American Meat is an on-going project which I began in 2012.
The literary arts and visual arts interact in ways that directly correlates the other. Where literature leads one to illustrate a picture in their mind, visual arts such as drawings, paintings and photographs prove to be just as thought invoking as written language. Both forms of art can be politically, sensually, socially, emotionally and psychologically complex when interpreted but the modernity has proven to make the latter more difficult. While written language forces one to think while processing language, images have become shallow. A picture is accepted for its appearance, which focuses on the pizazz and spectacle over the meaning when one must deal with bombardments of images everywhere with the rise of photography and advertisements. Ultimately, the invasion of private space with modern technology driven by capitalism dehumanizes everything that is presented to one. Goods become plasticized whereas humans are simplified into mere bodies of flesh.
In contemporary society where things move in such a rapid pace, it is becoming much more difficult to find value in images which are mass-produced, especially in mainstream media. Images used in advertisements for printed material such as periodicals, billboards and even moving vehicles are not necessarily meant to invoke deep thought processes but instead are meant to be a lasting image as an after thought. One may not have the time to interpret a picture when a bus, plastered with an advertisement drives by but the image will not necessarily leave the individual with it. The flashing image is meant to be stored in the brain, to be accessible when needed such as when one actually has a need for the product or services. Although Walter Benjamin, in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, was referring specifically to film, his statement that “the spectator’s process of association in view of images is indeed interrupted by their constant, sudden change” (238) applies to one’s daily life as well. With thousands of advertisements exposed to an individual in a day, many things go unnoticed until they are accepted and eventually made a norm.
A story is not in an image, but in what one sees in a picture. It is about the interpretation and the emotions it conjures and the projection of one’s own thoughts and opinions onto it. The level of how much one does or does not relate to an image greatly influences how one ends up feeling about it. I believe this is especially true in advertisements because they are created with the sole intention to make an effect on the viewer. If an advertisement fails to get one to notice, it simply is not doing its job. There must be a carefully planned tactic in appealing to individuals, which can be done in a range of ways from following the laws of attraction to even using disgust and shock factors. A brand that has been successful in grabbing my attention since the rise of its status has always been American Apparel, which is a clothing company based out of Los Angeles, California.
Whether one is aware of or actually owns any clothing from the brand, American Apparel is notorious for their raunchy advertisements. Even just to research the brand itself, one will soon learn of their reputation as being sexual and sexist. When one types in “American Apparel” in Google’s image search, it is not dissimilar to pornography; there is a tremendous amount of skin and blatant if not sexually suggestive poses. Of course there are some photos that are actually what one would call normal for fashion photography. One could even argue that some are beautiful and sensual; but it is never innocent. The company thrives off the controversial use of the female body to sell their products, which is displayed deliberately in ways to invoke sexuality. American Apparel’s website invites one to “take a look at the unique images and ads that define us” in their photo archive. “The American Apparel advertising campaign has become as synonymous with our brand name as the signature Made in the USA basics that first put us on the map”. It is safe to say that the company stands strong with their imagery.
Because I am an individual, my opinions, reactions and reception of images will be a reflection of my personality and experiences as they change. This means that with time, they develop along with my understanding and interpretation. When I look up the brand name on an online search engine, I do not see advertisements that are about clothing but see images that are about sex and raunchiness. However, it’s not the sex or the raunchiness that is problematic to me. It is the facial expressions of the models, the position of the camera, the eye of the other, which is so bothersome with its overall stench of creepiness. As a woman, the images conjure a strong sense of discomfort and sadness. As a sexual human being who appreciates the erotic arts, I try to be aroused by the images, but the narratives are so demeaning that I become enraged which overpowers any respect to the positive aspects of the company.
American Apparel is exploiting female sexuality by defining it for women through the eyes of a man. American Apparel CEO and founder Dov Charney has had multiple lawsuits filed against him for sexual harassment which forces me to think; why is this “creep” telling me what is “sexy”? I can’t help but think of the men; especially the older men in my life who have tried and some even succeeded in using my youthful sexuality for their own benefits, omitting my emotional personality. As I am currently developing into a mature woman and reflecting on my past, the manipulations of others is so clear but at the time of the events, the actions were justified. “Youth Culture” celebrates carelessness and a free spirit, which includes promiscuity.
