Eight online American Apparel ads were banned today by Britain's watchdog agency, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Because American Apparel has a long and undignified history of using racy (read: pervy) photos of very young women to sell their clothing, and because the ASA has made a point of coming down hard on provocative fashion images (last November alone, the agency banned a Marc Jacobs fragrance ad starring Dakota Fanning and a Miu Miu ad with Hailee Steinfeld), the decision should come as a surprise to no one at all.
From the decision:
We concluded that the gratuitous nudity in [the] ads, in combination with the sexualised nature of the poses, and the sexually provocative pose in [the] ads, meant the ads were exploitative and inappropriately sexualised young women.
I typically agree with ASA bans: the organization only goes after ads that I find damaging, disturbing, despicable. The images do exploit and objectify women (girls? Fanning was photographed at 17, Steinfeld was modeling womenswear at 14, and one of the banned American Apparel ads notes that the pictured model is 18 years old) and portray a kind of grim, vulgar sexuality. The world would be a better place without ads like these, and in that sense, the ASA has good taste.
But also a frightening amount of power, and even though I agree with their decisions, doesn't mean I think they should have the right to make them. A future iteration of the ASA could condemn any and every depiction of sex in advertising, propagating a culture of censorship which bleeds out into art and speech. If a company resorts to using crass, cynical images to sell its products, it should suffer some consequences: people should refuse to buy from the company, we should reject whatever they're selling. Having these decisions made for us by a paternalistic organization, however well-intentioned it might be, takes us down a dangerous path.
Image via WENN