The warped minds of the ASA

Ben Clarke

Topics Free Speech

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is no stranger to childish behaviour. But with its latest decision to ban images from raunchy retailer American Apparel’s ‘Back to School’ campaign for ‘inappropriately sexualising schoolgirls’, the over-zealous watchdog really has thrown its toys out of the pram.

The ASA has claimed that the images ‘imitated voyeuristic “up-skirt” shots’, and were therefore ‘gratuitous’ and ‘objectified women’. But a closer look at the reasons for the ban reveals an unsettling desire to pre-empt our responses to advertising and control what we think.

Indeed, the ASA seems to hold the ability to magically predict our responses to certain images. According to the ASA, the ads were ‘likely to cause serious and widespread offence’ because they had the ‘effect of inappropriately sexualising school-age girls’ and – in a perverse leap in logic – therefore had the ‘potential to normalise predatory sexual behaviour’ towards young women (my emphases). In the ASA’s world, imagined, fictive responses are as valid and credible as real responses and evidence.

The very idea that these adverts sexualise young women is ludicrous – the model that appeared in the offending ad campaign was 30 years old. The real problem here is that the ASA treats everyone like impressionable children, incapable of understanding nuance and thinking for ourselves. We are, in their parental eyes, vulnerable innocents who can be easily corrupted and led astray. After all, aren’t we all vulnerable horny youngsters who can’t look at pictures of consenting models without thinking dirty thoughts about children? Well, the ASA thinks so.

These watchdogs frequently adopt a quasi-parental role. But such pre-emptive censorship only encourages deterministic responses and stifles freedom of thought. The ASA may claim that the American Apparel ads are ‘normalising predatory sexual behaviour’, but the only warped ideas here lie with the prudish pencil-pushers who think it’s their job to protect us.

Ben Clarke is a spiked intern.

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Topics Free Speech


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