Censorship has been a major topic of debate at political discussions recently, but recent bans of certain fashion advertisements seem to push the boundary between being cautious and being absurd. The United Kingdom’s ASA, the Advertising Security Authority, has banned a number of harmless ads from from appearing in any British magazines, newspapers, and public settings. While reasons for each case vary from retouching to nudity, the most common victims of recent crackdowns are those having to do with children. Considering that kids under the age of eighteen make up a significant portion of the economy, it seems a bit old fashioned to hold these ads to such extreme codes simply because of the model’s age. The ASA claims that they will consider banning any ad if the receive enough complaints about it. It would be easier to see why the ads were being banned, if they were in fact receiving hundreds of complaints, but recorded numbers of complaints show that even a mere four complaints is enough to bring down an entire campaign. Two ads featuring young, popular, American actresses were banned in the UK this past month, the ASA illogically citing sexualization of a minor, and unsafe position of a minor as their reasons. It seems that you can be nominated for an Oscar at fourteen, but you are not allowed to sit on an abandoned set of train tracks.
Dakota Fanning, the seventeen year old former child star, has fallen prey to the overly cautious rulings of the ASA for her work in the Marc Jacobs ‘Oh,Lola!’ campaigns. A bit of a leap away from being vulgar or irresponsible, the younger sister component to Marc Jacobs’ more seductive ‘Lola’ scent, the ASA has deemed the ads “likely to cause offense,” after receiving a whooping four complaints. While the ad is certainly provocative, and could possible cause a few parents to raise an eyebrow, it’s hardly the kiddie porn the ASA seems to think it is. The ad, shot by Jurgen Teller and produced by Coty UK, were first printed in June and officially banned in November.
Fanning has long maintained a professional relationship with Marc Jacobs, she’s been called herself a fan since the day he first sent her a pint sized version of his entire collection at the tender age of twelve. Though she has inside access to the world of Marc Jacobs, it’s clear that she would be a true fan of the brand at heart. “Every time one of Marc’s fragrances comes out I run to the store to buy it,” Fanning told WWD. “The moment I was asked to be a part of the Oh, Lola campaign, I was so humbled and said 'yes' immediately."
While both Fanning and Jacobs appear to believe that the results of the ‘Oh Lola’ campaign accurately portray Marc’s vision for the scent, the ASA didn’t approve of the messages they felt the ads were sending. Jacobs, who said he chose Dakota because he knew “[She] could be this contemporary lolita, seductive yet sweet.” Marc reportedly came up with the concept after watching Fanning’s performance as an angsty teenage Cherie Currie in the sexually charged indie,The Runaways.
The now infamous ‘Oh, Lola!’ ad features a hazy eyed Fanning propping herself up in front of a deep pink backdrop, the bright light coming from behind the camera hits her in a way that draws the eye first to her large, doll-like eyes, and then down to the department store prop sized bottle resting in-between her legs. Fanning dons a child-like, pale pink, scalloped, boat-neck dress, which she has slightly hiked up her thigh, though it looks to have happened naturally rather than a conscious effort to show more of her legs. The bottle topper has occasionally been wildly misinterpreted to something out of a Georgia O’Keef painting, considering it’s blooming location in-between her legs. Although the dress covers most of her body, the ASA says that it’s purposeful styling to resemble something from a little girl’s wardrobe, emphasizes her young age to make her appear younger than she actually is.
By exploiting her youth, the ASA feels that the campaign fetishes the innocence of children. "We understood the model was seventeen years old but we considered she looked under the age of sixteen. We considered that the length of her dress, her leg and position of the perfume bottle drew attention to her sexuality. Because of that, along with her appearance, we considered the ad could be seen to sexualize a child.”
Despite the negative press, both Marc Jacobs and Coty UK have stood behind their original concept for the shoot though remaining respectful of the ASA’s actions. “[it’s] provocative, but not indecent.” As spokesman for Coty Uk pointed out, “[it] doesn’t show private body parts or sexual activity.” Marc, never one to shy away from his vision, addressed the issue by saying “It’s really unfortunate that people have taken anything negative from what we believe is a really good campaign and one that so perfectly embodies the fragrance.” Furthermore, “We would never have suggested an advertising concept that we thought was inappropriate.”
Less than a month later, another advertisement featuring a minor had been banned by the ASA, this time for the ridiculous notion that it “suggested youth suicide.” Fourteen-year old True Grit star, Hailee Steinfeld, posed in a number of locations for Miu Miu’s Fall 2011 campaign which made it’s debut in July. The concept posed by Prada, the parent company of Miu Miu, was to feature Hailee as if she were taking a break on set in between takes. Unlike Fanning’s ads, Miu Miu wasn’t trying to make Hailee appear any older or younger than she actually is, in fact her actual age was paramount to the concept of the shoot.
The various ads shot by prominent photographer and filmmaker Bruce Webber, depict Steinfeld in the midst of various activities one could expect to happen on a daily basis to one of the most glamourous teenagers in the world. While the two most widely published shots show Hailee next to a train track, others editions show her eating pizza, lying on a cluster of colorful heels, relaxing in a shaded patch of grass, and walking down a flight of stairs whose floor resembles that of any messy teenager- only it’s thousands of dollars of couture that’s lying on the ground rather than dirty laundry.
The ad in question shows a fatigued Hailee, sitting alone on an abandoned set of railroad tracks. Deemed “irresponsible” by the ASA because they show a minor in an unsafe location, the ad also shows Hailee is rubbing her eyes, a notion that Prada says was supposed to make her look “wistful and thoughtful.” Like everything else, this has been taken out of context to somehow simulate ideas of teen depression, which has been taken to a whole other level because of the location said eye rubbing is taking place.
The ASA claims that the ad breaks industry codes because it puts a minor in an unsafe situation, in this case the train tracks. Although the tracks seem to be abandoned , therefore Hailee is not actually in any danger or inappropriate situation. “[Hailee] could have easily moved from where she was sitting because she was not restrained in any way.” Prada explained to WWD, “The viewpoint of the ad extended along the rail tack and it was clear there was no train in sight.”
In regards to the extremists notion that this might encourage children to play on train tracks or promote suicide in any way, Prada notes that although it stars a young girl, it is not targeted at children, but is “a serious high-fashion campaign aimed at adult women.” The notion of dressing little girls in clothes being marketed to women is a bit strange in and of itself. Even weirder was the fact that Miu Miu’s next ads are set to star a thirty-four year old Guinevere Van Seenus, a woman twice Hailee’s age.
Perhaps it was a slow month for the Advertising Security Agency, or maybe it came as a result of the added pressured from the summit on censorship earlier in the month on Downing Street, but November proved to be an unfortunate time for fashion advertisements in the U.K. Both ads had been running for a long enough time that most people who were target viewers had already seen them, and were on their way out, yet the ASA still felt that it was a worthy use of tax payers money to shut them down. Both ads, as each company duly pointed out, was meant for an audience in most cases over the age of twenty-five, a group that is presumably able to handle them considering in an time where young hollywood makes up a significant portion of the magazine they’re about to read. In the age of the internet, where any child with a computer can view much more traumatizing content, or anyone with a iphone can learn the best place to hide a dead body, it’s true that censorship is seriously lacking in many areas but it seems as though funds could be put to better use than inspecting fashion campaigns for a spark of controversy.