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DECONSTRUCTING A & amp;F's SOFT PORN



Published: Thu, August 23, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Providence Journal: Our relentlessly researching staff, working 24/7, recently procured a copy of the Abercrombie & amp; Fitch summer catalogue. (Patrons willing to fork over the $6 for the soft-porn quarterly installment have to be 18 or older -- and prove it with an I.D.)

With its 50 pages of clothing, and 200-plus pages of libertism, the new catalogue is quite the topic of discussion in some sex-obsessed precincts, such as ours. The customer is left with the inevitable question: Just what is Abercrombie & amp; Fitch trying to sell?

A & amp;F, with its storied tradition, has obviously changed with the times. For many years, the outfitting company supplied the upper crust, and celebrities, with sporting equipment. It outfitted Theodore Roosevelt' Rough Riders and sold Ernest Hemingway safari gear.

Nude football: Nowadays, however, A & amp;F is concerned with other sport, such as nude football. With other activities depicted in the new catalogue, such as naked young men doing pull-ups together in the shower, this vigorous advertising has some people confused.

All this might sound as if Abercrombie is selling an image purely based on materialism and sex. But, to us, the catalogue is more reminiscent of Nazi-era body worship, complete with mixed, confusing homo-and heteroerotic messages. Beyond that, there is a strong impression of racist conformity. The models are predominately white, have similar builds and hairstyles and, of course, clothing, when they are wearing any.

Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of Abercrombie's largest consumer group, teen-agers, not being able to buy the catalogue is immense. The hypocrisy of the conformity manifested by the company trying to project the image of freedom, sexual and otherwise, is even greater. Much like Abercrombie's peculiar history, the catalogue is full of contradictions.

Material desire: "Fight Club," a recent film with Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, suggested that the true danger to society is our material desire. According to the film, an individual is only free after he has lost virtually every earthly possession. The implication is that if society relinquishes designer clothing and all other brand-name belongings, then we will evolve to higher beings.

In one scene, Brad Pitt's character points to a Calvin Klein underwear ad and asks: "Is that what a real man is supposed to look like?" Clearly, he is expressing his strong resentment of the corporate poster child.

For more praise and opinions about Fight Club, refer to page 278 of the A & amp;F summer catalogue.

A SUMMERTIME HIGH

Los Angeles Times: To anyone who has ever concentrated really hard, even in August, positioning the wings and tail just right and, tongue between teeth, launched a balsa airplane into the perfect frontyard breeze and watched it soar and dip and then inexplicably soar more, nearly to the street corner, the news that NASA has flown an unmanned elongated flying wing to a record altitude of 96,500 feet inspires awe.

"Awesome" is applied to many things nowadays, including even teen-age singers. However, not much inspires old-fashioned, genuine jaw-dropping awe. After all, we've golfed on the moon, remotely driven -- and broken -- a toy car on Mars and dispatched a lonely craft to beyond our galaxy with messages for beings we can't imagine. Earthlings still blow each other up for religious and ethnic reasons. But we've beaten smallpox and are closing on other afflictions. We watch live TV transmitted from orbiting space stations and then blithely mute it to take an intercontinental cell call, complaining about static.

Mouth-open awe: But remotely piloting a 247-foot wing made of coffee-cup plastic foam and driven at 23 miles an hour by 14 solar-powered propellers with the strength of hair dryers reignites that delicious, mouth-open awe that became uncool sometime before eighth grade. Sure, the 1,577-pound Helios aircraft has commercial possibilities; flying for months without landing, it could replace expensive satellites. And the military will doubtless divine some lethal mission for the fragile craft someday. But even if you can't lie down right now in soft grass and gaze into the blue sky, just think for a summer's moment about the doing of it -- about imagining, designing and building a curvaceous wing that carries 62,000 solar panels and obeys engineers who dream. It lifts off a runway in Hawaii and soars out over the Pacific up through wispy clouds hour after hour until it is more than 18 miles high, where the sky turns black.

And then see whether, honestly, you don't feel like running into the kitchen and yelling: "Wow! Did you see that?"




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