December 10, 2003,
Is the pornography business racist? Seriously. A cursory and entirely dispassionate examination of the marketplace seems to indicate that it is. Pornographers hire on the basis of race all the time. There are porn films, websites, magazines, etc. dedicated solely to African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and, of course, whites. Worse, I suppose, the porn industry regularly traffics in hurtful ethnic slurs calling young Hispanic women "spicy," for example the vast, vast, vast majority of which I cannot mention on this family-oriented website (not to be confused with families-of-Orientals fetish sites).
Hollywood long ago broke the racial barrier, hiring blacks for traditionally "white" roles. And yet, no one in the adult-film business would dream of hiring a black woman for the lead role in "On Golden Blonde." When it comes to filming "The China Sin Dome," Mexican Americans need not apply. And, while I haven't checked lately, I'm fairly sure that "Euro Sluts 58.6" on my pay-per-view menu doesn't have a socially just distribution of Native Americans, Samoans, or !Kung! Bushwomen.
For the purposes of intellectual honesty, I must concede that the porn industry has made some strides toward equality when it comes to sexual orientation. Like it says on the LPGA Christmas-party invites, the smut peddlers have a "Lesbians Always Welcome" policy.
Regardless, when it comes to racial discrimination, the industry lags far behind. And no one seems to care yet.
A sign of progress came last Sunday night on CBS's 60 Minutes. The pioneering news program called attention to the outrage that is racial discrimination in the pornified retail-apparel business.
Their segment on the now notorious and cancelled Abercrombie and Fitch catalog began as if it was going to be about the clothier's fairly outrageous descent into soft-core smut (first addressed by none other than William F. Buckley Jr., and recently on NRO by Anne Morse and WFB again). The catalog featured all sorts of nude shots of young, mostly white, teens and twenty-somethings. Apparently there were also some exhortations from a "sexpert" to get jiggy as much as possible in college, including getting some "sex for three."
Now, obviously, A&F thought it was being clever or ironic. A clothing catalog featuring people with no clothes on! Get it!? Get it!? It's just so damn clever! Unfortunately, because the catalog's been canceled we probably won't see other companies picking up the torch to illuminate other areas of the consumer culture with similar commentary. I was particularly looking forward to a catalog selling mittens for people with no hands.
I'm kidding of course. There's nothing particularly clever or ironic about these catalogs. The idea is to show naked people, pure and simple. It's pretty much the same idea if you're selling kitchen appliances or power tools. Though, to be honest, watching a naked dude with a power sander is not something that makes nakedness or power sanding more appealing.
But all of this is irrelevant, because 60 Minutes didn't really care about the porn part. They mentioned it only to dismiss it as a distraction from the real scandal (and to show some skin themselves, no doubt). What's the real scandal? The lack of hot Asian, Hispanic, and African-American chicks and guys in the catalogs and behind the registers at Abercrombie and Fitch.
"What is the Abercrombie and Fitch look?" asked Morley Safer.
A young Asian woman who's suing A&F answered: "It's dominated by Caucasian, football-looking, blonde-hair, blue-eyed males; skinny, tall you don't see any African Americans, Asian Americans, and that's the image that they're portraying and that they're looking for."
As for real irony, my favorite part of the program was the outrage of one Mr. Anthony Ocampo a student at Stanford University who wasn't hired by A&F because the store in question already had "too many Filipinos."
"I was speechless," Mr. Ocampo explained. "I was, you know, I didn't really know what to say, I'd never had any I'd never seen racism that explicit prior to that."
Now, I really don't blame Mr. Ocampo for being peeved. But one wonders whether he considers all of the faculty and administrators at Stanford who desperately want that same policy reinstalled at their school to be racists too? After all, not being able to fold sweaters at slightly better than minimum wage because you're ethnically Asian may be bad, but being denied admittance to Stanford because you're ethnically Asian strikes me as worse. Alas, this seemed not to occur to anyone at 60 Minutes.
Which is odd, since one of the attorneys bringing the class-action suit against A&F is none other than Bill Clinton's assistant attorney general for civil rights, Bill Lann Lee. Lee formerly of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is one of America's leading voluptuaries of quotas and other systems requiring racial discrimination.
Instead, the burning question was whether or not Abercrombie and Fitch has the right to hire hot white chicks and buff white dudes at the expense of perhaps equally hot and/or buff blacks, Asians, and Hispanics (though several former employees said the real discrimination wasn't racial, but lookist). It's an interesting question, I suppose, and I thought Larry Elder who was interviewed on 60 Minutes did a pretty good job pointing out the double standard at work. After all, there's no end to the number of black-only business out there, from Black Entertainment Television to FUBU. I haven't been to too many Chinese restaurants with Norwegian waiters. And, whenever I tune in to Sabado Gigante, I rarely see Korean women in tight-fitting nurse outfits climbing ladders to change a light bulb.
This is all just the consumer culture's version of the racialist culture's hypocrisy and so at the end of the day I can't get too angry at Abercrombie and Fitch. Bill Lann Lee and his ilk will get a lot more credibility from me when they express the slightest twinge of embarrassment that a group like La Raza ("the Race") can say things that would get a white person tagged as a Klansman.
In the meantime, not a single liberal voice that I'm aware of can muster even the slightest bit of concern that a store geared to teens and which once exemplified propriety sees nothing wrong with peddling what amounts to stylized smut. This isn't Comstockery. Even a decade ago, a catalog like Abercrombie and Fitch's would have elicited some concern from some Democrats, say Tipper Gore or maybe even feminist groups. Were we really living in a repressed society in 1993? Today, so long as you're not a racist scratch that, so long as you're not a white racist there's really nothing that can offend the sensibilities of liberals today. Again: That's why they care so much about conservative hypocrisy, on sex or drugs: because they don't have a problem with the actual wrongdoing.
"A liberal," Irving Kristol once observed, "is one who says that it's all right for an 18-year-old girl to perform in a pornographic movie as long as she gets paid the minimum wage." I guess Kristol's dictum needs to be updated. Today, a liberal is one who says it's all right for an 18-year-old girl to perform in a pornographic movie as long as the cast "looks like America."