Burton Snowboard Controversy: Update and Op-Ed | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Burton Snowboard Controversy: Update and Op-Ed


Published October 10, 2008 at 1:21 p.m.

The debate over the controversial new snowboards from Burton is still going on — check out the ever-expanding comment thread on last week's Blurt post.

News Editor Brian Wallstin published an update about the boards in this week's Seven Days.

At least two anti-violence organizations have asked to meet with representatives of Burton Snowboards to urge the company to stop selling product lines that feature nude women and self-mutilation.

Neither of the organizations, the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the White Ribbon Campaign of Vermont, a group of men working to end violence against women, has received a response from Burton, which released the controversial boards earlier this year.

We also received an op-ed about the issue from Meghan O'Rourke, a staffer at the CCTV Center for Media and Democracy. You can read it after the jump.

Feminist Culture Critique
by Meghan O'Rourke

A lot has been made of the marketing decision of our local corporate purveyor of youth culture. I want to weigh in on why an issue like this has symbolic importance to so many people, and why the debate and discussion is crucial as the ultimate exercise in free speech.

First, a corporation creates a product. The corporation has to follow certain guidelines that apply to corporate speech and advertising, truthfulness, obscenity and the like. Then consumers get to weigh in, by buying the product or not. And then there are the other folks. The people with free speech rights who get to express their points of view on whatever they want, i.e., political decisions, corporate sales, school board decisions, etc. These folks aren't the corporation or the consumer, they are another group, with wide and varied opinions who see a situation and respond to it based on their feelings, thoughts, and values. They use the forums available to them (letters to the editor, emails, corner conversations and the like) to say what this particular decision, action or manifestation does to the world they live in as they see it.

Sometimes the issues are obvious and grievous to many, sometimes they are really small but represent a tipping point. The five airbrushed, fleshy pink images are the latter. A tipping point. Enough people saw this and said, jeesh, haven't we seen enough of this kind of stuff? To me, these images are sexist. Why? Why offensive? Not nakedness; we are all bare under our underwear, how can that be offensive? It's not women certainly; they make up fifty percent of the human beauty around us. Not even just naked women; no problem there.

The problem is that these boards aren't just five pictures of naked women. They are overly stylized, airbrushed icons of a time when women's power was mainly held in between their legs. The problem is that combining this artwork with the marketing language (go ahead and read it yourself at their site — available to anyone regardless of their age) of objectification and dominance tells our teenagers that it is not just okay, but it is COOL to talk about women this way.

Besides just giving me the creeps imagining big clunky boots stomping on these pictures in the cold, it depresses me to imagine my young girl friends out there on the slopes having to put up with a culture that sees no problems with this. And the problem is, that we as women, men, and kids are told that if we don't like it, too bad. The corporation has the power.

Of course there are bigger issues out there and I am glad that folks care about those issues as well, but every once in a while a symbol rises like a tiny wisp and crystallizes for many the relationships between what so many folks have been thinking. When you objectify women by combining their images with violent and aggressive marketing language, you become part of the culture that condones date rape, abuse and oppression.

When you speak out against this you exercise your fabulous free speech. The best antidote to speech you don't like is more speech, so let the conversations continue. Maybe we will all learn some things and maybe the culture creators can be inspired to create something different.