William F. Buckley
Last week "60 Minutes" trailered a feature on Abercrombie & Fitch. Those of us who have remarked the company's erotic quarterly catalogs sat back waiting for comeuppance from some obscenity agency somewhere. What would the guardians of decency do to Abercrombie? For five years the company has been advertising sex, with a sideline of pants and sweaters and outerwear. There has been a conflict of interest here, because sex does not require outerwear, though the two can artfully combine, and Abercrombie tells you that story, too, though mostly its catalogs feature unhampered flesh.

But when the "60 Minutes" feature came on, was it about protests against Abercrombie's raciness? No, that isn't quite the word. The protests were against its racist-ness.

Yes, the complaints were to the effect that by its penchant for Caucasian models, Abercrombie was demeaning other races. The girls of Abercrombie are mostly blond and blue eyed. And they are winking their blue eyes at mostly undressed men who are blond or brunette and aggressively white and handsome.

Now -- one Asian complainant wanted to know -- how does A&F get away with such ethnocentrism? Where are the Asian girls? The black men? Well, yes, there is a hint of affirmative action there, and one comes upon the odd black ecdysiast, but "60 Minutes" was not disguising the plain truth of it: A&F is a Caucasian display case, and that is something they are going to have to live with. Either that, or A&E comes up with a better ethnic mix of young horseflesh. Thirteen percent black models would be a good start, 18 percent Hispanic, and, oh, 9 percent Asian.

But easy does it! A&F came up with a T-shirt featuring Asian features, and a lobby went into action. "One might wonder what our forefathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and pioneer immigrants who came before us would think of the shirts," wrote a columnist at UC-Berkeley. "I've heard too many working-in-the-family-laundry stories from my mother and father and aunts and uncles to think that 'Two Wongs Can Make It White' can be funny," a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News complained.


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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