After the clobbering: Thank you, Calvin Klein, for providing the advertising business with its newest creative review board: the FBI. With subpoena powers, if you please.
It wasn't hard to do. Klein simply hired night-culture people to do their thing and create his ad campaign. They brought teen-age boys and girls onto a set, posed them provocatively and had an off-camera voice toss leading questions and comments at them. Once this work saw daylight, it touched off a mushroom cloud of outrage and controversy, not to mention retailer resistance, and Klein professed surprise. He told Time magazine he must "look more closely" at his creative work to make sure "it" doesn't happen again. We don't know if "it" refers to the ads, the FBI investigation or the worldwide publicity.
Yes, he'll be cleared of breaking child porn laws, but his display of insular stupidity renders him guilty of violating whatever is left of advertising's public decency standards.
By now, we all should have learned that "things" happen once politicians and parents take up the all-purpose battle cry of the '90s: "They're after our kids!"
James Kaplan's inaptly titled article, "The Triumph of Calvinism," in New York (Sept. 18) shed light on how and why Klein could go so wrong. Begin with Larry Clark's film, "Kids," which New York movie reviewer David Denby called ".....an exposure of [Clark's] own erotomania," and The New Yorker's Terrence Rafferty said turns "these wasted, aimless kids into icons of the beautiful and damned." Klein, of course, told Kaplan he "loved" the movie, found it "very real, important-disturbing, but I prefer to face reality." He likened the actors to the youngsters he used in his ads. "It's today," he said, adding, "In any case, we're creating advertising. I'm not making social statements. And I'm speaking to an audience that I would think would get it." Calvin overlooked one fact: Because of its content, "Kids" is in very limited distribution. The Calvin ads, however, were everywhere, including city buses, where they could shock young and old alike. That's why the FBI is checking out Calvin and not Larry Clark. Calvin's "reality" is clearly based on his rather narrow social and cultural orbit.
ABC's Cokie Roberts blamed the Klein ads on "a bunch of people sitting around in New York who think these ads are cool." She's partially right. The fact is that there were more than a bunch of New Yorkers who couldn't stomach those ads. One city councilman turned up on the Talk Radio shows to give listeners Klein's phone number and urge them to take action. The TV stations and newspapers added to the groundswell, and Klein folded like a pair of CK briefs.
Ad agencies, meanwhile, appear to be quietly going along with the idea of having the FBI join other government agencies already looking over their shoulders. And what does this Calvincaper tell us about media responsibility? People in charge of TV, magazines and outdoor bus advertising had to approve Calvin's version of "Kids." A few said no, but more said yes. A clueless Calvin Klein claims he doesn't make social statements. Just what kind of statement is media making with this episode?
MediaMeandering: With the skies over televised sports events dotted with blimps flying the colors of Fuji, Goodyear, MetLife, etc., sportscasters feel obliged to introduce blimp captains along with the starting lineups. Does John Madden get to name his All-Pro Blimp Skipper Team? Do the skippers have to wear Nikes, too?
The UCLA report on network TV violence bears out what admirers of "NYPD Blue" have known from the start: Steven Bochco's magnificent show keeps violence off-camera. By the way, the 47th annual Prime Time Emmy Awards last month provided me with the greatest satisfaction in 50 years of viewing (I pre-date the Emmys) by honoring Bochco's show as TV's "best drama series." His latest, "Murder One," will win its share of awards, too.
Fortune (Sept. 18) tells us that Coca-Cola and General Electric are our Wealth Creation champs, according to Stern Stewart consultants' market value added (MVA) charts. MVA is based on equity value, debt and R&D spending. Coca-Cola increased shareholder-invested capital by $61 billion last year, GE by $52 billion. Advertising belongs in MVA but the article's only reference to it appeared when Coke CEO Roberto Goizueta explained his MVA success by borrowing the old line, "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise."
In reviewing Colin Powell's "My American Journey" in the Times Book Review (Sept. 17), Ronald Steel writes, "What Mr. Powell offers us is an escape from politics, which seems to be what we want." Where does this leave George, our new "poli-glitz" magazine? Escape reading?
Unsolicited advice to George's editors as they "define politics extravagantly:" Don't ignore candidates' TV commercials.
Media's new landscape: Remember when every time Barry Diller took a meeting, a media frenzy would follow? Which network is he buying? Which movie studio will he run? Think pieces would focus on the Diller Touch. But then came the awesome Disney/Cap Cities deal. As a result, when Diller finally acted, acquiring the 12-station Silver King Communications TV outfit, Newsweek gave it one graf. Time ignored it.
Just before Barry made his deal, the eponymous "Joe Gillis" of Los Angeles magazine concluded that Diller "ain't the killer he used to be." We'll find out soon enough.
From the Sept. 3 New York Times: "A caption in Fashions of the Times .....about a fashion model whose picture was placed into various party scenes with a computer, misidentified a drag queen shown standing behind Quentin Crisp. The performer was Brandywine, not Lady Bunny." Oh, but we knew that, didn't we?