Equal parts naked self-promoter and post-gender liberal activist, Periel Aschenbrand stands ready to accept any label thrown at her. The writer's no stranger to attention: She launched her politically minded clothing line, Body as Billboard, after she walked into a trendy Los Angeles boutique wearing a T-shirt she'd made and the owner requested she create a batch for the store. The slogan on that now-infamous shirt? Why, that's "The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own," which doubles as the title of her book of essays, a quick read of conversational, sardonic rants. In a phone interview prior to the 28-year-old Aschenbrand's visit to Portland, the raucous, outspoken author talked about erasing gender boundaries, playing the political card and her naked approach to marketing.
WW: What would you like readers to know about your book before they see it?
Periel Aschenbrand: What if Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City were as interested in AIDS and sweatshop labor as she is in Manolo Blahniks? That would give a pretty good idea of what to expect.
How does the Eve image on the cover relate to your overall message?
Even though the book is meant in a serious way, it does have a real message and is not just gratuitous. I think at the same time it's playful and funny, and I think that me as Eve offering an apple is hilarious.
Who would you pick to be your Adam?
James Baldwin. Does it have to be a live Adam?
No. But if it did, can I recommend Jon Stewart, the talk-show host?
I don't know Jon Stewart well enough to be able to say that he would be my Adam. I'm going to stick with James Baldwin.
You've worked hard to be provocative, from the cover of your book to your protest at last year's Republican National Convention in your underwear. Are you worried that people won't take your message seriously?
I am appropriating a medium from our culture to make a statement, but I think people aren't used to seeing that for political or socially conscious messages.
And not that kind of image, or such a politically charged statement, from someone so young. I mean, we wouldn't want to see Al Franken-
Well, I think it also has to do with being a woman. There's some use in the shock value. People pay attention to that in our culture, and so to use that to do something other than sell a pair of Nike sneakers is sort of a new thing.
You object to being categorized as a woman, but you proclaim yourself to be Jewish. Do you see that as inconsistent?
Being Jewish for me is a much more cultural thing than anything else. For me it's more about the languages that I speak and the food that I was raised eating, and probably being a little bit neurotic and having neurotic parents, being from New York and going to synagogue.
Who are some of your biggest heroes?
I've been very influenced by Barbara Kruger, Guerrilla Girls, James Baldwin, Noam Chomsky, bell hooks. Monique Wittig was a huge influence of mine. Larry Kramer, Vivienne Westwood.
You've said you consider yourself to be post-gender. Do you apply that label to everybody, or just a few enlightened gender theorists?
I think it's really about being socialized in a particular way. Before studying with [feminist theorist] Monique Wittig, not considering myself a woman wasn't a concept that would have occurred to me. In fact, I don't think that the categories of gender are natural categories.
What's your core message?
Be aware that you are supporting something by the brand names that you wear across your chest, and those things are made in sweatshops by young people in heinous conditions. There are better options. Nobody really thinks about the fact that advertising companies and huge corporations have sunk billions of dollars into the most effective way to convince you that you need something-specifically their product.
Aschenbrand reads from
at 7:30 pm Monday, Aug. 15. Powell's on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-1668. Free.