This piece in the Age by Michael Scammell manages to hit nearly all my hot buttons at once. It includes generation-game garbage, postmodernist apologias for the advertising industry, support for exploitation of workers, and heaps of all-round stupidity. The background to the story, it appears, is that a clothing store called Westco required its female staff to wear T-shirts carrying a lame double entendre. One worker refused, and the Victorian Minister for Women’s Affairs, Mary Delahunty protested, with the result that the company abandoned the promotion. Scammell attempts to set Ms Delahunty straight on the subject of postmodernist irony.
The headline (not picked by the author, but a direct lift from the article) is Sex sells. Gen X knows this. MPs don’t. I know every generation is supposed to imagine that it invented sex, but not even the most self-indulgent of baby boomers would have the chutzpah to claim this insight as their own. Vance Packard was making hay with this kind of thing back in the 50s, and it was tired old stuff even then. In fact, the basic point predates the wheel. Hasn’t Scammell heard the phrase “the oldest profession”?
Then he claims that the slogan on the T-shirt “stop pretending you don’t want me” represents ” a dollop of knowing post-modernist irony”. If this is post-modernist irony, I’ll stick with the modernist version, or better still that of the classics like Dr Johnson.
But for all-round stupidity you can’t beat Scammell’s observation that it must be all right because ‘Westco reports a significant public demand for the T-shirt despite its seemingly offensive message”. Can’t he see that there’s a big difference between wearing a provocative T-shirt to advertise your own wares to members of the opposite (or perhaps your own) gender, and being made to wear one to flog the wares of your employer, who is doubtless offering little more than the minimum wage for the privilege. Obviously the Westco worker who refused to wear the shirt and made a fuss about it could do so. (In a non sequitur that’s typical of the piece, Scammell asserts that since this worker was willing to stand up for herself, there can’t have been a problem in the first place).
Scammell goes on about “grid girls” at the Grand Prix, and near-naked models at fashion shows, but these workers know what they are offering from the start and (at least in the case of successful models) are paid accordingly. If he wants to work out what’s going on here, Scammell would be well advised to go back to school and learn some old-fashioned class analysis instead of the 1990s postmodernism he apparently thinks is still hip.