A few weeks ago, The Daily Herald received a large envelope containing a copy of the Spring 2001 Victoria’s Secret catalog, accompanied by a handwritten note reading: “Victoria’s Secret is out …. (She’s a SLUT!!!) I resent this pornography being sent to me!!!!” I am not sure what the complainant wanted us to do about it, but if her wish was to be made fun of in my column, I imagine she’ll be pretty happy now.
I thumbed through the catalog many, many times, often with a magnifying glass, and was unable to locate any pornography. I found quite a few pictures of women in their underclothes, but nothing exhibiting “sexually explicit behavior … intended to arouse sexual excitement,” which is how the dictionary defines pornography. There wasn’t even anything “offensive to accepted standards of decency,” which is the dictionary definition of “obscene.” Nor was there anything resembling “a sliding wood or iron grille suspended in the gateway of a fortified place,” which is the definition of “portcullis,” which is a word I just learned.
Actually, it’s possible the second half of that “pornography” definition applies: “intended to arouse sexual excitement.” Surely the people who make the Victoria’s Secret catalog are not unaware of the effect it has on some men, i.e., it makes them hot. However, I doubt that’s the actual PURPOSE of the catalog. I suspect the purpose of the catalog is to sell frilly underwear, and the getting-men-hot thing is just a side effect.
Anyway, the Victoria’s Secret war heated up a few days ago, when local mother Tina Rivera walked past the Victoria’s Secret in Ye Olde Provo Towne Centre Malle and was shocked and appalled to see a shocking and appalling poster in the window. Tina Rivera’s 6-year-old son saw the poster, too, and immediately burst into puberty. Tina Rivera’s head exploded. The mall caught fire. The world ended. (Remember?)
Tina Rivera was so shocked and appalled, she drafted a document called “A Mother’s Plea” and had it posted at FamilyNook.com. [You can see an archived copy of the letter here.] In this letter, she urges people to take action against stores like Victoria’s Secret, which force “lewd and sexual images” on unsuspecting passersby. She also described the poster as “soft pornography” and compared it to pornographic pictures she once saw as a child.
Immediately upon learning of this exciting development in breast publicity, I headed down to Victoria’s Secret to see if the poster was as bad as Tina Rivera said. As it turns out, Tina Rivera could be a medal-winning athlete in the Utah Olympic sport of Making a Big Deal out of Nothing. First of all, her description of the poster — “a naked woman who only covered herself with her hands” — is inaccurate. The woman is wearing panties (thus making her un-naked), and she covers her bosoms with her arms. I had imagined a woman looking right at the camera, barely covering her breasts with her hands, when in fact it is a side view, and very little cleavage is actually shown, as her arms cover most of it. It’s a case of implied nudity.
Furthermore, the picture is far from “lewd and sexual.” It’s certainly not “sexual,” as the expression on the woman’s face is benign, and the photo has no other people in it. And the dictionary says “lewd” means “preoccupied with sex,” which seems like a better description of Tina Rivera than of the poster.
I see the poster as perfectly appropriate for Victoria’s Secret, as it shows the store’s ideal customer: someone who needs to buy a bra. Surely there are more important social ills to address, such as people who feel comfortable using words like “slut” in anonymous correspondence with newspapers.
What a lucky column this was! I had written the first three paragraphs shortly after receiving the catalog from the angry reader, but I'd been unable to go anyplace from there. Fortunately, the new brouhaha erupted, and I had the rest of my column.
(It's an odd situation, by the way, that when the paper receives something as weird as a Victoria's Secret catalog and an angry note, they know immediately whose desk to put it on. Weird things like that used to just go in the trash, and then they hired me.)
The Daily Herald ran a story about the poster controversy on Monday, July 9. It quickly became one of the most-commented stories in the paper's Web site's history, with most people coming down on the side of the store. It also seemed that most of the people who supported Tina Rivera had not actually seen the poster, and were merely taking her word for it that it was obscene.
I saw the poster Monday night and wrote this column on Tuesday. As it happened, by Tuesday, the poster was gone from the store -- not because of pressure from Tina Rivera, but because it was time for the store to change its posters. If she had shut up for a couple more days, the poster would have been gone anyway. Instead, she's made herself a tiny little part of history.
"Shocked and appalled" is my all-purpose angry-person phrase, from back in the BYU Daily Universe days. Somehow, it became the stereotypical thing that an angry-letter writer would say, no doubt because someone (probably several people) used it. It occasionally still gets used by people expressing their outrage, and its continued use obviously just makes it funnier.
Boy, did the Herald ever get phone calls and letters about this column! We got more response than usual, both positive and negative: It seems this was an issue that had people passionate, regardless of which side they were on. As per our usual policies, only the angry responses are printed here, and even then, only the ones that are fun to read. (I got some very intelligent and well-reasoned letters, too, which made valid points. However, this is a humor column, so we don't print those. We print the entertaining ones.)
I had these three voice mails on my phone when I arrived at the office first thing in the morning. I transcribed them for your viewing pleasure.
