In the age of e-enlightenment, Change.org is emerging as fashion’s conscience — and maybe its conojes, too. The online petition site has shed light on everything from Abercrombie & Fitch’s skinny-only policy and a Victoria’s Secret lingerie campaign aimed at teenage girls to deplorable working conditions at Bangladeshi factories and, famously, the Chinese government for detaining Ai Weiwei. So it’s no surprise that smut-art photographer Terry Richardson is the latest target of crowdsourced outrage.
The lascivious lensman has long been celebrated for his pervy persuasions. Fashion and celebrity are already based on sex appeal; he only pushes the T&A factor a little further, he’d argue. Plus, his oversized nerd glasses and flannel shirts, his coy gay play, and his affable randiness hardly seem threatening.
But now, once again, he finds himself the subject of public ire, perhaps owing to the intentionally in-your-face sexuality in Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball video, which he directed. As if in anticipation of the outcry, the director’s cut of the video shows only Miley’s face, recalling Sinéad O’Connor’s groundbreaking Nothing Compares 2 U video from 1990. Coincidentally, or not, Sinéad penned an open letter to Miley, urging her to reject exploitation by the music industry and to own her sexuality. Depressingly, a Twitter feud erupted.
And so, all the way in Southampton, England, someone by the name of Alice Ehrenfried has launched a Change.org petition titled “Vogue, H&M, Mango, Supreme, & all other brands: Stop using alleged sex offender Terry Richardson as your photographer.” She claims Richardson has taken advantage of models (citing Coco Rocha, Jamie Bell and Rie Rasmussen as examples) and created “degrading pornographic imagery … of girls made to look underage, hurt and exploited.” She apparently also started the Facebook page Say No to Terry Richardson.
The thing is, sex will always sell, and it will always make people very rich. Not Change.org nor open letters compare to raging hormones and explosive CD sales. And who wants to be the self-righteous prude who goes around policing which images are consensual and which aren’t? Even if Miley needed it, there may be no protecting her from her own objectification or a photographer’s controversy-chasing, self-enriching lecherousness. But the fashion industry can at least protect itself by deeming, in its pages and campaigns, that some images aren’t just demeaning. They’re artless and, worse, uncool.