Cover Up

At the checkout stand at Albertson’s, my eye was caught by a magazine whose cover was blocked by a black card. It was Vanity Fair, a magazine that I had never paid any attention to before. Obviously, Albertson’s was trying to get me to buy this magazine, or else they wouldn’t have drawn my attention to it by covering it up.

For a couple years now, some Utah Valley supermarkets have covered up magazines that have potentially offensive covers. Of course, everything is “potentially offensive” to someone, especially in Utah Valley, where getting offended is so popular that the Boy Scouts offer a merit badge in it. So how do stores decide what to cover up?

The Vanity Fair issue in question had a picture of Madonna. (Note: I mean the pop singer Madonna, not the Catholic icon Madonna.) (Although I could see her being covered up in Utah Valley, too.) There was a day when Madonna was so trashy she would make Christina Aguilera look like Laura Ingalls Wilder, but this photo was very chaste. The neckline came all the way up to her neck, her skirt was knee-length, and her sleeves went nearly to the elbow.

Elsewhere on the cover were nine headlines, not one of which used the word “sex” or anything else filthy or shameful.

So why cover up the magazine? Looking around, I realized a lot of magazines were covered up, apparently at random. Among those covered: Redbook (“5 Sex Moves All Men Absolutely Love”) and Glamour (“How to Have Insanely Good Sex”). Also covered, though, were several magazines with absolutely nothing objectionable on their covers, including: Seventeen, GQ, YM, In Touch, Marie Claire and Self. The Globe (“TV Bachelor is a Jerk!”) was covered, while the National Enquirer (“Snipers: Their Secret Gay Life”) was left visible.

Over at the magazine rack, nothing is covered up. This includes the Sports Illustrated “Ultimate Swimsuit 1964-2002” issue, complete with a somewhat naked woman on the cover; several muscle magazines that feature nearly-nude, extremely oily men; and Woman’s Own, whose main cover headlines I will now recite for you: “Reaching the 5 Top Sex Highs”; “15 Make-Him-Sweat Moves from a Lap-Dancing Lolita”; “We Test Sex Toys for Money: 4 Women Share Their Favorites”; “You Love Him, but Your Sex Styles Differ”; and “5 Kinky Places to Make Love … at Home!” (Of all places!)

Local Albertson’s stores — this was the north Orem location, but I called some others, too — won’t comment on the policy, referring media types to corporate headquarters. However, corporate headquarters did not respond to repeated requests for comment. So I am left to my own devices at determining why the covering-up seems to be practiced in such a slap-dash manner. My guess: monkeys. Monkeys are turned loose in the store with black cards, and wherever they put them, that’s what gets covered. Maybe sometimes it’s a box of cereal; maybe it’s a piece of ham. Pause for a moment with me and picture the process of monkey-facilitated censorship.

OK, that was fun. The Smith’s stores follow the same practice (of covering magazines, I mean; I don’t know whether monkeys are involved). According to spokesperson Marsha Gilford, Smith’s’s parent company, Kroger, asked all its stores nationwide to cover up Cosmopolitan “because they felt that cover was consistently more explicit than most.” (Two of this month’s headlines: “40 Sex Secrets of Women Who Are Great in the Sack” and “Read His Dirty Mind: The naughty wishes ALL men have.”)

Beyond Cosmo, it’s up to the individual stores, case-by-case. Currently, at the Provo store, Cosmo is the only magazine covered. Uncovered are the aforementioned Redbook and Glamour, and O: The Oprah Magazine (“Girls & Sex: You won’t believe what’s going on”).

Away from the checkstand, in the magazine department, we have the beery men’s magazines like Maxim (“7 Kinds of Sex”), Stuff (a picture of Holly Marie Combs topless, her breasts covered only with her long hair) and Blender (a picture of LeAnn Rimes topless, covering her breasts with her arms, her popularity and dignity lying neglected in a ditch somewhere), along with the muscle magazines, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and that filthy, filthy Woman’s Own. All of these are in plain view.

My issue with covering the magazines is that it’s done so haphazardly. If a magazine’s cover is consistently offensive to a lot of customers, then stop selling it. If it sells well despite offending some people, then just sell it without acting ashamed of it. Don’t straddle the fence, in other words (“6 Ways to Straddle the Fence”).

But if you’re going to cover up offensive magazines, then cover up ALL the offensive magazines. Of course, that’s a slippery slope; as mentioned, everything is offensive to someone. Madonna offends me, for example, because doesn’t she realize she is so OVER?

I don't like this column. It starts out fairly funny, then it gets all facty. Maybe it's OK. What do you think? Break off into discussion groups and prepare your theses.