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All I want for Christmas is…Playboy merchandise?

The Chronicle Herald by Katherine Reed 8 December 2012

Sometimes an incident comes along that leaves a person struggling for a sensible response, often because it raises important questions about our sense of who we humans are and where we’re headed. The case in point is my discovery in this year’s Sears Wishbook of two pages worth of Playboy-branded merchandise. It features the iconic Playboy emblem — the cute little bunny face with the big silky ears.

As a simple graphic image, this is no doubt very attractive to girls between six and 16 years of age. This is the target audience, apparently. It isn’t adults who sit together on the floor in the early winter each year giggling and leafing through the Wishbook. Children do that. Most of us fondly remember doing that, and now we watch our children and grandchildren do it.

We adults will no doubt be drawn into awareness that for the little girls on our shopping lists, we can purchase purses, bed linens, beach towels, a couch throw and cushions, all in girly pinks and reds and purples and featuring the widely recognized Playboy symbol — in pink of course. A cute girl, apparently in her early teens, is pictured on the right-hand page (p. 19) of the catalogue. She stands there smiling, with her Playboy tote bag slung over her shoulder. It’s pretty clear for whom this merchandise is intended.

I’m no prude, but to say that the sight of all this stuck in my craw is putting it mildly. In spite of my knee-jerk assumption that most adults would have a problem with orienting the attention of little girls toward the porn industry before they’re even old enough to understand what porn is about, I did worry for an uncomfortable moment whether I might be the only person in this hypersexualized environment who finds this disturbing.

I tested the waters by posting on my Facebook page a “status update” that captured my rather strong feelings, and we had a lively discussion about it in the lunch room at work. I forwarded my email exchange with a Sears customer service rep to most of my contacts. In it, the rep responds to my complaint with typical talking points about the wide range of customer sensibilities and reassurances that my feedback will be taken into consideration by … well … we’re not exactly sure by whom or to what effect. That’s hardly surprising, and definitely not satisfying.

The reactions of Facebook friends and email contacts were similar to those of my co-workers. Not only did they find marketing this image to little girls objectionable, they were dumbfounded that a company with a long-standing respectable reputation would risk the negative public reaction. This is an iconic, beloved Christmas catalogue that is mainly for children, and the two pages in question are in a section with children’s toys.

But wait: I’m told that this is the Wishbook’s fourth year of hawking a porn brand to kids. That is even more bewildering. Have I missed the public hue and cry? Did no one think to invite me to the demonstration? I may not catch the news every single day, but surely something like this would constitute more than just a blip on the news media’s radar. Maybe not.

Have we become so inured to distorted portrayals of women and of human sexuality and so jaded about human intimacy that it now is no big deal if a company is mainstreaming the porn industry in the minds of our kids? Should girls in their early teens already be considering working in the sex trade as simply one of their many career choices? They would have no idea as children what that entails, but for now they can just get used to feeling warm and fuzzy about the iconic image that represents Hef and his empire. Does anybody else find that deeply disturbing?

Some may ask what’s wrong with pornography anyway. It’s hard to ignore how gender-lopsided it is, for one thing. Just try to imagine the Wishbook advertising items sporting the Chippendale’s brand for 12-year-old boys. Inconceivable, right? Why is that? Maybe it’s because the dignity and human worth of males in our culture is not to be debased. That’s my guess.

Some people in this discussion pointed out there’s nothing wrong with sex. I agree. The trouble is that porn isn’t sex, just as propaganda isn’t information and movies aren’t reality. The more cruel, bizarre and degrading porn gets — and it surely is according to authors I’ve consulted recently — the deeper we all sink into cultural decay. What’s the logical conclusion to this?

Katherine Reed is a freelance writer ln Antigonish. The opinions expressed in this article are hers alone.