Here’s something cheering: Wegmans supermarket recently snagged the attention of Jezebel when a reader sent in this photo of a magazine for sale. The store chose to partially cover the magazine with a black shield:
If you’ve ever seen Cosmo magazine, you might assume that the store was doing the decent thing by covering up some ridiculous starlet’s writhing, naked torso, because every month is Writhing Naked Torso Month at Cosmo. (You know, because it’s a Women’s Magazine. They also have Cosmo for Men, which is like having a distinct line of Meow Mix which is specially for cats.) Jezebel says of the store’s decision to cover the cover:
t’s hard to understand the rationale. . . . [w]hile you can see a little cleavage, its certainly nothing magazine readers haven’t seen before — Kim Kardashian showed as much or more boob in September. Was Wegmans uncomfortable with the cleavage of a plus-size lady?
I’m going to assume they were just trying to hit their minimum word count by asking that asinine question, because here is the original cover:
Not exactly a paragon of blushing maidenhood, but by today’s standards, an exceedingly tame picture. And if Adele is “plus-size” enough to make the general public squirm with disgust, then I’m going to quit and start my own country. It will be called Lardonia, and the official state seal will be rendered in mayonnaise.
Refreshingly, several of Jezebel’s readers pointed out that it was much more likely that Wegmans was trying to cover up the revolting headlines than the tacky picture, and that they had every right to do so. Apparently racy magazine covers are routinely hidden in the South. That’s less common where I live, but when it does happen, it’s a good thing—not because sex is bad, but because it’s supposed to be private.
Once, at my local supermarket, I complained about a prominently-displayed magazine whose cover featured a model wearing nothing but cake frosting (maybe it was the wedding issue?) The manager thought about it, and agreed with me that the image wasn’t appropriate for the audience that could be expected to walk through the check-out line. They work hard to make shopping a pleasant and easy experience, so why make the final twenty minutes so unpleasant for so many customers? They promised to put certain magazines on the back shelves, and they followed through. I was so pleased that I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper, commending the supermarket on their responsive customer service.
A week later, we made our home phone number private. I was hearing the wrath of outraged citizens disgusted by my attempt to “make the supermarket raise my children for me.” They deplored the way I was “pushing my values on other people,” and accused both me and the grocery store of—you guessed it—CENSORSHIP.
Ah, censorship. You know, when the Chinese government sentences its own people to a slow death by hard labor for speaking out against police brutality? Or when families in Soviet Russia hid under their beds while the KGB beat down their doors, searching for the criminal who made a joke about Stalin’s mustache? Or when a mother of three small children asks the store manager if he wouldn’t mind putting the picture of the naked woman further back on the shelf? CENSORSHIP.
No, we need more personal censorship, just as a general courtesy—as a way of acknowledging that the world is yucky enough as it is, and there’s no need to dial up the levels of yuck every time we get the chance.
If a grocery store chooses to maintain a certain image of itself by putting a cover over some magazines (or—think of it!—even refusing to sell them!), it’s a minor work of mercy, like covering your mouth when you sneeze: no need to spread that stuff around. Even if we’re talking about things which aren’t bad, but merely private, life is better when we all try to contain what ought to be contained. When we put up sandbags to keep the flood waters out, that’s not censorship—it’s just common sense.
Is it a free speech issue when a store voluntary censors a magazine cover? Absolutely. That’s free speech in action: The store has the freedom to decide what it does and does not want to say about itself.
Sometimes I don’t like the results of this system, as when Al Sharpton and his thugs cowed an ad company into taking down a pro-life billboard or when the sub-human ghouls of the Westboro Baptist “Church” picket military funerals.
But I do like the system itself: government protects free speech, and the citizens react. Here’s my reaction: Yay Wegmans, whoever you are!