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October 10, 2008

Burton Snowboard Controversy: Update and Op-Ed

Burton_2 The debate over the controversial new snowboards from Burton is still going on — check out the ever-expanding comment thread on last week's Blurt post.

News Editor Brian Wallstin published an update about the boards in this week's Seven Days.

At least two anti-violence organizations have asked to meet with representatives of Burton Snowboards to urge the company to stop selling product lines that feature nude women and self-mutilation.

Neither of the organizations, the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the White Ribbon Campaign of Vermont, a group of men working to end violence against women, has received a response from Burton, which released the controversial boards earlier this year.

We also received an op-ed about the issue from Meghan O'Rourke, a staffer at the CCTV Center for Media and Democracy. You can read it after the jump.

Feminist Culture Critique
by Meghan O'Rourke

A lot has been made of the marketing decision of our local corporate purveyor of youth culture. I want to weigh in on why an issue like this has symbolic importance to so many people, and why the debate and discussion is crucial as the ultimate exercise in free speech.

First, a corporation creates a product. The corporation has to follow certain guidelines that apply to corporate speech and advertising, truthfulness, obscenity and the like. Then consumers get to weigh in, by buying the product or not. And then there are the other folks. The people with free speech rights who get to express their points of view on whatever they want, i.e., political decisions, corporate sales, school board decisions, etc. These folks aren't the corporation or the consumer, they are another group, with wide and varied opinions who see a situation and respond to it based on their feelings, thoughts, and values. They use the forums available to them (letters to the editor, emails, corner conversations and the like) to say what this particular decision, action or manifestation does to the world they live in as they see it.

Sometimes the issues are obvious and grievous to many, sometimes they are really small but represent a tipping point. The five airbrushed, fleshy pink images are the latter. A tipping point. Enough people saw this and said, jeesh, haven't we seen enough of this kind of stuff? To me, these images are sexist. Why? Why offensive? Not nakedness; we are all bare under our underwear, how can that be offensive? It's not women certainly; they make up fifty percent of the human beauty around us. Not even just naked women; no problem there.

The problem is that these boards aren't just five pictures of naked women. They are overly stylized, airbrushed icons of a time when women's power was mainly held in between their legs. The problem is that combining this artwork with the marketing language (go ahead and read it yourself at their site — available to anyone regardless of their age) of objectification and dominance tells our teenagers that it is not just okay, but it is COOL to talk about women this way.

Besides just giving me the creeps imagining big clunky boots stomping on these pictures in the cold, it depresses me to imagine my young girl friends out there on the slopes having to put up with a culture that sees no problems with this. And the problem is, that we as women, men, and kids are told that if we don't like it, too bad. The corporation has the power.

Of course there are bigger issues out there and I am glad that folks care about those issues as well, but every once in a while a symbol rises like a tiny wisp and crystallizes for many the relationships between what so many folks have been thinking. When you objectify women by combining their images with violent and aggressive marketing language, you become part of the culture that condones date rape, abuse and oppression.

When you speak out against this you exercise your fabulous free speech. The best antidote to speech you don't like is more speech, so let the conversations continue. Maybe we will all learn some things and maybe the culture creators can be inspired to create something different.

Burton takes the blame for encouraging sexual violence and self-harm, yet Mistress Maeve writes in her Seven Days blog about enjoying "a hot rape scene between three attendees that lasted well over two hours and a piercing scene where a woman was outfitted with needles up and down her back to fashion a corset of ribbon."

(Available regardless of age.)

Is Seven Days endorsing rape and self-harm?

I wouldn't put Miss. Maeve in the same class as Burton. She is smart, thoughtful and responsive to her critics and commenters. As to the quote you have above, again, it is all about context. If you were to take an image of the scene she describes above, add some shallow marketing language and slap it onto a public surface that will be displayed within an unsympathic culture, we might have a different conversation. There are a lot of times I would rather not have 7 days lying about for my kids to look at
(often a lot of the comics), but the conversation is always a potentially dynamic one.

Well said, Meghan. This is one of the better pieces I've seen written on this. Describing it as a tipping point is good, though I think that remains to be seen -- tipping points are best seen in hindsight, after all.

I think there's also some merit to the analysis offered by a commenter in the previous Blurt thread about this, that snowboarding (and skateboarding) has been mostly a counter-culture sport up 'til now and now that it's gaining the acceptance of (and subsequent scrutiny by) parents, these issues are bound to come up. So timing has a lot to do with this I think, too.

