Ralph Lauren – genuinely dumb or trying to be clever?

One of the blogs I read regularly is Photoshop Disasters, which recently posted a picture of a Ralph Lauren ad. In common with many fashion photos, this showed a skinny model that appeared to have been further skinnified on somebody’s computer to the point that the poor waif was ridiculously deformed. Like this:

LOL - Laugh On Lauren

Nothing out of the ordinary there, then. Under normal circumstances it would have received a few dozen comments and scrolled off the front page in a week or so, because there is no shortage of bad image manipulation out there for the blog to snigger at. The image was reposted at Boing Boing, but it would still have been forgotten in a week.

Except this time, Ralph Lauren prodded its lawyers into action and demanded the image be removed from both sites, issuing a DMCA notice. The DMCA request was spurious, as this is a clear case of fair use of an image for the purposes of criticism. Photoshop Disasters is hosted by Blogspot, which automatically complies with such requests. Boing Boing is not, and instead went on the offensive. They refused to take down the picture, instead reposting it with biting sarcasm. Read it, it’s funny. Ralph Lauren, if you’re reading this, please send me a DMCA notice too. I’m feeling left out.

This led to a flurry of comments, reposts and reports all over the Internet, including here. The comments (running at over a hundred an hour right now) are almost universally mocking of Ralph Lauren, its legal team, its models and its image manipulation propensities. The criticism goes way beyond the few snipes at a mangled-body image that would have been the case if Ralph Lauren had done nothing. It has moved on to the fashion designer’s ethical standards and those of the fashion industry as a whole for promoting artificially skinny bodies to eating-disorder-vulnerable people.

Now, is Ralph Lauren really that clueless and out of touch, to think that this kind of suppression would work? Or is this actually a deliberate marketing move, using the Streisand Effect to gain free publicity? Maybe, but it’s a deplorable attack on freedom of speech either way, and a boycott is fully justified. I’m not going to buy any of their stuff, ever, and I encourage you to do likewise. To be fair, I was unlikely to be a rich source of income. Even if I were a female with lots of excess money to throw away on clothes that look really awful, there is no way they would ever fit me. Or any living human, from the look of that photo.

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