Pictures and images used in advertisements are stills in a narrative, which almost always takes place in a dream world, tapping into an individual’s emotional and psychological psyche. Often times a certain lifestyle is sold with the products, which offers happiness, invoking desires and a false belief that the item is a necessity at extremes. At the least, the products will aide in achieving that. American Apparel’s dream world is triggered by amateurism and voyeurism, much like the “Point of View” (POV) category in pornography, which is popular because it is an easy gateway for the viewer to enter the fantasy without the work required to project oneself in it. American Apparel is definitely interested in making the viewer a part of the culture that is visually represented by making fantasy into reality.
The company claims to use “real” people all over the world as models, from girls on the street to their own factory workers. The realistic images that do not appear to be airbrushed or manipulated through Photoshop are positive factors of the advertisements. “Typical” standards of beauty are actually challenged by American Apparel. The presence of underrepresented groups such as people of color, queer representation and various body shapes and sizes is applauded. If one zooms into the photos, “flaws” and blemishes can be found including razor bumps in the pubic region. One specific ad for a lace bodysuit completely reveals the mound of black pubic hair of a model when body hair has been shunned in this generation’s pop culture. The use of nonconventional sources of beauty should make American Apparel great candidates as crusaders for equality but the tactic they use in integrating alternatives is purely based on sexuality. Sexualizing individuals only dehumanizes them because it is meant to trigger a bodily response; not emotional or analytical. As a result, these positive qualities turn sleazy, which is a shame.
The amateur nature of the advertisements turns the fantasy world of the photographs into reality. I could easily be this girl. I don’t need to trim my fat, get breast augmentation surgery or even plump my lips like the women in Playboy. I just need to wear clothing by American Apparel. Actually on second thought, according to American Apparel, I just have to strip down. The clothing is secondary; my nudity and easily accessible body is primary. Consumerism wants to eat me and eat me for what I am worth which, as an Asian American woman comes at a valued rate of a sexual fetish in the hegemonic white male world I live in. They don’t want my culture and they certainly do not care about my personality except for the monetary value.
American Apparel sells clothing for both women and men; some items are “unisex”. It is perhaps in these “unisex” clothing ads where one can see the contrasts in how the company targets their consumers. “Miss Representation” is a non-profit organization, which released a powerful documentary on the misrepresentation of women in mainstream media in 2011 and continues to campaign for social action. The interactive fan page on Facebook just recently shared a link to a Swedish blog called “En Blommig Tekopp” with an entry entitled “American Apparel really know about that ‘unisex’ thing. Damn well. (English version)” . The product on hand is a “unisex” flannel button up and the blog, with limited use of text allows the images to speak for themselves. While the men’s section of their online store shows the man looking “normal” in apparel photos, showing the fit of the shirt, the woman’s display of the exactly same item is a complete joke in terms of inspecting an item online to see if it is a suitable product. The shirt is worn, but scrunched up to reveal her bare buttocks, waist and midriff. She has the shirt tied or lifted up to prove that this can be worn by females as well as males and made feminine with one’s own assets. A Facebook user comments, “Are you sure this isn’t advertised to men and men?” The same question I had which took me a while to realize in writing this paper. In my own research I found that I was mainly asking men their opinions of American Apparel ads when I noticed that most didn’t have concrete opinions because they did not pay too much attention to them. That’s when I realized that the target audience is not men but women. They are specifically targeting females by projecting an idea that this is “sexy”. It is the perfect tactic in selling an idea to a woman that this is what a man thinks is sexy and therefore reason enough to buy it without need to see how the shirt actually fits. The company is selling a man’s POV with woman’s clothing.
American Apparel advertisements are especially dangerous to society because of the messages it sends to young women who are their target demographic. When girls see that models who don’t appear to be so different from themselves in provocative poses, there is a particular idea of sexuality that becomes imprinted in their young, underdeveloped brains. Instead of being able to define sensuality for themselves, young women are brainwashed by media to think that cookie cutter ideas of porn star sexuality is the only option to be “sexy” and attractive. There is a sense of danger in confusing sexuality with sensuality because the two do not always go together and the process and experience to realize this can be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health.
