Daniel Gingras

When I walk into an Urban Outfitters, usually it’s in search of overpriced T-shirts with Russian Coke advertisements and lame puns plastered to their fronts. When I stumble instead upon books like “Spliffs 2,” “How Animals Have Sex” or Sex Flashcards, I’m not offended ” I’m confused. It’s like going to Michaels, The Arts and Crafts Store for silk flowers and finding a row of purple dildos tucked beneath the garlands. It’s like going to a baseball game and getting panties thrown at you by the vendor instead of foot-long hotdogs. Simply, it’s getting what you didn’t expect. The store markets itself as a clothier for men and women of ages 18 to 30 (a group that shops for itself). But that demographic exists only in fine print, and, as was demonstrated in SLO, it won’t keep parents and their tykes out of a trendy store.

As an adult, the subject matter doesn’t shock me, but it doesn’t particularly interest me either. I don’t need to pay $25 in a trendy retail store to read about sexuality in an incendiary book. I have mature friends I can talk sex with, I have a cornucopia of provocatively clad Cal Poly ladies, and every once in a while I even get to do it. Besides, the voice and tone in those books suggest to me that they were either written by high school dropouts or chimpanzees with typewriters.

It worries me, though, that the authors might purposefully be writing down to the reading level of teenagers, which offends me since that would contradict Urban Outfitters’ alleged marketing group. As for protesters, I disagree with the severity of their indignance, but I agree with their point: Urban Outfitters needs to make a better effort to keep young kids from being exposed this stuff.

There are easy solutions. Just like when I was a little kid at the movie store with my mommy, I tried to sprint past the red curtains into the adult section to peep at the pornos. My mom’s arm was longer than my legs and somehow she always snatched me up before I could get a glimpse of any little boy’s gold – boobies. I also remember a store called The Look which sold all sorts of gag gifts and questionable merchandise, similar to items found in Urban Outfitters. The Look’s solution was to keep everything acceptable on the first floor and everything raunchier on the second (guarded by a very mean-looking lady with short hair and leather clothes).

As far as 18 to 30-year-olds go, I hope nobody really buys that crap. Or at least, they buy very little of it. At best, stuff like that is fun for a chuckle when you read excerpts to each other as you pass through the store, browsing at the clothing you were there for anyways. At worst, it offends parents who control the cash flow for an abundance of desirous young shoppers. But, Urban Outfitters must not need their money.

The store has gone through this time and time again, and knows by now that some of their products cause real distress. In March 2004, Catholics in Pennsylvania protested a dress-up Jesus doll by picketing outside a mall. In November 2005, the Troy Community Coalition in Detroit urged a boycott because of products that glamorized drinking, drugs, and sex.

Urban Outfitters has even gotten flack for racist T-shirts. One that read “New Mexico: Cleaner than regular Mexico” ruffled feathers in July 2005. And the one constant throughout the controversy? Urban Outfitters employees are not allowed to remove merchandise designated for sale, and the store representatives never return calls in time for news stories, or (it seems) at all.

And finally I realize it. Cleverly but obtrusively placed sex and drug-themed items have put Urban Outfitters in the spotlight, and as a result, Urban Outfitters has thrived in the past 35 years and has become a household name. The negative associations are mild enough that the press becomes invaluable. Like a misbehaving child, negative attention is better than no attention at all.

Daniel Gingras is a civil engineering senior and a Mustang Daily columnist. For questions, comments or for a game of Sex Flashcards, write to dgingras@calpoly.edu.

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