Thursday, December 10, 2009

You've Come a Wrong Way, Bebe

As I drive into work at Fordham University's Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, I usually stop for a red light on Fordham Road, before turning right onto Southern Boulevard (I always stop when the light is red, of course, and the light usually is when I get there, isn't that always how it works?).  There's a bus stop at the corner, and a bus shelter at the bus stop, and there's transit advertising on the bus shelter.  So far, nothing unusual about any of that.

Well, lately I couldn't help but notice the ad for Bebe, a woman's clothing company (here's a link for their website).  And the image they have up is not unusual in fashion advertising, featuring a young teen or preteen model.  Here's the image:

Being stopped at the red light, I spend more than a fleeting moment looking at that ad (that's also part of my line of work, studying media, including advertisements, and analyzing them).  So, I look at this ad over and over, and I guess I'm getting old as well, because I can't help but wonder how old, or should I say how young is this girl?  I mean, come on!  This is a child!  Isn't this tantamount to kiddie porn?

I know, I know, nothing new about this sort of observation, nothing that hasn't been said many times before.  And it's very much a part of a larger trend that Neil Postman wrote a book about, The Disappearance of Childhood.  And Joshua Meyrowitz provided a major case study on this phenomenon in No Sense of Place.  In fact, the idea that television blurs the distinction between children and adults, giving children access to information about the world that they never had before, was put forth by Marshall McLuhan back in the sixties.  So, I'm just pointing to one more example of these generalizations.

But I just can't help but think about how terribly concerned we are these days about the sexual abuse of children.  As well we should be, no question about it, as a parent I am all for being protective of our children, overprotective even.  But here we are, with public advertising that presents children as sex objects in ways that never would have been acceptable in the past, at the same time that we're freaking out about the risk to our children from real-life sexual predators.

I mean, is there something wrong with this picture?


Anonymous said...

It is very clear...Sex Sells...unfortunately it is perverted and yes as parents we should be very concerned, but we should also be responsible for teaching our children this is unacceptable...advertisements can blur the lines however they please, it is our parental responsibility to teach our children morals, values, etc. We can never leave this to just would not be fair!!!

Gina Vergel said...

Prof, American Apparel is even worse! Although they claim their models are over 18, and they probably are, they go out of their way to make them look so ... pre-teen. Really sad. But as your other commenter said, sex sells. Even if it is creeptastic!

Anonymous said...

Actually it is "YOUTH" that sells - sex is about some other type of consumption - Youth on the other hand introduces life, time, memories, innocence and those adolescent/young adult threshold experiences that hopefully were for the most part positive and energizing. Liberal Americans have become so negative in their viewing that so much in America is bad - Truth is Liberalism is the problem - in a more Conservative America "child porn" since you raise the topic, race as an over used worn out issue, and simply the world as we know it is falling all to hell because students do not learn, nor do liberal teachers teach American Tradition or American governance. We have substituted regulations in the place of our true Freedoms and what have you? Crap! Everywhere. As for this topic, I was incested as a child and know CP when I see it - I have never seen CP in the internet. Maybe we can shut up and leave people alone to do their business while you care for your own affairs.

Lance Strate said...

The Anonymous poster of June 30 left a comment that is not exactly reasoned, or polite, and so I was tempted not to let it through, but I decided to do so for instructional purposes, even though this individual does not have the courage to come out from behind the safety of anonymity. As to what sells, the point is that sex attracts the viewer's attention, and you can't make your pitch and sell your product without first getting your foot in the door. Yes, youth is also attractive, but selling us on youth would be making a pitch that a product would make you feel or look younger, and that's NOT what this ad is about.

Now, all this talk about "Liberals" sounds like a parroting of right wing media, bandying the word about like an accusation--what is the problem with being a liberal, exactly? But more importantly, it's an empty word, never defined, just used to generate an emotional reaction with a certain audience, a typical propaganda device. What are the distinctive characteristics of a liberal? And what assumptions is the commenter making about me? In this particular instance, do you think that the ACLU would be against this ad, or would they be protecting the rights of the corporate advertisers to display it? Would the Christian Coalition condemn me as a liberal, or agree with me on this point? Have you ever heard of social conservatism, as distinct from economic conservatism? Would this sort of ad have been acceptable in any American community in the 1950s? Even in the 1960s or 1970s? Is conserving a sense of moral decency in public display a liberal position?

