Thursday, July 07, 2005

So Very American

Well, I guess it's time for me to weigh in on the American Apparel question. Ezra's already given away the ending, but I came to my position via a different road.

I'd been passionately debating the merits of shopping at American Apparel the past few nights with a friend. My original cause for concern was a New York Times article detailing CEO Charney's strange exploitations, followed by a jaunt to the website to check out the so-called "natural" models. I agree with other's characterizations of the ads as low-fi basement porn. Some of the ads seemed to have such an overtly sexual overtone you'd think you'd accidentally gotten a peek of a pre "Girls Gone Wild!" de-shirting.

Ads aside, I found Charney's behavior abhorrent, and labor issues aside, AA seemed up to no good.

But a new store just opened down the street, and despite my protests that AA was unacceptable, a sort of morbid curiosity swept over me (the kind where you know you're not supposed to do something, so then you have to do it), I grabbed Ezra and stomped down the block to check it out. The store was totally different from its demonic reputation, and that fact was more than enough to sway my formerly cemented views.

When you look through the photo albums on the web, they are enormous, gritty, and in quick succession. Not so when you enter the store, bombarded by a juicy color palette comprised of twenty or so different shirt/dress/pant styles. Compared to the bright, cheery style of the clothing, the pictures are hardly noticeable. In fact, most are displayed in small montages that, due to their dark aesthetic, blend in to the background.

Second, the clothes, especially the t-shirts, are really modest. Charney's clearly not trying to outfit a subset of club-hopping girls with their newest backless top (unlike other trendy stores-- can we say Bebe?). And the best part -- the montage in the dressing room featured a pale, frizzy haired, pudgy girl. There were articles about the company on the wall by the dressing rooms, including the critical NYT piece I'd mentioned.

As for Charney, I'm still a bit torn, but have a few responses. First, I've no doubt, especially at fashion companies like AA, there's a fair amount of sleeping with the boss and sexual harassment. Further, I think we're all forgetting the agency of the women working at the office here, in that they, especially at this point, have some knowledge of the work atmosphere. A career in the office at AA is not by any means the end all be all, and I think it might be attracting some women who might have some comfort, or at least indifference, to the office practices (see Amanda's comment thread.) That said, I hope that the exposure of these practices could lead to some good, like a call for an end to the sleazy behavior, or at least educate the women working there/applying there about the company culture, so they can choose for themselves if they want to participate. Ideally we're talking lawsuits, because frankly, the behavior is illegal, and I do hope it ends.

But boiled down, my simple view is this: American Apparel is no different from any other mainstream/trendy fashion establishment except in one facet: its labor policies. If it can set a standard of profitability through living wages, super affordable healthcare, and other generous benefits, that puts it a head above the rest. Really, what are my other shopping options? Super cheap Target clothes which were no doubt produced in a sweatshop, super revealing clothes with sexual ads and sweatshop production, or sexual ads, modest clothes, and living wages?

I think I'll choose door number 3.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Activist schmactivist

New NYT op-ed on the science behind judicial activism. The authors define activism:
We've identified one reasonably objective and quantifiable measure of a judge's activism, and we've used it to assess the records of the justices on the current Supreme Court.

Here is the question we asked: How often has each justice voted to strike down a law passed by Congress?

They then use this definition to rate the Justices, and come up with the following stats:
Thomas 65.63 %
Kennedy 64.06 %
Scalia 56.25 %
Rehnquist 46.88 %
O’Connor 46.77 %
Souter 42.19 %
Stevens 39.34 %
Ginsburg 39.06 %
Breyer 28.13 %

The authors find this outcome surprising, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Congress has passed many a crazy law in its time. How about banning partial birth abortion without an exception for the mother's life? I doubt many Americans are too thrilled about the Bankruptcy bill. Congress is supposed to be representative of the majority, but there's no question they pass a number of bills that would be rejected (for better or worse) if the electorate was allowed to vote on them directly.