VOICE MAIL #1: Male, around 50 years old
Hey you that has to use the dictionary to determine the definition of words. [Well, I tried using a comic book, but it wasn't nearly as efficient.] It's not the definition of words that's important, it's the definition of actions and purposes and your little nonsensical articles in the paper are nonsensical. This one this morning is stupid, very stupid, you must have a bone to pick with people who want to eliminate things like what Victoria's Secret does. [very condescending tone of voice from here on] I suggest, then, you take your family into all those places like that and teach them all about what's porn and what isn't. That is, if you have a fmaily, if a family would live with you with such a philosophy. Do a good job, young man, I think your attitude is very, very bad, but go ahead, make fun of people who want a clean, nice, understandable, safe place to raise their chidlren. Go ahead, take your children out to that, if you have children, if you have the nerve to raise children with a philosophy like that. Thank you very much for you day, and continue on. Bye-bye.
VOICE MAIL #2: Middle-aged woman
In reading your article today in the paper, about this woman in the mall, I think you carry it a little too far. I'm about ready to cancel my paper because of this article and other articles you've put in there. I think you need to grow up. Thank you.
VOICE MAIL #3: Very old woman; actually sent to my boss, who forwarded it to me
In your article today by Snider, I'm very offended by it. It's nothing but a bunch of garbage, and if people don't take a stand like this lady did on Victoria's Secret, the world is coming to a sad, sad ending. I think he should be fired from the paper if he can't be more realistic than he's being. It's nothing but a bunch of sarcastic bull****. [Our pious senior citizens, ladies and gentlemen!]
The e-mails were there, too, as soon as I got to work. This one is pretty tame, but it does feature one of our favorite words:
Mr. Snider, I just read your article about Tina Rivera and her reaction to a Victoria Secret's poster on display. I agree with Ms. Rivera. Some advertisements from Victoria's Secret could be classified as "soft pornography". I was appalled you would make fun of this situation, but I know some men look through the catalogs with a magnifying glass, as you said. Of course, men don't complain about those catalogs or advertisements. They don't have "Playboy" or "Penthouse" written on the front. They are "guilt-free" pornography because you get to justify it by telling yourself it is merely a catalog.
You know as well as I do that Victoria's Secret could sell their wares with a lot more tact and modesty and still maintain their sales.
I respect Ms. Rivera for standing up for what she believes in!
Don't worry, they get better. Here's one from someone named Ed:
To: Eric D. Snider (aka The Village Idiot)
The more you write in The Daily Herald, the more you show your ignorance of what is important. Your latest "Snide Remarks" in the 11 July 2001 Daily Herald, shows your complete lack of what, using your own words are "...important social ills to address." [The column shows my complete lack of important social ills? Um, thanks.] Should we allow merchants to display what they want in store windows when it offends the majority of people? I think not. I applaud Tina Rivera for standing up for something that she found offensive. What I find offensive is for someone to make fun of her attempt to have the poster removed from sight of anyone walking through the mall. Victoria's Secret's lame excuse that the poster had disappeared due to a "change in advertising according to a preset schedule" is another attempt by a company to CYA itself when it encounters adverse publicity. Perhaps if more consumers complained about offensive advertising, we could have more corporations in the country suddenly obtain a "conscience" and scale back on their offensive advertising.
From past articles you have written, I assume you are LDS (pardon me if that assumption is not correct). Continuing with my assumption, however, even if you are not LDS, you should be applauding someone who is trying to fight situations such as this. People of other religious faiths, other than the predominate one in this valley, are offended by some of the advertising they encounter. And please, don't hide behind the "journalist license claptrap." You should be standing up for what is right, not making fun of right vs wrong.
For the record, the store really DID remove the poster coincidental with the ruckus. Clothing stores change their promotions a lot. Everyone would like to believe it was Tina Rivera who got the poster taken down, but the poster would have gone away without her.
And then this one, which appeared as a Letter to the Editor on July 12. I love the opening clause, which is utterly untrue, by the way.
It is a well known fact that Eric Snider thinks he's cute, but this time he's gone too far. I completely disagree with him on the Victoria's Secret's ads. I think that Victoria's Secret knows their ads are controversial and likes pushing the envelope. Any idiot knows that there is a difference between Victoria's Secret's catalog and advertisements for underwear in Mervyn's newspaper insert,for example.It is Eric's personal opinion that there is nothing specifically sexual about Victoria's Secret's ads. [No, it was Eric's personal opinion that there is nothing sexual about THIS ad. Other ads may be sexual -- all the more reason why Tina Rivera should have gone after those ones, not this one.] I disagree. ["I disagree with that statement that Eric doesn't agree with, either."] Victoria's Secret's model often have seductive looks on their faces and are positioned sexually with legs spread. Naturally, being that this is soft-core not hard-core porn, the women are wearing panties. I'm sure Eric would argue that this view simply allows female customers to determine how comfortable the crotch of the panties are. [Now who's being cute? No, I would argue that a woman wearing only panties, with her legs spread, is sexual.] I also don't buy that, what Eric calls "getting men hot," is an innocent consequence of producing the Victoria's Secret catalog. It is true that this material doesn't fall under the legal definition of pornography and is, therefore, able to fly under the radar. This is where soft-core porn differs from hard-core. Our laws only protect us from the worst society has to offer, not from the gray area in between. When I was in college, I knew a young man who would steal Victoria's Secret catalogs from the girls apartments and kept a stash under his bed. To that young man, Victoria's Secret was absolutely porn.[Fine. I know a guy who gets turned on whenever he sees an apple pie. Can we ban those, too?] On the other hand, I applaud Tina Rivera and her efforts to protect our children. Pornography is an addiction and many addictions start young. Perhaps Eric, instead of mocking people who are trying to make this world better, ought to talk to his Bishop about how much he enjoyed his in depth "read" of the Victoria's Secret catalog.
