Ashton Kutcher’s recent forays into social justice activism have not been successful, perhaps because they are not especially well-conceived. His “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” campaign, inspired by an episode of “Dateline,” has been roundly panned in the months since it was launched, most recently by The Village Voice. In a piece published last week, the newspaper lambasted the videos, saying that they “reeked of frat-boy humor.” They also questioned Kutcher’s statistics. Kutcher, proving that he is a mature public figure who understands free speech and the nature of public discourse, responded by targeting the Village Voice‘s advertisers, in an attempt to destroy the newspaper.
According to the Village Voice‘s Martin Cizmar, Ellis Conklin and Kristen Hinman, the often-cited figure on child prostitution and the inspiration for Kutcher’s campaign is, quite simply, incorrect. Although, like Kutcher, many mainstream media outlets also refuse to question or explain the claim that “100,000 to 300,000 children in America [are] turning to prostitution every year,” this number needs to be put in context.
“What no newspaper has bothered to explain—and what Moore and Kutcher certainly don’t mention,” Cizmar, Conklin and Hinman explain, “is that the figure actually represents the number of children [the original researchers] considered ‘at risk’ for sexual exploitation, not the number of children actually involved.” Even these researchers admit that it is nearly impossible to determine exactly how many child prostitutes there are in the United States.
Kutcher quickly went on the attack, pointing out that a Craigslist-esque website called Backpage.com, which happens to be owned by Village Voice Media, is currently being sued by a former child prostitute who says that she was trafficked through the website. And because Kutcher owns one of the most-followed Twitter handles in the world, with over seven million followers, when Kutcher then began to go after the Village Voice‘s advertisers, people listened.
He told American Airlines: “Hey +AmericanAir. Are you aware that you are advertising on a site that supports the Sale of Human Beings (slavery)?” And the company responded: “We will address this IMMEDIATELY. Can you please DM us detail of the site, including a link?”
Kutcher later reported, also via Twitter, that American Airlines had assured him that the ads would soon be down. This may not, however, be true; according to the Daily Mail, an American Airlines spokesperson said that the advertising rumors “appear to be rumour and speculation. I am not aware of any such action.” Kutcher also tweeted at Columbia University, Disney, and Domino’s Pizza.
I wrote about the campaign when it first came out in April, and concluded that the videos, which depict various celebrities failing at “manly” activities, were both inelegant and incomprehensible. But these new claims about Kutcher’s statistics are alarming, to say the least. And although Village Voice Media does need to investigate the child prostitution claims, the journalists who write for The Village Voice have every right to scrutinze Kutcher’s campaign without fear that he will use his social media presence to attack their advertisers.
After all, shouldn’t real men be able to take some well-pointed criticism?
Photo from David Shankbone’s Flickr photostream.