That said, I think the best response to these Playboy boards is to shame the purchasers of them for having bad, cheesy, Spencer-Gifts-inspired taste. The tone of the vocal critics of Burton has the effect of turning the purveyors and consumers of the boards into champions of free speech (in their own minds) rather than painting them as the sellers and owners of really cheesy, bad art. I mean, airbrushed Playboy centerfolds? Really? You want a Def Leppard black light poster and some truck nuts with that?

I'm just upset that I can't get anyone to make my design for a snowboard: An illustration of a female Yeti (bearing a striking resemblance to Sarah Plain) bare-backing Vladimir Putin with a pink strap-on, shooting valium into it's hairy jaws from a pez dispenser, while Dick Cheney commits seppuku in the background. I was even willing to make a special limited edition signed in an ink made from my own cerebro-spinal fluid and blood.

But NOOOOOOOO, the snowboard companies were afraid of "offending someone"!! Lightweights and censorers, the lot of them! FEH!

Meghan, it is a blazing judgement of an entire community, to say, "I wouldn't put Miss. Maeve in the same class as Burton." Low-blows do not support an argument well. The public is focusing on 2 boards out of 55 total models- less then 5% off all the decks they offer. Limited edition.. chance of seeing these out on the hill is slim to none.

Did you know that most high-end model snowboard graphics are placed on the boards at the request of team riders? It's a form of self-expression. We do not always like forms of self-expression, especially when we do not understand them. Lets not forget that the team riders who requested these graphics, are 18 and 19 yr old heterosexual (I think) males. Lets also acknowledge that these air-brushed images have realistic female forms with breast and glute sizes that are completely proportionate to the model's bodies. These are tasteful. We are not looking at the backdoor down, dirty, and lewd images of Hustler here- these are 80s centerfolds with the hair to prove it- is it possible that these could even be mocking the entire porn industry. AND these women CHOSE to be a part of Playboy. There is a difference between that and the message of subversiveness you are struggling to "expose" within this line of boards.

The verbiage describing the Love: "Hi. My name is Love™ and I’m on the market for someone who’s looking to score serious action, no matter where they like to stick it. I enjoy laps through the park; long, hard grinds on my meaty Park Edges followed by a good, hot waxing. Whether you’re hitting it from the front or the back, my mid wide shape, supple flex, and twin tips like it kinky. Keegan and Mikkel love riding me, I hope you will too." is a play on words, that anybody with a passion for a good rail, box, barrel, bonk, or jib, can appreciate and laugh at- the endless possibilities within jibbing and a snowboard that can actually handle it, is awesome! Snowboarding is as good as good sex and sometimes it's better! Some may interpret this difference- the beauty of indvidual perception- everybody sees, feels, and experiences it for themselves.

The Love represents 2 core riders, but only for this season- the graphics will change as they do every season. The UN-INC, a board getting no press, was fueled by team riders who chose an anti-war theme with messages printed on them- "Stop the War Junkies" and "JUSTICE...or just us?" etc. Shaun White has his own art on his board, that lucky bastard! For a price, the average consumer can design a board model with their own graphics on it- Gregory call Burton up to ask about getting your kinky female Yeti on your own solid deck.. I recently did!

Sorry to hear you are getting the creeps "imagining big clunky boots stomping on these pictures in the cold, it depresses me to imagine my young girl friends out there on the slopes having to put up with a culture that sees no problems with this." The culture embraces everyone- Ive been a female part of this predominately male subculture, long enough to know that fact. Your girl-friends dont have to worry because there are plenty of strong women, AND men, who do not propel the stereotypical down-pression of women in the industry or culture. By the way, Burton is the leader of the snowboard industry and continues to push womens snowboarding to the absolute edge- endless possibilities, endless forms of expression, endless opportunities for female riders considering Burton has the financial resources to make it happen.

And listen up! Just because we stand on our boards, it does not mean we are standing in the way of the feminist movement or perpetuating violence against women. Because I stand on the Econico, Burton's new eco-friendly deck, am I giving you the creeps because symbolically, I am standing in the way of and upon the environmental movement? Your metaphor is weak. So are your arguments. You may need to have your profesor revise your critique.

i could understand how a parent would not want thier kids indorcing this kind of graphic art, but unfortunitly i am not a parent so i dont see anything wrong with them. well i do but freedome of expression is one of the many things that makes this a great place to live, where no one oppresses your ideas. yes i can easily see how theese boards are offensive to wemon and have disturbingly violent grpahics but if you dont support that then show it by not buying it, and telling your kids and encoroging others not to buy it. you just cant expect them to change it because they abviusly support there own ideas want to keep them out there

