Thousands of people of all colors protested peacefully, miming death on the floor of the train station, just a couple of blocks from where NBC’s “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” show was being broadcast live. (I tuned in just in time to see Mariah Carey sing in real time -- after reportedly missing her chance to pre-tape -- and the performance was uniquely cringe-worthy.)
Anyway, the live, tree-lighting extravaganza is a longtime tradition for NBC, the network that famously makes its home at 30 Rock, smack dab in front of the big tree. Families all across the country tune in and love it. So obviously, the show (and its commercial messages) had to go on. I’m just saying that lately, the juxtaposition of current events vs. canned events, over life and death issues, feels especially surreal and upsetting.
Take this strictly NSFO ad for designer Alexander Wang’s new “T-line” of jeans. (Shown in this piece in Women’s Wear Daily.)
Talk about tone-deaf. At a time when we seemingly get another appalling example of the “what’s new in rape culture,” every day, why not release an ad for jeans showing a young woman sitting in a cold, empty room, head back, eyes closed, naked except for her pants pulled down around her calves?
It just so happened that on the same day as the jeans ad release, the 19th woman to allege she was drugged and raped by comedian Bill Cosby came forward. The irony is not lost on anyone that by playing Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable (an ob/gyn!), Cosby became the nation’s ultimate father figure and enlightened family man, a dream dad. These days, he should star in a new reality show: “Bill Cosby, 19 and Counting.”
Maybe his issues are due to mental illness, a compulsion so terrible that even he could not acknowledge it to himself. So perhaps his holier-than-thou deceit in telling young black men to “pull up your pants” -- when, pants down, he had been preying on and sexually assaulting women -- for 20 years, was unconscious. It’s certainly unconscionable.
Each case is different. But certainly, Cosby as accused is not alone. CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi was fired recently after several women came forward with charges of sexual assault. At Columbia University, student Emma Sulkowicz has been carrying a mattress everywhere as part of a senior project to bring attention to rape and its aftermath. As with most women, she hid her experience, then filed a complaint with the university. This led to a hearing before a panel that found the accused not responsible for the assault.
I might add that women who are raped are traumatized and think that authorities won’t believe them, or instead blame them. Therefore, many wait to come forward, or never do. Especially when the rapist is a powerful celebrity like Cosby. Sadly, even now, there is already a sort of mini rape-denial movement growing in response to questions about the journalistic integrity of a Rolling Stone cover story about a gang rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia. And the cycle continues.
But back to this derivative Alexander Wang ad. I’ve been writing about jeans advertising since the late 1980s, way before the word “rapey” came into fashion. That included all of the racy Calvin Klein ads, some of which were shot by Steven Klein, who is also the photographer for this campaign. And yes, we’ve seen it all before: the creepy wood-paneled walls, the woman who is as naked as the radiator and shown as an object, with no vitality or personal agency.
Not only does the model here look comatose, but the work suggests that the photographer is also on autopilot. There are a couple of updates: The model has a beautiful body, and she’s certainly more muscular than the waifs from the early ‘90s heroin-chic period who were shown lying on bathroom floors, looking skeletal and cadaverous. And dead. (Sexy!) And though the loft is bare-bones, like a molester’s safe room, I can see that the lighting is beautiful. And the art-directed black line across her chest allows the image to be far more frontal.
"It's not provocative just in terms of sexy, but provocative to provoke conversation," the designer himself, Alexander Wang told WWD. "I'm not dictating what that message is exactly. The interesting part is to see how people interpret it, and what they have to say about it. Of course, there are going to be people who disagree with it."
I get that human bodies are beautiful and sculptural. But I call foul here. (I’m not even discussing the second ad, suggesting masturbation, which seems much more desperate.)
The naked “concept” probably grew out of the fact that the jeans, although up to-the-minute fashionable, to the uninitiated look like high-waisted ‘80s retreads, and not terribly flattering when worn. So they’re shown here lumped up around the model’s calves like leg-warmers. Of course the naked body of a young female model is a lot more captivating than the decided non-eye candy of yet another pair of light-washed Mom jeans.
Or is the ad suggesting that these jeans are so heavy and such a burden to pull on and off that the wearer falls asleep mid-dress? Either way, we are asked to view a woman drained of consciousness.
Of course, a beautiful female body will always get attention. But I have a suggestion for Wang’s marketing team: Every now and then, why not lift your heads out of the fashion world, and become acquainted with what’s happening with women in the real world? That might provoke some interesting conversation -- and perhaps, better ads.