Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's hard not to hate American Apparel

You know some bandwagons are all to easy to get on, and hating American Apparel and their increasingly skin crawling, porn lite, prepostorous adverts is one of those.

We all know Don Charney's reputation for exploiting and sexually harassing his female staff, firing the aesthetically unpleasing as noted by his taste. (See the heavy link loaded recent article over at Jezebel)

I do love the UK, I love that we have the Advertising Standards Agency, even if they don't always come through for us, they have this time stepped up to stick the pen of reasonable imagery in advertising into the American Apparel empire's eye.

The challenge was put forward on a recent hoody add

The complainant challenged whether:

1. the depiction of nudity in the ad was offensive and unsuitable to appear on the back of a free magazine that could be seen by anyone, including children;

2. the ad was offensive and inappropriate, because the model seemed young and vulnerable and could be seen to sexualise a child.

AA defend their recent kiddie porn esque ads by saying

They said the ad focused on the hoody rather than the model and did not portray her as a sex object or in a negative or derogatory light.

They reiterated that the ad did not portray the model as a sex object, nor did it portray her in a manner that was negative or exploitative. There was no suggestion that she had been coerced into appearing in the photographs or that she was doing so against her will. AA strongly refuted the complainant's belief that the ad could be seen to sexualise a child.

They said the ad promoted a unisex product and therefore it sought to demonstrate the versatility of the fleece by showing the same model achieving six different looks. In that context, Vice believed that showing the fleece unzipped was justified to demonstrate how a man would wear it.


Where to start, AA's idea that the advert focused on the hoody and not the model literally made me wet my pants laughing - AA are not famed for a face but for the faceless contorted young female bodies they fetishize under the guise of focusing on the clothes.

That having the female model wearing the hoody unzipped would make guys think - "hey, this is a unisex item of clothing, I will buy it" is trash.

I'd respect their balls for showing so much front in supporting their brand if their slew of adverts didn't make me so disgusted I can't even go into their shops without needing to wash off the bad.

Images are everywhere, they bleed into life almost unnoticed and they frame our perception of the world, of other people and that is why we have to be careful with them. Images do not ask anything of us, they don't always raise a questioned response like text can and so we can absorb them, repeat, support and believe them.

Images which replicate pornography in advertising, something which creeps in as edgy ideas for those with no others, moves that imagery - often the submission of women to men - into the mainstream and I'm not OK with that. Women in submissive roles to men is not the norm, women to adorn and decorate proliferates but it is not my perfect world.

Now if only the ASA could have a broader knowledge of gender issues and the social implications of the sexualisation of all sectors of life, not just childhood...

2. Upheld
We noted the model was 23 years old and had been styled without make-up to give a natural look. We nevertheless considered that she appeared young, and in some of the pictures, looked under 16. We did not however consider that she appeared especially vulnerable.

While the ad depicted only partial nudity, we considered that the images were provocative with the model exposing progressively more skin in each photo in the series. We considered that the photographs suggested that she was stripping off for an amateur-style photo shoot.

Because the ad could be seen to sexualise a model who appeared to be a child, under the age of 16 years, we concluded that it was inappropriate and could cause serious offence to some readers.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 2.2 (Social responsibility) and 5.1 (Taste and decency).

The ad must not appear again in its current form.


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