I am trying to grasp why people feel the need to jump to the defense of these boards. The response "there are bigger issues out there." really gets me because I think, then "address those." Don't waste your time talking down a group of folks with relatively little power. If you like the boards, that's another story. You might not see the same problems with many parts of our culture that I do. I think that cultural critique has been marginalized, oddly enough, by the right wing with the language of "political correctness" from the 80's. I also think folks are afraid that if they say something is bad judgment, or not necessary or denigrating then they have to hold themselves to those same standards. Of course, this is true, curb one person's speech and you curb everyone's. The point here is that citizens speaking out aren't government legislation. Also this is not the majority curtailing the rights of the minority. I might have a different opinion if this was an art show by an artist at the gallery downtown being shut down by the city. Burton is not maplethorpe by any stretch. I am really interested that all these folks are drawn to talk about the power of words and images. It is telling that when people feel they can have an affect they speak out. Maybe we are'nt such an apathetic society more of a powerless one. I wish it would keep going and we could talk about even more. I think the jury is out on the connections between porn(not sex or erotica) and violence, when will the jury come back? This society is so consistently violent that I think we are a long way off from seeing the truths and connections. Not just overt violence either, but the slow reeking mental and physical stuff. Anyhow seems like there are folks that don't think its a big deal, some that think it is an exemplary problem and others who think no body should waste their time talking about it. I think we are probably going to keep talking about it for a while. If it makes you uncomfortable or wastes your time, I suppose you could stop reading.

Maybe we can just shroud them from head to toe in an all black robe ? Oh wait, people find offense to that also. Damn, just can't win can we ?

Seems like no one remembers the original!

Sims did this long before Burton with the FADER Series featuring world famous Vivid Video girls. And this was back in 2004.

Give me a break. You see more skin than this on Myspace, youtube and TV.

Sure-lots of skin on TV(men and women), mags, internet. No problem-love those fine ladies! And it is my choice to watch. But the choices Burton has made for graphics(or there riders) are shallow, uncreative and have no vision. These riders must be great to hang out with? Really make me want to ride Burton products-ok, maybe not!!

Jake stated in 2000 national sales meeting that the kids and youth are the most important building block for Burton-really? And this is what you offer? Oh well.

Imagine my dismay when my eleven year-old son showed me the Burton ad in the opening cover of Snowboard Magazine, December 08 issue. I brought the magazine home as a complimentary shop copy from my local snowboard shop.

No, it wasn't their new line of controversial snowboards that he was pointing to. It was the ad copy that states "What the FU...Is EGD?"

Following this was ad content that deliberately attempted to use the Fuck-word in every sentance. 22 instances to be exact!

I am ashamed to admit that I am a veteran snowboarder and Burton loyalist since 1984. I helped pioneer the sport accross the nation and specifically in the Eastern Us.

I have been a snowboard/Burton evangalist for 24 years. I have lost all respect for Jake Burton, his entire company and the media outlets that perpetuate his ignorance.

Jake Burton and company are clearly not a world-class organization. Rather they exemplify the problems of this world and leverage their greed, laziness, ignorance and moral bankruptcy to pollute the minds of consumers. I can only assume that Burton will "justify" his/their marketing as "creative" and "freedom of expression". Sadly, this shows what has become of this company, a self-absorbed, pitiful organization that has lost it's soul. You should be ashamed of yourself, Jake Burton. Pretending to have a social conscience and acting out through community programs! Pathetic hypocrasy.

The world can be a better place without Burton Snowboards - send the message; boycott them now.

This message is presented to the people who oppose these boards. It needs to be addressed that the images of the playboy models are not nude. Although nudity is classified as unclothed, there is not exposure to what people refer to as “private parts”. Another point that needs to be made. It disgusts me that the worst thing that is going on in your lives and the only thing worth protesting is a snowboard. You all need to look around and become better educated of the true issues in today’s world.
The picture of the “mutilation” is in cartoon form. If you want to protest violence then protest the shootings and murders (screenplay) your children see on television and play in their video games. There are bigger issues. Protest something worth protesting.

who gives a fck!!! so they put some naked playmates on a snowboard. ooooohhhhhh nooooo. If somehow they actually sell enough of those boards that you ever see them on a hill or ever hear about them again what dose it matter? is it going to make young adult males think less of wemen? no!!!!!!! most of the teens and twenty to twenty five year olds that buy these boards dont know or care for that matter who these girls are or if they were held back because of sex. they just want a hot naked chick on the bottom of their board to show to their friends. that's it! young men like naked wemen, it's a fact of life.

Ok who is not going corporate these days? I even think that the guys making Burton snowboards are going down this road. I used to think they were independent, the I heard that they were owned by mervin. These are the same guys that own those silly department stores. Ahh... there is no way to just be indy these days. Holla if ya hear me.

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