Get’ em out, or kick ’em out

OK. Let’s take a quick moment to discuss censorship.

Recently the Cooperative supermarket announced that publishers of Lad’s Mags must cover up their publications with sealed modesty covers or they would be removed from their shelves. In their statement they claimed that this was due to the concerns of customers and staff that these magazines exposed children to blatant, overly sexualised images.

Now this is just a small part of a much wider debate about feminism and the sexual content that is available to children, but what it has done is prompted a nice little row about censorship. Can, or should, a supermarket be able to make these demands and dictate such terms to publishers?

On principle, I have to agree that the Cooperative’s decision amounts to censorship. That’s the principle, but I also believe that these magazines are a large part of the problem about the over sexualisation of society and have no artistic merit. I’m no prude and I believe that there should be no prohibition with discussing sex openly with children, but magazines such as Zoo and Nuts are not plastering nudity across their covers for any editorial or artistic reasons. They are simply trying to sell themselves in the easiest way possible. These magazines are cheap titillation, nothing else.

But can the quality of the medium affect the need for censorship? If a respected literary magazine – as a random example – decided to plaster a naked woman in a provocative pose on their cover, would that be more acceptable? If there was an artistic meaning behind the photo would it have more right to be on the shelves, in front of children, then if the image was just to excite teenage boys?

Artistically, the answer is almost certainly a yes. But from a point of view of censorship I have to say that if one is allowed then the other must be as well. We can’t have two tiers, with a media or government ‘elite’ regulating only the media they see as ‘inferior’ while ‘classier’ works are given more leeway. While there might be an argument for it, that way lies a very slippery slope.

I think we do have different levels of acceptability depending on how we rate the media being judged. There’s always a very fine line when it comes to censorship in art of any form, but you can’t pick and choose. If the Co-op are prepared to ban Lad’s Mags for their overly sexualised covers, why not girls magazines as well. Magazines such as OK and Hello sexualise the female body just as much as Loaded and Nuts. In fact I would say they can be far worse as they promote the idea of judging people positively and negatively on their appearance, rather than simply objectifying sexuality. Who is to judge why one is acceptable and one isn’t?

So how then does the Cooperative answer their customers if they are upset by these magazines? The answer to that is to temper the concerns of censorship with market forces. Put simply, if people do not buy the magazine then the shop can stop selling it. Simple. Clearly Lad’s Mags sell or this would already be the case, but if a majority of customers do not, and have a justifiable issue with the content on display, then a company can be justified in no longer stocking the item. The markets speaks.

What the Cooperative has done, however, is attempt to have its cake and eat it too. Rather than taking a stand, and risk losing whatever profit they make from these magazines, they are trying to find a way to keep selling them without offending anyone. It’s a rather cowardly choice. If they don’t want those images on their shelves then they should simply remove them, not cover them up.

Either make a stand for your customers and risk the lost income, or don’t attempt to dictate what packaging you will accept. I doubt that many families will stop shopping at their local supermarket because they can’t get the latest issue of Nuts.

If people want to see boobs there is always the internet. Because I’m pretty certain that no one reads Nuts for the articles.

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