When Advertising Is Obscene

Calvin Klein Inc., no stranger to the racy or randy, has shocked America over the past decade with its persistent testing of our moral consciousness. But this time the company's advertising has gone far beyond what many in the public deem acceptable.

It's easy to picture the ad's setting: purple shag carpeting, a wood-paneled rec room à la the 1970s, one stepladder and several seemingly vulnerable young models being questioned by an older man behind the camera. The interviewer says such things as: "That's a nice body....Do you work out?" "Why don't you open that vest up?" "You think you could rip that shirt off of ya?" "Go ahead, show me what you can do." The models squirm and oblige.

The print ads are stills of the models, both male and female, positioned to expose their crotches and, of course, Calvin Klein underwear. While the ads themselves use extremely jarring images, their presence in YM
magazine and on MTV-both targeting audiences as young as 12-make them doubly disturbing.

A preliminary FBI investigation to determine if the campaign is "kiddie-porn" led Klein to pull the ads and issue an official "apology." Skeptics wonder, though, if Klein's glib apology and public retreat were simply another tactic to raise the fashion designer's popularity with young people, the final installments in the company's campaign to position Klein as "grunge, antidesign, white-trash-chic," in the words of Adweek
's Barbara Lippert. According to sales figures, it's worked, and Klein jeans are "flying out of the stores."

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1995
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