September 11, 2013
Diesel Wins Latest News Outrage Cycle with Burqa Ad
Twelve years after the horrific attacks of September 11, New York City has gone from the proverbial launch site of the U.S. war on terrorism to the launch site of a Diesel ad campaign featuring topless Russian model Ira Chernova sporting a denim burqa. The ad’s prominently featured text reads, “I am more than what I appear to be.” The words are defensive, telling us not to judge the image since we don’t really know the whole story.
Here is what we do know: the ad would like us to consider purchasing Diesel jeans at some point. The ad treats a garment with religious meaning as a piece of meaningless fashion apparel, an appropriation that some people will find offensive because that’s what happens when something sacred is reimagined in a profane context. Thus, we also know the ad is designed to incite controversy.
Knowing just that much, we can go ahead and judge despite the text’s preemptive disclaimer. The perpetrators of intentionally insensitive ads invariably and disingenuously claim they only want to “spark a dialogue.” (See: Kenneth Cole.) What’s remarkable about the outrage that follows these sorts of campaigns is how reliably we in the media describe these ads as “offensive.” The thing is, “offensive” is a word that has come to be associated with coolness and rebellion, concepts themselves long ago appropriated from hippie counterculture by marketers looking to sell washing machines. What we really need to do is quit using that word to describe ads that try to sell us something while treating people like their feelings don’t matter. We should judge and describe those ads for what they really are: mean. They are plain mean. We need to refer to brands that do this as “mean,” not “offensive.” They would eventually get the message. Because really, who would want to buy jeans from a bunch of meanies?