DAILY BRIEFING
Discomfort

Jun. 18 - I noticed a lot of U.S. media coverage last week of Walmart's decision to put blinders on some women's magazines (Cosmo, Glamour, Redbook, etc) displayed in the check-out aisles of their stories.

Walmart spokesman Tom Williams reportedly said, "That's to accommodate those customers who are uncomfortable with the language on some of the magazine covers."

The language in question, if I'm not mistaken, had to do with summer sex tips, sexy summer apparel, and so on. Might such language make some people uncomfortable? I suppose so. Was Walmart within its rights to put covers on the magazines to conceal their discomfort-provoking language? Of course. It's their store. No one has to shop there.

The funny thing is, I wanted to write about this a couple of days ago in light of an ad campaign currently running in Copenhagen. The campaign features posters of a naked woman, exposed from her chin to her abdomen, holding a bottle of liqueur in her hand beneath the English-language headline, "Shake it, baby!"

She's got plenty of firm, tanned stuff to shake.

There was an article in one of the local papers Sunday complaining about how this kind of high-gloss nudity distorts perceptions of the human body. The author wondered if perhaps such images wouldn't give the young men and women of Copenhagen some unreal expectations about the female form.

It wasn't nudity the author objected to: it was the context, the glossiness of it, the unlikely perfection of this woman's torso (with a probable emphasis on her gravity-defying breasts). Indeed, the author pined for the innocent days of yesteryear, when the papers went berserk with their "summer is here" photographs of (at least partially) nude sunbathers—the idea being that those were healthier images because they were real people sunbathing rather than ubermodels being airbrushed into perfection.

And let's be honest: real people are all naked under their clothes.

Also I saw a tabloid headline over the weekend about a gigantic fish that had been caught somewhere in this region: "That's a Big Fucking Fish!" the headline screamed in Danish (with the F-word in English). And, looking at the photo, I had to agree. This wasn't your usual hysterical tabloid journalism: That was a big fucking fish!

I tried to imagine a similar good-humored but off-color headline in the Post, but my imagination wasn't up to the effort.

And so I thought, a couple of days ago, that maybe I could spend a minute or two babbling about what this "morality gap" between our cultures might mean.

Then I picked up a copy of Urban yesterday at the gym. Urban and Express are free Copenhagen dailies that constitute the entire regimen of news reading for a lot of Danes. You can grab them for free on trains, buses, anywhere that large numbers of people might be expected to congregate. On the cover of yesterday's Urban was a photograph of a woman holding a big lollipop sculpted in the anatomically correct (if somewhat generous) shape of the male genitalia. Stop for dillere, suggested a teaser headline: apparently a vendor at Bakken, the world's oldest amusement park, has decided to stop selling these confections following some unsurprising complaints from the public.

If you turn to page 6, as suggested by the teaser, you'll find another photograph of three of these "diller-mand," along with a more detailed article about Bakken's decision.

I went back and forth on whether or not to use images of the Danish ad or newspaper photo as the lead for today's briefing. I was concerned that some readers might be offended. Then I realized my readers aren't the type of people to be offended by an exposed breast or a confectionary curiosity—they're much more likely to be offended by the idea that they'd be offended by such innocuous offerings. Besides, the idea that I would need to censor for a predominantly American audience something that's plastered all over the city in Denmark—or splashed all over its newspapers—piqued my national pride.

So in the states, a leading retailer jams women's magazines into plain brown wrappers because of headlines like "75 Sex Tips." In Denmark nudity is a common theme in advertising and large-circulation dailies speak unblushingly of—and photograph—"dildo-man" snack treats. (Not only that, but on weekends they air hardcore porn on basic cable from about midnight until 4am.)

I respect Walmart's decision to protect its easily-discomfited customers from scandalous headlines. But what would those customers do here in Denmark? They couldn't read a single newspaper or magazine, couldn't turn on the television, couldn't go to the beach, couldn't even walk down the street without being made uncomfortable—and Denmark is world-renowned for its cozy charm. Being uncomfortable here is like being hydrophobic in Venice.

I guess what I've been wondering—for more than just these few past days—is if maybe we Americans yield a little too much and a little too often to the sensibilities of the easily offended. Maybe if we just let them be offended they'd get used to things and wouldn't have to spend all their time complaining to congress or writing letters to the editor.

* * *

One of the most decisive battles in the history of Europe was fought in Belgium on this day in 1815, as a resurgent Napoleon Bonaparte launched his last military offensive against the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian Marshal Blücher. Nearly 50,000 men were killed in the battle.

The battle was commemorated by Swedish sensation Abba in their 1970s hit, "Waterloo."

Abba's interpretation of Waterloo's significance has been controversial from the start, as it tended to focus less on the military and political implications of the battle than on the feelings of euphoria typically incited by hormonal rushes of erotic excitement.

On June 18, 1817, Waterloo Bridge was opened over the River Thames in London, probably in anticipation of the great Abba hit.

It's the birthday of Carol Kane (1952), Isabella Rossellini (1952), Roger Ebert (1942), and Paul McCartney (1942).

It's Evacuation Day in Egypt. Get those bowels moving!

Happy Wednesday!

© 2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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