No Bunny Business

Pooter Geek is one of my favourite blogs but I’m not with him in his reponse to the rise of Playboy branded goods for schoolgirls.

Damian says: The schoolgirls interviewed in the Guardian talk about the kudos they get from flaunting the Playboy logo. They feel glamorous. The author of the piece is horrified. I’m not. Most women’s magazines seem designed to make women feel inadequate and dull and ugly. Better that women should celebrate the power they have over men rather than worry that they have “cellulite” or the wrong kind of breasts for this season’s look.

The crucial word in that phrase is women. One can argue as to whether Playboy magazine leads women to “celebrate the power they have over men” and there is a debate about whether porn itself is empowering or explotative (I’d say it rather depends) but the issue raised in the Guardian piece under discussion was not women but kids and whether it is right that a porn brand be marketed to them via WH Smiths and other outlets.

Now I admit freely to being the kind of father who regularly walks into the living room to check that Sleepover Club really is a slightly updated version of the Famous Five . I don’t trust television, the music businesses or marketing departments to make the decisions for me about when my daughter gets exposed to matters relating to boys and sex. I certainly don’t appreciate all the decisions made by the fashion industry who combine with all the above agents to push the increased sexualisation of young girls with the result that I end up fighting battles about make-up and mini-skirts with a seven year old.

But this is a step further – the Playboy logo is a symbol of the porn industry, in fact it is the symbol of the porn industry. I know what Damian means about the ‘power’ signal it sends out – I met a woman at a party recently who was wearing a little pink top with the bunny logo on it and it certainly added to the air of sexual confidence that she presented. Which is fine – some men might feel intimidated by that but they are probably not the kind of men who that woman would want to get to know and in any case – so what? So in that sense, the Playboy logo might be said to serve a purpose as an indicator of sexual power and confidence.

But back to the issue at hand – if the Bunny does indeed provide that message do we want underage girls sending out signals of sexual confidence? I’d say not.

I would have thought that most of us are comfortable these days with the idea that kids should have sex explained to them at an age when it becomes relevant. But I’d rather parents (or if for some reason they aren’t capable then teachers) take on that role before Hugh Hefner gets involved.

It is not just about girls doing what they have always done and dressing up and pretending to be older than they are while dancing in front of the mirror in the bedroom. If Playboy is now arriving in British schools via their stationary range that raises another issue – what about the boys? What message does it send to a 12 year old lad to see the bunny logo on the pencil case of his classmate? If you’ve ever been a 12 year old boy then you probably know the answers.

For me, it is as simple as this – there are plenty of reasons to think this is a worrying development and there is no good reason at all for a porn brand to be flogged to schoolkids. It should be stopped. There is no social or educational benefit to be gained from it and the WH Smith spokesperson quoted in the Guardian is pretty explicit about what it is all about:

“Playboy is probably one of the most popular ranges we’ve ever sold,” says head of media relations for WHSmith, Louise Evans. “It outsells all the other big brands in stationery, like Withit [a range of cute cartoon animals], by a staggering amount. That should give you an idea of how popular the brand is. We offer customers choice. We’re not here to act as a moral censor.”

Well so much for that nineties notion of ‘corporate responsibility’. But fine, if WH Smith are not interested in morality is anyone else?

What amazes me about modern Britain is that most people seem comfortable with the government spending millions of pounds on aggressive public education programmes to try and persuade people to quit smoking, stop getting pissed, don’t be a fat bastard and don’t shag around – yet at the same time we are perfectly willing to let television advertising pump their campaigns for fatty and unhealthy foods on Cartoon Network and now to even let pornographers spread their branding into our schools.

The only people who would lose out from stopping the marketing of a porn logo to kids would be those making a profit out of the trade. Somehow I think Playboy and WH Smith would survive even if we stopped them exploiting the ‘pocket money market’.