By Kathleen Gilbert
TORONTO, August 25, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - American Apparel has outraged passersby who object to the public display of images akin to those typically found in porn magazines with their latest billboard campaign, which pushes the limits of sexual advertising.
The Globe and Mail reports that one billboard for the clothing company on display in Yonge-Dundas Square, featuring the bare, arched back and naked buttocks of a woman posed with legs spread under thin films of nylon, was too much for Batsheva Capek to ignore. Upon first seeing the image Ms. Capek immediately wrote to Mayor David Miller in protest.
"That billboard is the cover of a porn magazine and it’s screaming at Yonge and Dundas Square," Capek told the Globe.
American Apparel, the edgy new clothing company founded only five years ago, has heard this complaint before. Dov Charney, the company’s founder and CEO, designed his company to push the limits of public acceptance, and he encourages a sex-saturated workplace as the ideal creative environment. The images he produces run the gamut of the sexually titillating, featuring some women in spread-eagle, some showing signs of orgasm, some - intended for European viewing - displaying their nipples.
Charney is usually the photographer for American Apparel’s extreme photographs, but the billboard in question is a self-portrait of company photographer Kyung Chung, enlarged to a can’t-miss-it scale both in Toronto and Manhattan. In the latter case, the Globe reports Ms. Chung’s backside was removed after two months, following the addition of a spray painted comment, which asked: "Gee, I wonder why women get raped?"
Capek objects along the same lines as the anonymous commentator, saying, "I don’t think you need a PhD to recognize that ... [this] is nothing but an ad for - and I’ll put this gently - anal intercourse."
Capek’s complaint eventually came to Advertising Standards Canada, which reviews complaints about ads that may violate the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. They agreed that the billboard "offended the standards of public decency," but American Apparel has not responded to the organization’s request made in July to take down the ad.
American Apparel headquarters told the Globe that such an interpretation overlooks the artistic value of the ad. "It is a little bit disconcerting to see what feminism has evolved into," said Marsha Brady, one of American Apparel’s two creative directors. "When ... there’s a group of people attempting to shame female creativity, female beauty, female pride under the auspices of protecting women, it’s really, really scary."
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, however, considers the ad demeaning to women, whether it was created by women or not.
"The reality is that these ads and the so-called ‘creativity’ that birthed them casts women in an undignified manner, resulting in the opposite of what feminism purports to accomplish," Ms. Wright told LifeSiteNews.com.
The concern that such imagery objectifies and endangers women rather than empowering them has been sounding since the sexual revolution. In her book Against Pornography:The Evidence of Harm, Diana E. H. Russell, Ph.D., documents the direct correlation between consumption of non-violent pornography and incidence of rape. Allowing explicit images of women to grow accepted and commonplace, she says, can quell inhibitions that would have prevented rape, and increase or create the desire in men who had not considered rape before. She quotes the testimony of a rapist influenced by the objectifying message of pornography:
"‘It was difficult for me to admit that I was dealing with a human being when I was talking to a woman because, if you read men’s magazines, you hear about your stereo, your car, your chick.’
"After this rapist had hit his victim several times in her face, she stopped resisting and begged, ‘All right, just don’t hurt me.’
"‘When she said that,’ he reported, ‘all of a sudden it came into my head, ‘My God, this is a human being!" I came to my senses and saw that I was hurting this person.’"
Capek told the Globe and Mail that she is not surprised that the ad remains where it is, despite the request from Advertising Standards Canada that the ad be removed. "I expect nothing from American Apparel," she said. "And I’m sure they’d be thrilled by the publicity and it’s the only thing that’s keeping me [for] the moment from grabbing a billboard and standing in front of the store."
To submit a complaint to Advertising Standards Canada:
Advertising Standards Canada
175 Bloor Street East
South Tower, Suite 1801
Toronto, Ontario M4W 3R8
Fax: 416 961-7904