I went to buy a newspaper at W.H.Smiths in Terminal 2 at Heathrow on Saturday. Although I didn’t spend a significant time studying it, I noticed that the “Saturday Sport” publication (newspaper is not an appropriate noun) was being prominently displayed. Most of the front cover was a photo of a woman wearing a bikini bottom, facing away from the camera, bending over, with her right leg lifted up to the side.
Are you embarrassed reading that? Would you be embarrassed if somebody stood in front of you doing that? Would you expect any woman you know to behave like that? If not, why is it considered acceptable or appropriate for this publication to be displayed in a public place in that way?
When I paid for my newspaper, I asked the checkout assistant (a young Asian girl) if she was offended by the newspaper being displayed. She didn’t really understand what I was asking; her supervisor took over the conversation, but also didn’t really understand; she assumed that I was saying that the papers had been left open, and apologised for that (rather than the fact that the cover was offensive). By this time, I was too self-conscious, and aware of the queue behind me, to try and push it any further. Of course, if you draw attention to something like that, does it The newspapers were still there when I went home about 10 hours later.
What I should have done was asked one of them to come with me, taken them to look at the magazines, and asked them if they thought it was appropriate for it to be displayed in a public place. Next time ....
The next day, I happened to notice that, in a section of “The Observer”, there was a headline asking the question whether Tescos were guilty of censorship. What is happening is that, being the second largest magazine retailer in the country, they have some clout, and they are returning some “lad mags” to publishers saying that they are not prepared to display them unless the covers are less explicit.
Is this censorship? Is this restriction of freedom of speech? I don’t think so. Tescos aren’t saying that if there is a demand for these magazines, they should not be available (though why soft pornography with a touch of irony should be more socially acceptable than soft pornography I don’t know). They are saying that if these magazines are to be sold by them, they can’t offend their customers. Obviously Smiths don’t have such sensitive customers. Perhaps anybody reading this could do something about it, if they ever go into shops and are shocked by the covers of magazines on display. Remember this isn’t about censorship, it’s about appropriate behaviour and not causing offence to people.
Incidentally, this isn’t something that’s restricted to “lad mags” and the trashy end of the daily newspaper market. Have a look at the number of women’s magazines which have explicit headlines on the front relating to sexual activity. Would you be happy about explaining what they mean to a primary school child?