CALVIN CROSSES THE LINE

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The jean ads Calvin Klein unloaded in August-in magazines and on TV, on outdoor boards and splashed against the sides of big-city buses-created media madness the likes of which we hadn't seen since O.J. Simpson's long, surreal Bronco ride. Wave after wave of instant analysis tried to gauge whether or not these ads were soft kiddie pornography. Some of them were (the off-stage John Wayne Gacy voice urging a fuzzy, dull-eyed teenage boy to rip his shirt off was porn when you heard it, let alone saw it). But some of the ads from the campaign Mr. Klein last week decided to pull were not kiddie porn-or at least not any more so than ads Klein and others have been running for years in mainstream fashion and culture magazines.

Why, then, the big media furor this time? Why the veritable eruption of controversy? No doubt when such department store giants as Dayton Hudson weighed in and refused to be identified in any way with ads from this campaign, the media took notice.

And professional moralists such as Donald Wildmon's American Family Association raised the volume a bit. But, in large measure, we believe Calvin did it again-he got his company miles and miles of free publicity by going outside the boundaries of conventional taste.

But then, just as consumers from Spokane to Savannah were getting wind of this kiddie porn controversy, Mr. Klein announced that he would cease running the remainder of this campaign "as soon as possible" because it has "been misunderstood in some parts."

If he really believes what he said last week, that "young people today, the most media savvy generation yet, have a real strength of character and independence," then his next campaign should illustrate that without the leering sexual innuendo. If any good is to come out of this, it could be as a warning to other advertisers who test our tolerance with sleaze: There is a line, and you cross it at your own peril.

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