The Calvin Klein foursome ad, and its nationwide buzz
Clothing designer Calvin Klein has always grabbed attention with ads that push sexual boundaries. The latest is a five-story mural in lower Manhattan of three hunky guys and a young woman who appear to be taking a languid break from an intimate foursome. Take a look. What a fuss this is raising.
An article on ABC News.com suggests that the ad is bringing polyamory closer to mainstream life (yes, they use the word). The article is by the same writer who did ABC News.com's article on poly and legalized group marriage one day earlier, and she quotes one of the same poly people:
Calvin Klein ad taps foursome sex
Edgy is Calvin Klein's middle name.
By Susan Donaldson James
June 19, 2009
And now, once again, the fashion company is shocking and titillating passersby with a new ad campaign in New York City's Soho neighborhood, a place where young mothers with strollers mingle with artists and hipsters.
A giant 50-foot-tall billboard advertising Calvin Klein jeans features two young men and a young woman entangled half-clothed (a male and female kissing) as a third man lays at their feet, either undressing or putting his pants back on.
Some say they find the ad so outrageous they won't buy Calvin Klein products again. Others have called it "disgusting."
"Not only the billboard, but a company a corporate giant in America feels it appropriate to put a semi-nude photograph in a major billboard in a high-traffic area where tens of thousands of children see this kind of activity going on," said Randy Sharp, director of special projects for the American Family Association, a Christian organization that promotes preservation of traditional values... whose members have sent off more than 15,000 e-mail complaints to the company.
...Calvin Klein Inc. did not return calls from ABCNews.com, but has earlier said its "intention was to create a very sexy campaign that speaks to our targeted demographic."
Some of those younger consumers are less judgmental about gender roles and have a more tolerant view of their sexuality, embracing gay marriage in larger numbers than their parents and, perhaps, seeing a threesome or even foursome as no big deal.
Many couldn't understand what all the "commotion" is about. One commenter on New York magazine's Web site declared, "All I can see are beautiful people having a good time. It's not the advertising that makes little children confused, it's the uptight handling with sex-related issues in general of their parents."
Even those who have never considered a ménage a trois (or more) don't seem shocked by the notion that more is merrier.
"I think that many younger people are OK with threes and fours, theoretically," said Lauren, a 28-year-old New York City teacher who did not want her last name used. "In college, many people engage in threesomes either with three friends, strangers or even their main partner and then a friend."
...The New York media -- accustomed to the bare midriffs that adorn Times Square -- has looked down its nose at the sexual implications of the four semi-nude models on the billboard.
"There's no such thing as a foursome," chided the Daily News. "Anything over three and it's called orgy."
That remark, said Ashara Love, a 51-year-old who belongs to Loving More, a Colorado-based organization that promotes polyamory, reflects society's disapproval of more sexually free attitudes.
..."With cultural imperatives, the mainstream media frequently reinforces what you should think," said Love, who is happily married but engages in threesomes. "Hey guys, it's over there, pay no attention, it's just an orgy."
What critics are upset about, according to Love, is the unusual combination of one girl and three young men.
"Everything about our arts and culture is homoeroticism and denial," she told ABCNews.com. "What men are really afraid of is having sex with another guy. That's what's scaring people."
But Love and others, say the brilliance of Calvin Klein is his ability to tap into the next wave of shifting attitudes -- especially among those who buy their products.
"He reaches young kids at a place where they are and opens them up even more," she said. "Everyone is really comfortable. They are having a good time, no wink, wink, nod, aren't we naughty for doing this. Everyone is completely in the moment and it's extremely confronting for people. It pushes the cultural input button."
But media observers say the issue is less about censorship and more about "media sanity" and what is age-appropriate.
"I can guarantee everyone below Houston Street [in Soho] is having a conversation with their children right now," said Liz Perle, editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that provides ratings for parents....
Read the whole article (June 19, 2009), and join the rapidly growing comments.
ABC also put up a short video news clip of offended city residents.
Also: CBS-TV News report (video).
Article at NBC New York.
AP video report.
Fox News's Bill O'Reilly weighs in (transcript).
New York Daily News.
Toronto got a slightly milder threesome version of the billboard.
Calvin Klein's own site offers other versions from the photo shoot, including one with two guys and three girls (click on "Jeans" and mouse-over to the right).
Update, June 24: Calvin Klein has taken down the mural and replaced it with a conventional ad of a dripping girl in a string bikini. Moralists heave sigh of relief.