By Bob Taylor
March 10, 2014
A Los Angeles based clothing manufacturer and retailer with a history of provocative advertising has lived up to its reputation by using a topless former Muslim model from Bangladesh for a magazine ad.
American Apparel’s ad appears in Vice magazine. It includes a photo of a model named Maks standing naked from the waist up with the words “Made in Bangladesh” strategically written across her chest. Islam is the primary religion in Bangladesh, and nudity is regarded as a major taboo. The 22-year old model, who now lives in Los Angeles, says she was raised in a strict Muslim family but has “distanced herself” from Islam while pursuing her “own identity.”
This is not the first time American Apparel has raised eyebrows with a promotional campaign. In February, mannequins in a New York window display were featured with fake pubic hair for a Valentine’s Day ad. Last year, the company violated advertising standards in the U.K with a series of ads showing women who do not seem to be wearing underwear.
American Apparel’s marketing campaigns have been frequently criticized for their provocative promotions that degrade women and sexualize young girls. Using a former Muslim woman in these ads only magnifies their provocative nature; it adds religious offense to the sexism by insulting Muslims.
This is one time when criticism is not just political correctness run amok. Given relatively recent events in the Middle East, this campaign seems to be not only insensitive to Muslim beliefs, but also the result of incredible stupidity and naiveté on the part of American Apparel.
First there were uprisings over cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark. Later violence erupted in Cairo as a result of a mocking YouTube video. Neither should have resulted in the massive rioting that did occur, but both should be clear evidence of the sensitivity Muslims have toward intolerance of their beliefs. Muslims can find plenty of reasons for victimization without added incentives.
It is wrong to walk on egg shells in fear of antagonizing Muslims in ways that will make them hate non-believers more. In this case there is no degree of hate. Islamic anger is inherently prevalent. That is a given. There are enough legitimate issues for debate with Islamic culture that there is no need to arouse controversy for no reason.
It is equally wrong to disparage Muslims for their beliefs any more that it is fair to ridicule any religion. What purpose does it serve for American Apparel to antagonize anyone, especially the Islamic community, for any reason other than to establish name recognition for profit? If common decency is not reason enough, surely the examples of Denmark and Egypt should provide enough evidence to the American Apparel company not to play with the fire of mocking Islam.
According to American Apparel, the marketing concept is designed to emphasize their fair labor practices by showcasing the idea that their clothing is made in L.A. By highlighting Maks’s naked image with the “Made in Bangladesh” slogan across her chest rather than across her jeans, the company claims they are demonstrating their corporate philosophy of selling American made products.
American Apparel’s weak spin does not override their lack of respect for a culture that encompasses more than a billion people worldwide in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Forget the tastelessness of the ad, which by itself should have been enough to kill it; add in the lack of human decency, and you have an ad that deliberately harasses an element of society just for the negative response.
In the Muslim world, victimization frequently leads to a sense of justification for future deeds. Boldly creating added justification is not only unwise; it also demonstrates a total lack of sensitivity and respect for other cultures.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).