As a visual artist, meat, specifically raw meat has become my ultimate use of symbolism to represent physicality, sexuality, addiction and consumerism. I have recently started a series of collage using found American Apparel advertisements in print. My process is to carefully cut out any bit of skin that is revealed in the image and replace it with photos of raw meat. Usually, but not always there is more skin than clothing, which will give me more to work with. The organic texture and colors of red and pinks in the images of meat contrasted with the highly synthetic clothes being modeled emphasizes physicality of the image itself. My intention in appropriating the images and making them my own is to render the figure more human by use of symbolism.
In “American Meat no. 1”, the figure is a young lady who is lying back on a black and white striped poolside chair. Her back is arched and she holds herself, perhaps to cover her bare chest. It is implied that she is topless. The directional structure of the original meat images mimics the joints and shape of the body of the figure so as to keep the original form. I juxtaposed the figure into a new space for aesthetic purposes but mainly to create an environment, as the original was just a black shadowed area, which flattened the space. Although I had a very simple solution, the desert background I used brings the location of the image out of one’s head in the form of thoughts or memories and back on earth. The vertical stripes on the poolside chair gave the image a circus vibe. To play on the idea of displaying a body for all to see and to feed off the “freak show” vibe, I included a creepy figure of a man presenting the woman to the public in the foreground to lead us into the space.
This paper has allowed me to develop my concept on the idea now that I have a better idea of the marketing tactics used by American Apparel. It is very important to use the original advertisements that have been published through printed sources because this is a way for me to appropriate the images and make them into my own. It is a way to stick it to the original creators and make a new purpose for them. I want to force people to think about what they are seeing and more than anything, force them to see the image in the way that I see them as a young woman. It is more work, to go about looking for the images instead of printing them out myself but it a sense it holds more value to me as a work of art I will stand behind. Art is not just about the finished piece but it is also very much about the concept and the process it took to create it. More than anything I do not wish to give money directly to the company for the images so I will continue to search in weekly periodicals and rely on secondary vendors such as used bookstores or yard sales with old magazines. This is a topic and series I am deeply invested in as a visual artist because it is a way for me to create narratives in my point of view instead of accepting hegemony as a norm.
It cannot be left unsaid that even if I am criticizing the images, there must be a certain attraction to the American Apparel advertisements that lies underneath if I can still appreciate the aesthetics of the model’s poses. I understand and appreciate the female form and what it is capable of greatly. My conscious decision in replacing the skin revealed in the bodies of the women is not only to make a comment on the display of the female body as meat to others. My target audience is not just men, other women and young adults but it is for myself. The “American Meat Dolls” which is what I call the models is a way for me to confront myself as a woman before I end up treating myself as a piece of meat as well. If I continue to accept other women as pieces of meat, what does that say about my own self-image and females as a whole? I am still very much at risk of mimicking images that I come across; it is a risk, which I believe will never go away in a certain sense. Even if I am able to come to a confident understanding of what my morals are, the fact that this is an issue which never goes away for females means that I will have to take a stand as a woman who is a member of society to challenge mass produced images. This is the biggest responsibility I take as an artist in my career to force viewers to think about the images they see in visual arts just as they do with the literary arts.
 Caitlin Johnson. “Cutting Through Advertising Clutter.” CBS News. 11 Feb. 2009. Web. 15 May. 2013.
 American Apparel, n.d. Web. 15 May. 2013. ‹http://americanapparel.net/›.
 Emelie Errikson. “American Apparel really know about that ‘unisex’ thing. Damn well. (English version).” Enblommigtekopp.blogg. Web. 15 May 2013. <http://enblommigtekopp.blogg.se/2013/may/american-apparel-really-know-about-that-unisex-thing-damn-well-english-version.html>
 Chang, Annie. “American Meat no. 1.” Collage. Bangin’. Web. 15 May 2013. <https://anniebang.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/american-meat-no-1-4/>