Ooh, I didn't catch that last sentence before! What a stinky pig Jenna Wood is! And I hope she googles herself sometime so she can see where I called her, Jenna Wood, a stinky pig!
The next one came the next day, by e-mail as a Letter to the Editor:
So, what we are saying today is, if you have the courage to take a stand on a public moral issue and try to change things for the better (especially if your just a mom), you stand the chance of being publicly "made fun of" by one of the Heralds own. [Well, yes, actually. That is always a possibility when one becomes a public figure.] It is perfectly o.k. for Mr. Snide to assault her action and character with his position of power because his definition of pornography is different than hers. [Mine and the dictionary's and the law's.] How dare she think so! Tell me this. If someone tries to open a "nudie-bar" next to the new Wal-mart in Springville and I lead a protest, am I going to be Sniders next subject of public belittlement? Maybe that sort of thing sits just fine with him. [And maybe we're jumping to unwarranted conclusions.]
Go ahead and disagree, but Eric, don't try to make yourself look better by tearing down someone else. Or didn't your momma teach you that.
The comments made by Mr. J. Ahlstrom in Wednesdays paper regarding this incident concerns me. "Teach-our-children-to-live-with-it" and "you-can't-change-the- world" seem to be his point. I suppose if we were invaded by China he would say there is nothing we can do about it so hand over the flag. Isn't it better to teach our kids that they can change the world? As long as this is still America, ANYONE has the right to protest. [And anyone has a right to make fun of that person, and anyone has a right to get mad because that person got made fun of, etc., etc.] Especially something that degrades society, be it soft or hard porn or old men marrying 5 or 6 teenagers. Too many people sit on their rear and do nothing.
Tina Rivera is a hero. I'm sure a few men are disappointed that their legal soft porn is gone from the window. At least Eric Snider still has his catalog.
Catina Nichols (just a mom)
And so on. This one's from a BYU student. Notice how she is the latest in a long series of people who think they're clever for having picked up on the "Snider/Snide" thing.
I don't know if you are naive, immature, or just trying to be cute (maybe it's all three); but your remarks in your 7/11 column were offensive.
Not only do I worry about my sons seeing posters like those at Victoria Secret, but I also worry about how they portray women in general. You probably need to pick up a women's issues class somewhere. You write as if you have no idea of the pervasive problem of pornography nor its roots. You need to do a little more study of the issue, and of the hurt and pain it can cause anyone involved.
I think in an effort to be "cute" you've betrayed your community and the paper you work for. I don't admire your comments, nor the style in which you write.
Your column entitled, "Snide Remarks" is a perfect description of your writing, and is nothing to be proud of.
The Herald used "Was the Victoria's Secret poster inappropriate?" as an online poll question. (A bad idea, since most respondents would not have seen the poster in question.) A few days later, this in the mail. Note that the author uses more periods than he needs to and believes himself to be in Sunday School:
This refers to your Victoria's Secret Survey, the ill conceived columnist's column [Is he saying I was ill-conceived, or that my column was? Because I can assure you, I conceived in the traditional fashion], the accompanying editorial column in the Herald, and the unacceptable Victoria's Secret window advertising next to a Disney store..
I was disappointed that an area's newspaper columnist and the Herald wouldn't show a better example of leadership to the readers.
The columnist quoted the dictionary's definitions for the words the columnist chose [Ahem: for the words Tina Rivera used], which definitions are "the philosophies of men" and not Spiritually scorched, but then neglected to check for the definition of "modesty". These are more than sufficiently documented at an Internet Site that I found, www.library.lds.org and by better thinking people.
Certainly putting a Victoria's Secret store next to a Disney Store is like putting a bar, brothel, drugs, or a gun shop next to a school, they just don't mix!!.
We protect our children from and teach them against "R" rated adult ideas, which certainly don't mix., and this is an example of that.. [Well, actually the poster was no more than PG-13-rated, but I understand his point.] And all of this is resultant from our "Free Agency" which is given mankind with warning of the consequences of it's misuse and abuse.
The lady who complained was only acting as "watchmen" [plural?] against the effects of Lucifer, as The Lord directs in Scripture.
O. Dick Warren
I could write a book just on the paragraph about putting a brothel next to a school.
The column got quite a few comments from EricDSnider.com readers, too. You can see an archived version of them here. A lot of regular readers disagreed, which is fine. I was sticking to the semantics of it -- no way was the poster "obscene" by any reasonable definition -- but a lot of people were focused on whether the poster was appropriate for a store window where children might see it.