American Apparel accused of promoting rape
Through a variety of means -- Vice Magazine, Vice Records and, most recently, their web channel VBS.tv -- the company has successfully imprinted this vision upon millions of impressionable young and old minds, and one of their greatest aesthetic and, dare I say, philosophical proponents of this Vicestyle lifeview of the world has been Dov Charney, CEO and founder of American Apparel.
American Apparel's provocatively pornographic ad campaigns have proven to be a perfect fit with Vice's visual style and the ads continue to occupy the prominent back cover of each issue of Vice magazine.
Dov Charney and his company are no strangers to controversy but a recent American Apparel billboard ad in Manhattan proved to be too much for local residents, who not only issued numerous complaints about the ads -- they also tagged the billboard with graffiti that stated: "GEE, I WONDER WHY WOMEN GET RAPED".
Once you've seen the image, you'll understand why.
Needless to say, there has been a firestorm of controversy surrounding the ad -- which has thankfully been removed due, in part, to the direct connection the graffiti message makes between the sexualized image American Apparel claims to be selling and the sexualized violence that they quite literally appear to promote.
How far is too far? Should we buy or boycott American Apparel?
American Apparel Ads: Sexy Or Sexist?
"The giant billboard ad for American Apparel on Houston Street in NYC--of a woman wearing only tights, bent over, legs spread--was defaced this week when someone spray painted "Gee, I wonder why women get raped?" Initially we were all, "Misogyny!" But after further consideration, and noticing that this graffiti actually has correct punctuation and everything, we were wondering if this wasn't a social commentary. American Apparel immediately replaced the ad with a different one, featuring a model who is actually wearing a top. But no matter what A.A. puts in that space, it's always attention grabbing, and pushes the envelope. Alex Goldberg and I hung out in front of it and asked passersby what they thought of the campaign, and why they think women get raped." (Includes VIDEO footage)
I love you, American Apparel. I love your scoop-neck tank tops, your $26 tube dresses, your socks—even your metallic leggings. I love that when I walk through your neon lights and bright white walls I feel as if I'm in a Terry Richardson photo shoot, and that your employees—all clad in tube socks and aviator glasses—stare back at me, vacuous and wide-eyed. I love that I can wear your clothing to work out in the morning, to the office during the day, out for dinner at night and back to bed—no shower necessary.
But somehow, sweet American Apparel, you make me question you, time and time again. I get it: you're edgy, you're hot, no one can resist you. But it seems as though everywhere I turn I see you objectifying girls just like me—except that they're half-naked, in compromising positions. You photograph them on the floor in nothing but a thong, hands down their pants. And I can't decide if I should slap you for exploiting them, or congratulate you for such an innovative ad campaign.
I really got to thinking about our relationship last week, after an anonymous tagger spray-painted the enormous billboard that sits near my apartment in downtown Manhattan. It was hard to miss: a young-looking girl, shirtless but in tights, bent over with her legs spread, dark hair spilling down her back. Even harder to miss when somebody had written, "GEE, I WONDER WHY WOMEN GET RAPED" across the front of it. Offensive? Maybe. But perhaps clever, too. A woman never asks for rape, but some would say that flaunting a model in such a vulnerable position could feed into that sordid interpretation. "It's basically like, 'Here's my a--, f--- me'," if you want to be as blunt as possible, says Steve Hall, the creator of Adrants, an advertising blog.
The debate over American Apparel advertising is not a new one, of course. The company made a name for itself largely on its amateur-porn-style ads full of crotch shots, sweat stains and bikini rashes. (One ad I remember even encouraged shoppers to Google the model, only to find out she was a rising Canadian porn star.) On its Web site the company states up front its reputation for "provocative photography"—in addition to comfortable clothing—and the company's founder, Dov Charney, is in effect the Ron Jeremy of the T-shirt world. (Charney takes the company's characteristic snapshots in various states of undress himself, he once exposed himself to a reporter from Jane, and he has had more than one former employee file a sexual harassment lawsuit against him.)
But some think that style—which uses real people for models, not professionals—is brilliant. After all, sex sells. A recent posting on the company's Web site called for new models, "particularly ones with great, how do we put this … assets." (American Apparel was restricted from commenting for this article because it's in the process of going public, but an associate said that while a good portion of Charney's models are employees, the others are amateurs who send in photos. Ninety percent of them are in their 20s, and on the few occasions they have shot minors, they've done so with parental consent.)
Still others find the ads completely opposed to the company's "socially responsible" sweatshop-free image. (American Apparel workers produce the threads in a single factory in downtown Los Angeles, where workers are paid an average of $12.50 an hour and are offered subsidized meals, health care and free English classes for those who are Spanish speakers.) "I find it quite ironic that a company that so heavily markets itself as being 'socially responsible' is quick to perpetuate the sexual subordination of young women—airbrushed or not," says Sara Sheridan-McAndrew, a gender and social policy master's student at the London School of Economics. "They are sending the message that social responsibility is about money alone—as long as you pay the women inside the factory a legal wage you're absolved from exploiting them in other ways."
Billboards: We See Through American Apparel's Latest Ad
Literally. Stare too hard and you might go cross eyed or something. This sexed-up shot is quite a departure from the non-controversial image of men and women wearing shorts that American Apparel was advertising not too long ago. The sleaze is officially back. It'll be hard to top this image—we can't wait to see what Dov Charney's going to put up on Allen and Houston next.
American Apparel Raped (Flickr Photostream)
"Many of us on the Lower East Side and East Village are very opposed
and irritated to put it mildly, that we have to stare at this new 50
foot billboard every morning and night...This billboard is too much
damn much. Many of us have emailed them, and have been told they will
discuss it. But enough is enough."
American Apparel's Lower East Side Billboard Saga: Neighbors Triumphant
Well, the neighbors finally got fed up. This week, after someone defaced American Apparel's now infamous billboard at Allen and Houston Streets, the T-shirt chain has finally removed and replaced it with a marginally less offensive one.
Just in from The East Village
"I wrote to American apparel regarding this billboard at first had promising communications with them. The Director of Communications writes:
“Seeing the size of the billboard and its location within the community, we will look into this further so we may in future take into consideration displaying different imagery that would not be so boldly provocative on such a large scale, but still be in keeping with the aesthetic of our brand. Thank you for taking the time to inform us of the impact that this billboard has had on the immediate community."
American Apparel billboard in NYC was spray painted "Gee, I wonder why
women get raped?", then replaced by AA with a different one [/q]
Just days after The Ass That Launched a Thousand Ships got splashed, American Apparel rolls out the latest in its ongoing subtlety-is-everything billboard campaign on the corner of Allen and Houston Streets on the Lower East Side. Delightful!