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Opinion

Wed., April 13, 2011

Froma Harrop: Bristol Palin ads worsen culture rot

America’s tailspin toward the cultural abyss has gained speed with an ad featuring single-mother celebrity Bristol Palin. Bloggers unfriendly to her mother, conservative entrepreneur Sarah Palin, have bashed a charity for paying Bristol $262,500 to warn against teen pregnancy while doling a pitiful $35,000 to social organizations that actually deal with its problems.

A solid complaint, but one that barely plumbs the sickness of the Candie’s Foundation ad campaign. The nonprofit is run by the executives of Candie’s, a line of slutty apparel marketed to females age 7 to young adult. Some ads for the brand were so degrading that even Cosmopolitan magazine refused to publish them.

One Candie’s promo showed Lil’ Kim in a blond wig and yellow bikini dancing above a group of nuns. Another had actress Alyssa Milano opening a medicine cabinet full of condoms and a bottle of Candie’s fragrance. The new Candie’s brand video shows Fergie thrusting her cleavage at a young man holding a long-lens camera.

It’s pretty twisted: A company that merchandises platform boots with 5-inch heels to young teens now urges them to avoid unwise sexual activities. (Older girls get 7-inch heels. They call them “hooker boots.”) And its charity’s celebrity spokeswoman is one who achieved stardom by virtue of becoming pregnant at 17 while mom was out trying to censor books at the library.

The Candie’s Foundation describes its mission as follows: “To educate America’s youth about the devastating consequences of teen pregnancy through celebrity PSA (public service announcement) campaigns and initiatives.”

As we recall, Bristol showed up five months pregnant at the 2008 Republican National Convention that nominated her mother for vice president. The father, fellow high-schooler Levi Johnston, stood at her side. Presidential candidate John McCain vigorously shook Levi’s hand because … because why?

Because Bristol’s condition was to be a kind of “pro-life” advertisement for the ticket. Social conservatives hailed the decision to go through with the pregnancy, though they were stuck with the awkward scenario of a young couple who “erred” being paraded around like national heroes. Traditionalists would have regarded an out-of-wedlock teen pregnancy as something to be kept private.

(Sarah insisted back then that Bristol and Levi would get married. They never did, and frankly, if that was in the cards, why weren’t they hitched by the time of the convention?)

Anyhow, Bristol became a star. There were online contests to name her baby. After the birth, she and Tripp appeared on the cover of People. She was given a high-profile gig on “Dancing With the Stars.” Suffice it to say, Bristol doesn’t work the late shift at McDonald’s to support her child.

In what bizarro universe does someone like her get to lecture young women on the “devastating consequences” of teen pregnancy. And how does a company that profits off selling streetwalker fashions to teenagers work up the hypocritical juices to also market itself as a foe of adolescent pregnancy?

The chairman of both Candie’s parent company and the foundation apologizes for nothing – including spending eight times more of his charity’s money on Bristol Palin than on bona fide social entities dealing with the crisis of teenage pregnancies. “That’s not what we do for a living,” Neil Cole said. “What we do for a living is create awareness.”

Awareness for whom? At bottom this seems a marketing scheme to promote both Bristol Palin and the Candie’s brand – while enjoying a tax exemption meant for charitable organizations.

It’s very hard to protect girls eager to attract boys from sexually unwise behavior – not in the land of free speech and minimal parental guidance. At least the taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize hawkers of provocative dress. This is one confused society.

Froma Harrop is a columnist for the Providence Journal.


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