Take Thomas for instance. He was appointed in 1990, when Democrats had the House and Senate. Not to mention Clinton was in office from 1992 til 2000. Wouldn't it make sense that a conservative judge might object more often to the laws passed by an overall left-leaning House and Senate?

I appreciate the author's intent, which I believe is to prove that the right's claims of judicial activism are bunk. But let's not forget the whole concept of judicial activism is fabricated by the right as a means of gaining support for their goals. It's not the Supreme Court who even caused all recent uproar in the first place! It was judges in San Francisco, Massachusetts, and most notably, Florida.

But this piece's strongest point isn't that the right is hypocritical, but that "judicial activism" is normal, and frankly, necessary. Their stats reveal that conservatives are just as (in fact more) likely to overturn laws. That makes "activism" seem a hell of a lot less partisan.

Get off my NYT!

Has anyone else noticed the increasingly pop image of the New York Times online? For God's sake, they have an ad titled "Where can you find Tom, Angelina, & Nicole this summer?", including papparazi-like photos. Another ad implores you to "Hit the Beach!" apparently by "Check[ing] out these dream homes in the Hamptons".

What irritates me so much about these ads is that they are ads for other sections within the NYT. The celebrity love fest is for NYT Movies, and the barbie's dream house page is for NYT real estate. I checked out these dream homes in the Hamptons, btw, and the first house is priced at $50 million. $50 fucking million!

So, what's up NYT? Are you trying to cater to my So-Cal audience? Wanting to dumb down some of your content, or at least try to appeal to the masses? I love reading your news and analysis, but the ads are not cool. I feel like I'm reading a cousin to US Weekly.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

It's called compassion, stupid

The Washington Post has a piece on the feminist response to O'Connor's retirement. Unfortunately, some feminists are deriding her decision to step down in the wake of her husband's Alzheimer's. From the article:

But not the Chief Woman Lawyer of America -- she shouldn't quit to take care of her family, should she? What kind of message does that send?

"I was on a radio show and someone called in to say, 'Would we ever see a man retire to take care of his spouse?' " says Suzanna Sherry, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who has written about O'Connor. "This is why she's never been considered a feminist's feminist. A feminist would say: 'Well, why would she do that?' "

I find this argument ridiculous and offensive. Any reasonable person would want to stop working when a) they've been doing it for decades b) are 10 years past standard retirement age, and c)their husband has Alzheimer's. Her husband's mind is detiorating before her eyes, and frankly, she should spend the last months/years of his semi-sentience with him. Anyone who has experience with the heart breaking complexities of Alzheimer's care knows that. Hell, you don't need real life experience, anyone who's ever even heard of Alzheimer's knows that. Her retiring to take care of her husband is not a feminist issue, and it shouldn't be framed as one.

In fact, screw you militant feminists. A recent string of indicidents over at Ezra's blog prove this point. There is a place, a truly important place, for feminist dialogue in this country. The protection of abortion rights, especially related to Supreme Court nominees, is one of them. Without feminist voices (and dollars), Democrats would have a difficult time avoiding a reputation as horrible obstructionists. But that feminist voice does not belong in critiqueing the logical and personal decisions of someone who often showed herself an enormous ally.

I truly believe in the ideals of feminism. I've marched with NARAL and Planned Parenthood. But the feminist movement in this country gets itself on slippery footing when it demonstrates a complete lack of compassion, as is the case in the Post article. It doesn't help anyone either to run around in blog comment threads demanding the author account for any anti-feminism in a film based on a comic book (A film, that, in my opinion, was one of the least sexist action movies I've seen in a long time). Feminists have done a damn good job turning people off left and right. Any movement that makes 50% of the population feel consistently attacked needs to do some serious reevaluating. To truly achieve feminist ends, we've got to improve that hearts and minds campaign. As it is, we're akin to our Army dropping packages that could be food or bombs-- men don't know when they should run, and it's made them rather skittish in our presence.