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'Malling' of America's community standards

POSTED February 21, 2014 4:28 p.m.

Orem is a tidy city at the base of the Wasatch Range.

It’s not nearly as well-known outside of Utah as the neighboring city of Provo. It is where the Cougars roam at a place that locals sometimes affectionately refer to as “The Y.” The rest of the world knows it as Brigham Young University.

Orem’s biggest claim to fame for years was the fact it was home of the Osmond Family recording studio.

Orem proudly proclaims itself as “Family City USA.” It is a city motto that truly reflects the prevailing community sentiment. Orem is to conservative social values what Berkeley is to liberal social values.

Still, it was a surprise and a breath of fresh air to see Judy Cox take on corporate America over T-shirts in a PacSun display window. The shirts depict buxom young ladies clad in skimpy bikinis in various provocative poses.

The images include women showing almost all cheek and little bikini on their backside, cleavage views, and a suggestive come hither pose among others.

Cox was shopping in the University Mall with her 18-year-old son when they passed the PacSun store. Cox was taken aback by the T-shirts in the window display. It should be noted that the mall has a Victoria Secrets store as well. And while she wasn’t pleased at what they sometimes display, Cox notes the lingerie store isn’t aimed squarely at junior high and high school students as PacSun is.

She complained to a store manager about the T-shirts. She was told they were powerless to remove them as window displays are dictated by corporate staff in Orange County near Los Angeles.

So Cox proceeded to buy all 29 T-shirts in the window for $567. She plans to get her money back by returning them within the store’s 60-day return period.

There is little doubt the T-shirts are overboard but they stop short of being X-rated, at least by today’s cultural standards set by YouTube, MTV, Adult Swim cartoon shows, and as depicted in what experts believe is the subject of between 10 and 15 percent of all Internet searches.

Still, standards are standards.

Cox believed PacSun was pushing the envelope under Orem’s municipal code that prohibits the public display of “explicit sexual material.” Think Playboy magazines. While the T-shirts may not even trigger a yawn in New York City there was a time in the Big Apple when the vice squad would have seized the T-shirt display long before they raided Minsky’s.

And while you may disagree with Cox’s opinion or her community’s standards, you’ve got to laud her ingenuity.

She lodged a complaint with the store manager but got nowhere. She contacted city officials but was frustrated that the process to make a complaint would take weeks if not months to resolve. By that time the window display would be changed.

Instead of picketing the store, organizing a boycott, occupying it, or employing techniques typical of left-wing protesters ranging from defacing the shirts to harassing customers she bought the T-shirts. Of course, she is going to use the store’s liberal return policy to get her $567 back. 

She made her point, inflicted some minuscule financial loss for PacSun, and got a lot of people to stop and think.

While some may view the values Cox defended as archaic, quaint, or wrong-headed it cuts straight to the real issue — the homogenization of America.

It is the same issue that many have around the globe when they talk about American cultural values being thrust upon them and threatening to erode their own cultural values.

PacSun with 600 stores across the country is a perfect example of what is happening. Every store is a cookie cutter of the other regardless of whether it is in Southern California or Orem. It is one size-fits-all made popular by the proliferation of malls. As such those that establish cultural values today tend to be far away from the Orems, Turlocks, and Delanos of the world. They are concentrated in places like New York City and Los Angeles. They are not driven by tradition, the need to establish healthy perimeters for interacting with others, or even decency however one might define that. Instead they are driven by money.

Some may see dropping a PacSun store in the middle of an Amish community as liberating but the question is liberating for who?

Cox’s protest is uniquely restrained. She isn’t trying to get PacSun shut down or to switch to vanilla styles. She is only asking that the store doesn’t openly flaunt suggestive images in its display windows for those who don’t wish to go in to see.

Of course, one may argue that isn’t her right. But how did corporate America’s right to push its values that are more often than not driven by a desire to “be different” in order to make money without pushback become superior?

What is at stake is a sense of community and a community’s collective right not to have to be a carbon copy of Los Angeles while making sure rights aren’t trampled.

It is a line that corporate America in the pursuit of the dollar pushes daily. That leaves Americans who disagree with the corporate agenda to push back in only one way and that’s with their wallets. Usually that entails not shopping in certain stores or buying specific products.

Cox just happened to find an effective twist in the use of her wallet to defend what she perceives as community standards of decency.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or (209) 249-3519.

 

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