As for American Tradition and governance, if anyone is for radical change, it is the folks who run most corporations. They are forever trying to get us to abandon our traditional ways of doing things and purchase whatever they say is new and improved. What could be more frivolous and fickle than the fashion industry that produced this ad? What better indication that we are going to hell in a handbasket than this treatment of children as sex objects? And who else to serve as bastions of tradition, of history, and of the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy, than teachers and schools? The commenter is clearly confused and has thing backwards. As for regulation vs. freedom, there always has been and always needs to be a balance. And who will protect the people from the excesses of powerful corporations if not the government. What would BP be doing right now if the US government let it do whatever it wanted to do?

The commenter has my sympathy, and pity, for having suffered through sexual abuse as a child. But I do believe that the anger evident in this comment is misdirected. Now, this person may never have seen child pornography on the internet, but what does that mean? That it doesn't exist? That hardly constitutes an argument, or evidence, and its pretty well established that that stuff is out there. This ad is not child pornography, of course, that was a bit of hyperbole when I said it was kiddie porn, and I think it ought to be clear to any reasonable person that it was not meant to be taken literally. But it does depict a child in a sexual manner, and that is a matter of concern, and certainly can make hard core pornography involving underage models seem less unacceptable.

Finally, to the commenter, sorry, but I will continue to exercise my American Freedoms and speak and write about things that concern me. I have no problem with folks earning a living, or even getting rich, I'm not a Communist or Socialist. But when everyone minds their own business, and has no concern for the affairs of others, there is no community, no public, no values. We have to take care of each other, we have to be our brothers' and sisters' keepers, no man or woman is an island, e pluribus unum!

As far as I'm concerned, this commenter is a great example of how individuals can be propagandized, mislead by semantic reactions, and how politics is so often linked to the worst in human nature.

Marty said...

Lance, an extremely well-stated reply to 'Anonymous'. Reading the post, it appeared to be quite disjointed without substance. I am always fascinated how those who do not consider themselves 'liberals' blame academia for all of society's ills. It has become a label that often is to mean 'not conservative' while forgetting that there are many 'brands' of conservatism as there are 'liberals'.

So true that sex, youth, and beauty are what sells, what captures one's attention in today's society. I make it a point in my psychology classes to impress upon my students the effects the various forms of media have upon us, either overtly or covertly. Specifically, as I discuss hunger and thirst and, hence, the question of an obesity 'epidemic', I follow that up with videos of teens and small children at age 5 who have developed serious eating disorders as a consequence of trying to obtain that element of perfection and beauty to be found solely in well-polished air-brushed images and various sundry means.

And I do hope that 'Anonymous' did not mean in the final comment he made that it is OK to let those who indulge in child pornography to continue with this reprehensible pastime.

RahaDreams said...

I am mainly sad that 'anonymous' has suffered child abuse and is attacking you and in a way defending 'abusers' - although I know this is not uncommon- but I hope one day anonymous sees things in a healthier light.
i can't see the face on this picture too clearly as it's a small picture, but I sure can see half her breasts and I can see that she is young- Like Gina says, even when the models are over 18, they are made to look younger-
I accidently came across soft porn pics whilst using someone's computer and was disgusted to see how young the girls were made to look- I really couldn't believe that these girls were over 16, let alone 18...
I used to model a little when I was younger- infact I was scouted when I was 13 years old and did a catwalk show at 14- Now that I think about it, the show was pretty big, Vidal sasson (not the man himself) did my hair, designers I can't remember... but I was made up, red lipstick, smokey eyes , I was dressed in a little tight, short black dress and had to put on really high killer heels! Looking a lot like those Robert Palmer girls in 'addicted to love' video I remember all the other models being over 18 apart from me and another girl who was 12!!!
I came back home still made up, standing in the kitchen talking to my mom when my dad walked in - he nodded and said hello to me so politely and I realized he had thought I was a friend of my mom's- I was like 'dad, it's me!'
Anyway I'm kind of going off the point- It is sad to use girls in these ways as they are at a very confusing age with hormones all over the place and this pushes them to grow up quicker than they need to and lose their youth needlessy using young models like this gives voyeurs legitamicy... and every woman (and let's face it 18 is really still a very young lady, between adolescence and adulthood) over 18 feels too old in comparison! If you haven't signed, yet, do sign my petition
As far as the 'liberals' comments I thought liberals were all for being all relaxed about things and conservatives are more known for family values etc.. am i missing something here? and in either case what the hell has politics got to do with with basic humanity? unfortunately no offense but idiotic political narrow minded people like 'anonymous'- btw, if you're going to have such strong political opinions, you really shouldn't hide behind 'anonymous' we all have a right to say what we want and challenge things as long as we're not being abusive or threatening or hurtful. Perhaps you're anonymous because of the child abuse reference...or because you are attacking instead of debating.....