My career as a radical started small, in the PX at Fort Buchanan in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
I had just dropped off my kids at school, and made a quick stop to pick up a bag of diapers and a mondo ginormous diet Coke from the deli. You know, the staples.
When I got to the check stand, I was shocked to find myself face-to-boob with Janet Jackson. She was smiling at me from some magazine cover, obviously gloating that in my wildest dreams of zero gravity lingerie I would never be as topographically charmed as she.
However, the poor girl was suffering from the first of many wardrobe malfunctions from which she was being rescued by her boyfriend, who was taking a hands-on approach to supporting her in her hour of need.
Touched as I was by this very public display of selflessness – not to mention toplessness – I was nonetheless more than a little concerned that in a few hours’ time I would be sending my 11-year old son into that same PX to pick out a binder and some notebooks. He wanted to do this himself, and I had agreed to wait in the car. Or the deli, depending on how long that diet Coke held out.
And I certainly didn’t need Janet Jackson distracting him from the business at hand. Goodness, he might not remember to bring me my change, and that simply would not do.
Now, I think I’ve mentioned my aversion to confrontation. While I am undeniably numbered among the noble and outspoken ones, my mouthiness tends to be of the drive-by variety. "She who sasses and runs away, lives to sass another day" is cross-stitched on a sampler in my parlor.
So my decision to track down the manager of the PX and express my concerns was one which pretty much catapulted me out of my comfort zone. It would require both diplomacy and courage, two character traits I seemingly bypassed in order to make room for “smart aleck” and “fudge maker.”
But track him down I did. I explained that I was uncomfortable with the images on the magazine, and that its being at eye-level for the twelve-and-under set was questionable marketing at best.
And go figure, he agreed. I was thunderstruck! By the time we returned that afternoon, the magazine was gone. GONE. Not so much as a perfume sample left.
That was eleven years ago. And of course, Janet and her revelatory friends have graced myriad magazine covers since then. But I like to think that, for a few days anyway, I made my little corner of the planet a bit safer for kids.
Ten years later, I was at the checkout at my local Albertson’s here in Las Vegas. And right there, at adolescent eye-level, was Cosmopolitan magazine, touting so many pornographic articles on the cover I half expected an ad for time shares in Sodom and Gomorrah.
Once again, I knew my inner radical needed to make an appearance. I girded up my loins, fresh courage took, and shared my concerns with the store manager.
Completely blew me off. Told me there was nothing he could do; the marketing decisions were made higher up than his poor grade level.
So I calmly informed him that I COULD do something. I had an e-mail list and I wasn’t afraid to use it. I reminded him that my friends were a bunch of kid-producing, grocery-consuming Mormons and Catholics just like me, and that just my immediate circle represented tens of thousands of dollars in annual revenue for this single store alone.
He was polite, but unimpressed.
So I went home, and followed through on my little threat. I wrote to all my Vegas friends, told ‘em that the November issue of Cosmo was nothing short of pornographic, and invited them to e-mail or call Albertson’s headquarters and let them know how they felt. And I provided them with the numbers and addresses.
The entire rebellion took exactly 45 minutes, and I never left my computer.
But here’s where the story gets interesting: That e-mail went through two generations – original recipients and one forward - and landed in the mailbox of a woman I’ve never met, but whose nieces are my piano students. She lives in Boise, home of Albertson’s HQ, and she decided that she was uniquely positioned to take the battle from the front lines to the generals running the show.
So she printed off my e-mail and waltzed into the office of the President of Albertson’s, where she explained that it was unlikely the readers of Cosmopolitan were the customers keeping his company in business. And if that magazine continued to be flaunted in front of the families who DO spend thousands at their stores, then it would be very simple for them to shop somewhere else.
Guess what, ladies and gents: The Albertson’s stores in Las Vegas keep Cosmopolitan behind magazine screens at all of their check stands. They have done for more than six months now.
We did that! Me and my little posse of e-mailers! And their brave relatives! In wicked, decadent, pro-nudity Las Vegas!
Here’s why I’m thinking about this: Stephanie over at Diapers and Divinity has declared war on smut, with television advertisers in her cross hairs, and has invited all of us to fight it however and wherever we can. There’s quite a lively discussion going on over there, and if you promise to behave yourselves you ought to weigh in.
But I was interested in two sentiments that had emerged the last time I checked the comments. One was that the solution was to just not have a television in your own home, and the other was that this was a losing battle.
And honestly, I can’t fault people for feeling this way. Anyone who chooses to not own a television is practically mythical in my book; I sure couldn’t do it without some kind of super power going for me.
Nevertheless, the commandment to be ‘in the world but not of the world’ begins with an injunction to BE IN THE WORLD. That means taking responsibility for our own patch of the vineyard, having genuine concern for all of our Father’s children, actively numbering and feeding and watching over His sheep.
There is no such thing as “someone else’s problem.” Members of any community have a duty to look out for one another.
As for whether or not this is a fight we can win, just remember that those who are with us are greater than those who are against us. This is just another skirmish in the war over the souls of men that began in the pre-existence. And unless I missed a memo somewhere, I’m pretty sure we all know who will eventually come out on top.
No one can do everything. But each of us can do something. Forty-five minutes on my computer, plus the five minutes it took to read and forward an e-mail, topped by the relatively simple act of driving a couple of miles to an office to have a ten-minute conversation, led to a significant marketing change in my neck of the woods.
It’s embarrassing how easy it was.
We may not bring the networks to their knees. We may not make much of a dent in the bottom line for those who profit from this kind of poison. And by the time your little ones are the ages of my big kids, it’s likely the problem will have spread like the disease it is.
But even if all we do is buy our communities, our families, our loved ones a little more time to fortify their homes and inoculate their kids, then that has to count for something.
So, this is a gentle call to arms from the Queen of Avoiding Confrontation. If I can do it, anyone can. And your small efforts may well mean the difference in saving the soul, the innocence, of some mother’s child.
Don’t know about you, but I think that’s worth forty-five minutes.