If it's summer, it must be time for yet another controversy over retailer Abercrombie & Fitch's magazine, A&F; Quarterly.
The clothing chain, once staid and futsy, is a popular line marketed to teens and young adults, offering basic all-American casual wear. The last few issues of its magazine, however, have been likened to soft-core porn. The latest is explicit in ways that most catalogs and fashion magazines are not, and its use of male nudity is uncommon among general-interest publications.
It features, in 280 pages, young, attractive men and women alone and together, in serious, romantic, sexual and party modes, wearing lots of A&F; clothes, some A&F; clothes, and sometimes no clothes at all. Among the coffee-table book-ish photos by Bruce Weber is a man, covered only by a towel, surrounded by five women; a woman at the beach reclining body-to-body with three men; a back view of a naked man getting into a helicopter (we haven't quite figured that one out yet), and a few topless females. There are many naked butts and breasts.
The magazine is actually a "magalog"--part magazine, part catalog. Photographs are followed by pages of merchandise, followed by editorial copy. There is no outside advertising. A&F; publishes a separate retail catalog that doesn't feature naked people. But make no mistake--the quarterly is a selling tool. Priced at $6, it's available by subscription and at Abercrombie & Fitch stores, comes shrink-wrapped with a warning label, and is sold only to those older than 18.
Critics include Illinois Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood, who has publicly denounced the magazine before, noting that each issue has upped its nudity content. She recently started a boycott campaign against the retailer. On the Web site http://www.stopaandf.com, she writes, "Once again, clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is peddling soft porn in the guise of a clothing catalog ...."
Joining Woods in the boycott is, curiously, the Chicago chapter of National Organization for Women, which takes the magazine to task for its use of unrealistic body types and overtly sexual situations.
Michelle Dewlen, the NOW Chicago chapter president, explained, "I was struck by the youthful appearance of the girls. They were extremely thin, surrounded by naked men. We're not promoting censorship by any means, but we are promoting responsible marketing to youth.... And young girls half-naked among boys to me promotes a culture of rape."
Hampton Carney, spokesman for Ohio-based Abercrombie & Fitch, told us customer response is "overwhelmingly positive."
"The partial nudity is done in such a tasteful way," he said, "and it's completely in context. There is nothing unusual about it--there are kids on a beach, kids on a boat, and it's not something that's arbitrary or gratuitous."
Asked whether he understood why parents might object to their children viewing explicit photos, Carney replied, "I think anyone over 18 has the capability of understanding this as being what it is, an incredible magazine with amazing stories and a funny point of view."
Parents have a right to be concerned about their children having access to this magazine, and we certainly don't advocate sexually explicit or suggestive material for children.
What perplexes us is, why single out Abercrombie & Fitch? Go to any newsstand and you'll find lots of magazines (which can be bought by people younger than 18) showing not only scantily clad men and women but also all the unrealistic body types you care to see. Movies, television and video games marketed to young people are filled with graphic sex and violence and lots more of those unrealistic body types. You can see nudity on commercial television just by tuning into "NYPD Blue."
Dewlen made a point we agree with: If a child were to slip this magazine into the house, parents might not consider it a threat since the A&F; logo might not set off any warning bells. However, parents also have a responsibility to monitor what their children read, no matter how innocent it may look.
Yes, the A&F; Quarterly raises eyebrows. The company is building a brand based partially on sex and sensuality, but it's hardly the first to do it. (By the way, no one has mentioned the fact that the magazine features a sea of white faces, with hardly any people of color, naked or not.)
Blatant sexuality isn't our favorite marketing tool. There are plenty of other more imaginative ways to get people's attention. But if groups boycott Abercrombie & Fitch, why not also go after magazines that objectify silicone-enhanced women? Or any number of teen-oriented movies where women are featured in gratuitous nude scenes or portrayed as victims of violence and sexual violence? Or clothing companies that market sexy, provocative clothing to pre-teens?
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