Thursday, June 02, 2005

Am I an Old-Fogey Feminist?

I had first heard of American Apparel through friends about two years ago, and I thought then, "Cool, a brand that's advertising itself as a sweatshop-free Gap." However, as I persist in my early nineties aesthetic of buying almost everything second-hand, I didn't really follow up on my friend's suggestion that I check out AA's basic cottons.

Since then, however, I've been bombarded with the company's ads, which almost every week festoon the back page of my favorite and most reliable newsource, The Onion, have grown more and more shocking to me. Because I read Gawker, I learned of the disturbing sexual dynamics in the owner's management practices.

Maybe that article was a tipping point: I started to wonder about the informality of the underwear advertisements, along the lines of "Helga, modelling the low-rise brief, is a manager of the Tribeca store." And Helga would be faithfully reproduced there, in an awkward but very sexy pose, under amateurish lighting, and so-very real-seeming.

I laughed it off--and it was easier to do so because I aligned the company with the Williamberg hipster movement and its post-post-everything pretensions--until in about March, 2005, I saw the advertisement that NYT reporter Alex Kuczyinski today also noted and quoted:
"Meet Laura," read another ad. "Laura is a 25-year old D.J. from Denmark. When she moved to New York and discovered that people listen to rock and not house, she became a hairstylist. She is looking to get sponsored for her visa."

This advert, I thought, posed sufficient moral dilemmas that it could serve as an opener to class discussion. It was half and half: the more vocal types, all post-postmodern theoreticians, supported the shockingness as a consensual advertising medium for our times, while the quieter half, made up of international students and unreconstructed liberals (and the occasional apathetic conservative), were taken aback by the ad's brazen exploitation.

I have bought a few items from American Apparel, so I am hardly pure in my criticism here. Their underwear is lovely, but I'm finding that their shirts don't fit quite as I'd want them to.

Anyhow, the hat-tip and source for further, prurient links go to the current Gawker writer, who's paid to search down that loathsome interview with AA founder Dov Charney.


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