American Apparel infiltrates activist theatre group

by Cassandra Witteman

I have been getting involved in theatrical experiments commenting on global culture and consumerism.

This recent Buy Nothing Day, Optative Theatre Laboratories planned a performance at the flag-ship American Apparel store on St. Laurent. Unfortunately, American Apparel didn’t think very much of our statement and tried to shut us down before we could even get started.

They sent a rat into our midst in order to find out information. When we got to the store, we were greeted by security officers grabbing our camera men and thugs trying to push us outside. We were still able to finish the jam and handed out our information on American Apparel to customers going in and out of the store. We also compiled some video footage of what did occur during the course of our little experiment.

Afterwards, due to what was dubbed activist “blue-balls”, we did a performance of Death By Late at a local Starbucks. We went in to the store in pairs and began to discuss the pro’s and con’s of the Starbucks organization. After all the groups were in place, we began to choke on the coffee and dive onto the floor of the shop. Our statement seemed to be better received in this case, with even some of the customers applauding our performance. The employees here were totally clueless and didn’t do anything to stop us.

In regards to the attempted performance, I am most concerned about the fact that American Apparel took so much effort to stop our statement. They claim to be “hip” and young and capitalize on activist chic, however when it comes down to it they have proven to be nothing more than another corporation trying to keep their image clean.

If they didn’t have anything to hide, they could have allowed us to make our statement. If there was nothing wrong with their corporation, they could of let us slit our own throats and let their loyal customers protect them. But what did they do? They took the time and effort to infiltrate our meeting and tried to stop us from commenting on their business. Isn’t this a free country? Aren’t we supposed, in fact, to criticize corporations? What would happen to us if we lost the ability to criticize what we don’t like?

In doing my research on AA, I found a lot of information on their business practices that I liked. It seems like a lot of people out there are rooting for them. They certainly aren’t the worst by far. The problem that I am facing now, is wondering which propaganda was from their spin people and due to corporate propaganda and what was real? If they take this much effort to stop people from making a comment on their drawbacks, is this positivity legit? There are definitely some problems with the way that they are running things.

I have a problem with the fact that there was a movement to establish a union in their LA factory that the company put down. I know that there are a lot of drawbacks to unions and that they can be corrupt as well but I also think that it is possible for a union to be helpful to the employees…isn’t that what they are there for, after all? One of the excuses they use for why this isn’t bad is that none of the other garment manufacturers in LA have unions for their employees. I say, so what? Nobody else is doing it isn’t a valid reason for not doing something. If we all used that kind of logic, we wouldn’t accomplish anything.

Another small, trifling, little problem is the sexism (blatently, glaring, so incredibly obviously) apparent in the actions of the head of American Apparel, Dov Charney. Our entire experiment was meant to spoof the behavior of this rather eccentric leader. Several women seem to have sexual harassment suits against him at this very moment. He is also reported to conduct business meetings in his underwear, to hire women because he is sexually attracted to them, to masturbate during magazine interviews…and the list goes on… Personally, if you want to masturbate during an interview and the person doing the interview is okay with that, all the power to you. I don’t really care about someone’s sexual practices unless those practices make people in the workplace uncomfortable.

As a woman who has been sexually harassed by her boss before, I find these allegations extremely distasteful. A woman should be able to go to work without having to deal with her boss hitting on her. There are all sorts of reasons why this is wrong, such as: the difficulty in rejecting a boss’ advances without being fired, feeling like your looks are the only reason that you have a job (and thus feeling degraded) to mention a few. They should at least have a policy for sexual harassment. There should be some way that women can feel empowered in their workplace. Are his employees his toys, just little dolls for him to fondle, hire and fire, and parade around in his ads?

The ads are a whole other story. I’m on the borderline about them. I think that there are definitely a lot of women who wouldn’t mind someone taking a picture of their crotch or their ass, tits, etc. There are lots of women, and men, who quite enjoy any sort of publicity that flatters their egos. We do live in a free society and if people want to allow a corporation to use their bodies to sell a product, that is their prerogative. The message of the ad campaign, while slightly vulgar and not terribly intelligent…also has it good points. They are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in advertising, they are doing something slightly new. The problem that I have with it, personally is with the parts of it that aren’t new at all. They are still objectifying the female body (not new) and this time they are not using a thigh or a shin, a waist or an ear, they are using a woman’s vagina. So, when you look at the woman’s sexual organ, covered (barely) in American Apparel clothing you think, I want those underwear. I was happy that my vag was unclaimed territory. Looking down at my pussy was never a consumer experience for me.

Thanks American Apparel for associating my sexuality with a product. They also seem to put women in roles in which they don’t appear to be expressing their sexual liberation, they look like scared little girls under the eyes of MAN (yes, capital M.A.N.). There’s even a picture of a girls face with a big ugly man hand (supposedly the camera man’s hand?) grabbing her chin in a gesture that seems to say daddy’s little girl (it makes me want to fucking puke!).So, here are some suggestions for ways in which to use female sexuality in a liberating way:

1) Don’t have women cowering and naked with the camera man at a higher angle (this one seems fairly obvious to me…)

2) How about using some models over 18? Maybe some women who can defend themselves?

3) How about some pictures of girls masturbating (as though on their own).

4) How about putting the women in a powerful role, upward angled shots, women straddling men, etc.

5) Look at the dynamic, if the camera man in dominating the subject you will get pictures of women being dominated. Therefore, allow the subject to dominate.

People just don’t seem to get it! If all we see in the media is women in lower positions, women being dominated by men, and in AA ads, women bending over and showing off their sex organs for a FUCKING TSHIRT COMPANY then we get a distorted image of what we are as women. Don’t buy American Apparel. For the sake of woman kind, don’t model for them, don’t work for them, don’t think highly of them. They are trying to tell us that they are our liberators; they are using us. They are using us like we have been used before, been used for hundreds of years. Don’t bend over for the corporation, don’t gladly sell your body, stand up and speak up, even if they try to silence you.

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