American Apparel, Please Spare Us Your Fantasies About Schoolgirls


Clothing company American Apparel is always so desperate for attention ("Look at us being edgy – betcha you oldsters can't cope!") that one rather balks at being obliging, but its "Back to school" ad campaign borders on dangerous.

After the command "Your first assignment is to dress accordingly", School Days features shots from behind of a young model bent over in a plaid skirt with buttocks and knickers showing, in what amounts to an up-skirt shot. Elsewhere, there are Lolita-branded crop tops and skirts, modelled beside school lockers. Very subtle.

Obviously, this is not about real schoolgirls (knee-length skirts, bobbly cardigans, double maths). These are the types of nubile "bad girls" who would appear in Aerosmith videos, as in, they barely exist outside some feverish imaginations. Though frankly I would credit the average Aerosmith video with more wit and irony than what's going on in the American Apparel ad campaign, which is practically screaming: "We're still at school, sexually attack us!"

Then again, isn't this the eternal problem with teenage girls, or, more particularly, the perception of teenage girls – there are always going to be those who consider them up for grabs?

What is it with the sub-paedo teenage soft sell, this incessant push to sex up later childhood? How is this happening post-Yewtree and at a time when the NSPCC is calling for child-abuse victims to be allowed to give court evidence via video link? There's also a new "adult" cover for Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, featuring bizarre Lolita-style imagery (Lolita again!) that reminds one less of Veruca Salt than of poor murdered pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey. To be fair, Penguin books appears to have merely made an error of judgment. Perhaps even American Apparel meant to signal sixth formers, in which case it should have made that clear. But then, even American Apparel seems part of a wider malaise. I'm discussing teenage girls, not teenage boys. Of course some people are attracted to underage boys, but this sickness does not seem to be quite as entrenched, indeed near-legitimised, in the mainstream as is the predilection for teenage girls.

Moreover, while teenage boys may sexualise teenage girls, even at times over-sexualise them, at least, with them, the male gaze is age-appropriate. Boys looking at teenage girls is a totally different matter from older men doing so. If some teenagers have a sexuality, then that is of their own design and volition, within their own circles, and nothing to do with what grubby, exploitative adults want to foist upon them, either for sexual gratification, to make money, ads or anything else.

This feels different to those somewhat risible "school discos", which mainly seem to be about personal nostalgia rather than prurient interest in young flesh. Elsewhere, there is a worrying grey area, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that "teenage" encompasses ages that fall before and after the age of consent.

Is this why, unlike younger children, some people think that it's somehow permissible to perve over teenage girls, when it isn't? At least hardcore teen porn is transparent in its aims. Soft porn such as this sneaks into the mainstream like a casually tossed stink bomb. It suggests that the Lolita-theme is fast morphing into an acceptable mainstream teen girl motif, when it actually represents tragic old perverts.

Some of you may be thinking that this is righteous prudish codswallop. All I can say is, I had plenty of embarrassing, pathetic trying-too-hard moments in my rock chick days, but I wasn't still at school, with a camera aimed directly at my gusset.

Others may say: "Hey ho. Sex sells", but with school as a backdrop this turns into "paedophilia sells", which is chillingly different.

Indeed, this is about sexual imagery put into a school setting. No amount of spinning could make it acceptable.

Middle classes not eschewing the fat

A study by the American Cancer Society has found that, compared with dining at home, people eating in restaurants with table service consumed just as many more calories as people who ate fast food. Those who ate fast food consumed on average 194 calories more than the average person eating at home, while those at restaurants consumed 205 more. This led ACC to conclude that any policies aimed at making fast food healthier or less appealing should also apply to restaurants.

Is this really a surprise? Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me was an interesting experiment, but it was always obvious that, had he exclusively eaten multi-courses of rich food at high-end restaurants, for every meal, he'd have ended up being just as overweight and unhealthy. A modern-day Mr Creosote, gorging on "just one more wafer-thin mint!" before exploding. While it isn't always a simple matter of calorie consumption, weight gain makes no distinction between high- and low-class food emporiums, if you're seriously pigging-out. Under such conditions, simply taking away the corn syrup or adding a side dish of spring greens wouldn't be enough to undo the damage caused by gross over-consumption.

Elsewhere, there are many studies concerning how much the perma-sozzled middle classes underestimate their wine consumption. At which point a pattern emerges – of class-based denial about food. As in, the higher up the social scale people are, the more likely they are to reject the idea that they might be doing anything wrong. While the working classes are used to being nagged, the middle classes tend to think they are already well informed and don't require guidance, thank you very much. When are the middle classes going to accept that they might have their own culinary act to clean up?

Maybe it's time to let tears go by, Marianne

Marianne Faithfull has confirmed her status as being, as someone put it to me, a Zelig figure, prone to popping up unannounced during key rock'n'roll moments.

Speaking to Mojo magazine, Faithfull says that her drug dealing beau at the time, Jean de Breteuil (who later died of a drug overdose), was responsible for giving the Doors' Jim Morrison the "too strong" dose of heroin that killed him in a Paris bath in 1971.

Faithfull said that she'd been due to accompany De Breteuil, but she could "intuitively feel trouble" and stayed in, taking a couple of Tuinal (barbiturates).

Faithfull said: "Anybody connected to the death of this poor guy is dead now, except me," as if this means she's free to talk about it.

Hm, I'm not sure that's how things work with suspected drug deaths, though one is hardly keen to see the authorities come probing the revelations she's kept quiet for the past 40-odd years. It's more that to tell the tale now feels a bit unnecessary.

Some of us love Ms Faithfull's vocals on her album, Broken English, but it is perhaps a little too late to start singing like a canary now.

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