Porno-chic is out – someone tell Lady Gaga

Some women are under so much pressure to be "sexy" that they have stopped standing up for themselves and each other


Has hipster porn finally fallen out of favour? First it was the photographer Terry Richardson who, dogged by allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour, has slowly become persona non grata in the fashion industry. Now it’s the turn of the American Apparel founder and CEO Dov Charney.

On Wednesday, American Apparel’s board voted to oust Charney, following a string of sexual harassment allegations. This decision was almost immediately validated by the stock market, when shares in American Apparel shot up by more than 20 per cent.

Back in the mid-2000s, Charney and Richardson were the creative geniuses who pioneered, popularised and got rich off the sleaze-sells aesthetic. Although “aesthetic” may be too grand a word for images which relied for their appeal on two elements: overexposed flash and overexposed flesh.

Sex has always sold, but Richardson and Charney’s great coup was to make it “cool” – and the more explicit, the more edgy. In other words, they convinced women to become complicit in their own exploitation. These complicit women were not just the models who appeared in Richardson’s pornographic shoots but the female consumers who bought into these brands in their millions.

Way out: American Apparel founder Dov Charney Way out: American Apparel founder Dov Charney  

Now that the figureheads of hipster porn have been toppled, will its willing dupes welcome their liberation? Unlikely, judging by the other scandal of the week, a leaked clip from the scrapped music video for Lady Gaga’s “Do What U Want”. The video features R Kelly, the subject of several lawsuits alleging sexual assaults on teenage girls, playing a doctor who does what he wants with Gaga’s body while she lies unconscious on the operating table. As if you couldn’t guess, our old friend Terry Richardson is credited as director.

The most uncomfortable thing about the video, however, has nothing to do with the male creatives involved: it’s Lady Gaga’s apparent obliviousness. This, after all, is not someone you’d expect to be insensitive to how her image is interpreted. In a statement on her website, Gaga blames “those who have betrayed me gravely” for the delay in releasing the video, but never mentions the obvious – that what she had produced looked like a deeply creepy apologia for rape.

That’s how pervasive the pressure to be a “cool girl” is: it affects even the coolest girls of all. The same social influences which can convince a 17-year-old model that she must engage in a sex act with a top photographer if she wants to get on are also at work on successful, self-assured women. So ingrained in us is this need to appear sexy, fun and up for anything that we can’t stand up for ourselves or each other.

We’re not singing any more

“You’re an England fan? Disappointment is what it’s all about!” So counselled the man outside the pub after England’s 2-1 defeat to Uruguay on Thursday evening, but he didn’t know the half of it. Supporting England in the World Cup means confronting an emotion much darker than disappointment. It means coming face to face with your own mindless patriotism.

A World Cup is supposed to be a celebration of sporting excellence, but the less you know about football, the more clearly you can see what’s really going on. For fair-weather football fans, the World Cup is a welcome excuse to indulge in an orgy of love for your country. The thrill is that you might feel a transcendent sense of belonging and get swept up in the crowd’s momentum; the danger is that you might feel a transcendent sense of belonging and get swept up in the crowd’s momentum – however unpleasant the views of some compatriots marching under the same banner.

Thanks to the EDL, I can’t look at a St George’s cross without flinching. If your patriotism is unalloyed with such unease (or “bashfulness” as the PM would have it), count yourself lucky. During Thursday’s match, the London-born actor Riz Ahmed was enjoying a carefree chant of “EN-GER-LAAAND!!!” when he was cut short. As he later tweeted: “Half time I get racist abuse from England fan. 2nd half, I just can’t sing it.”

Who put the hit into hit-maker?

Last week, among the many tributes to the late songwriter Gerry Goffin, one of his most unexpectedly influential songs barely got a mention.  “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” was released by the Crystals in 1962, but since then its provocative sentiment has lived on. Amy Winehouse cited it as a favourite and Courtney Love covered it with her band Hole. Most recently, Lana Del Rey quoted the title directly in “Ultraviolence”, between lyrics begging a boyfriend to “give me all of that ultraviolence”.

Perhaps pop remains fascinated by the idea of men hurting women because, despite what we may hope, attitudes have changed so little. Two women are murdered by their partners in the UK every week, and it is women aged 16 to 24 – the same demographic that buys Lana Del Rey records – who are most affected.

But there’s a difference between Goffin’s song and the pose struck by Del Rey more than 50 years later. The latter, like the rest of Del Rey’s schtick, is calculated to be both morbid and seductively old-fashioned. Sadly, as the statistics bear witness, violence against women is not retro. It’s just what happens every day.

No passport, no problem

True, MP Helen Grant’s endorsement of the staycation might sound rich. Especially if, as I like to imagine, it was delivered, caipirinha in hand, from the poolside of her taxpayer-funded five-star Brazilian hotel. And yet, even as the tourism minister presides over a mountainous passport backlog, she does have a point. Staying put means you don’t have to worry about the cancer caused by UV rays (on the rise, apparently) – and if the sun doesn’t get you, the moon will. The trend for asymmetric man thongs and C-string bikinis (like a G-string, only less demure) means more bare bottoms on beaches than ever before.

Music lovers surf on

Reactions were mixed to the similar behaviour of two music fans last week. The south London raver who raved on despite a severed finger was hailed as a hero, while the crowdsurfer at a Bristol Proms performance of Handel’s Messiah was led off the premises. But all present should have felt grateful. Only bad music doesn’t inspire bad behaviour.

Goodbye and good riddance to American Apparel's Dov Charney
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