a five-minute mile, and wondering where the hell he got a jungle shirt from. It’s a lovely shirt—black and white and densely patterned with leaves—and I’d rather lose myself in it than pay attention to any of the start-and-stop discussion our class is having about a book. Most of us are stuck in that no man’s land where the only two ways to achieve English class cool are to refuse to admit you’d read any of the books or, failing that, to never let on that you’d thought about them, and everyone’s dedication to pursuing one of these two strategies forever sticks long pauses in between people’s noncommittal statements about the book, turning English class into a quiet death march conducted between 1:30 and 2:30 every weekday afternoon.

Cabbages and Kings,

The New York Times