The Kroger Co.'s recent simultaneous yet unrelated decisions to clean up their stores by putting "blinders" on Cosmopolitan and by banning CityBeat altogether are a coincidence just too good to ignore. I might have figured the first was just comical, catering to our local cultural crusaders, except that the policy extends to every Kroger store in dozens of states. But the banning of CityBeat really aroused my ire and suspicion.
The expulsion of CityBeat from the Kroger garden followed complaints about syndicated writer Dan Savage's Savage Love column. The cover-up of Cosmo was in the name of clearing sex out of the view of children.
Now CityBeat, unlike Cosmo, does not feature sultry photos or racy captions on its covers, and Savage Love is buried deep within the paper, something you have to dig for. And while it's relatively easy for a store like Kroger to ban an alternative weekly, it's quite another matter to blot out the covers of every issue of a national magazine and still carry it in the store. What must be an expensive and involved task should indicate that Kroger is serious about cleaning sex out of the supermarket.
So I decided to take a look at my Kroger store from the activist crusader's point of view, to look specifically for sex in plain sight. I wanted to know how else are the morals of America's youth being corrupted by readily available filth. What other trashy media horrors are being foisted upon the innocent and unsuspecting shopper? And in what other ways can we make the supermarket safe again for the whole family?
If it takes one to know one, I figure I should be able to spot smut a mile away. Thank Heavens Kroger is going that extra mile to save me from my own prurient interests.
But it didn't work out that way.
Before I even set foot in the store, a bright neon sign in the window blared State Liquor Agency. Now that's certainly getting the kiddies off to a good start. How often do you see Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or churches selling their goodies or distributing their literature in front of a liquor store, without protesting the product? Yet here they are, deceived by a respectable front. Trouble, my friends, right here in River City!
To the side of the automatic door, the bright gold gleam of FTD's familiar Mercury logo streaks his way inside, wearing nothing but his winged shoes, a hat and flowers! I notice him because, along with the crucifix, he was probably one of the first images of the nude male form I found myself attracted to as a child. No doubt the crusaders will push for him to be covered up as well. Wouldn't want some other impressionable kid exposed to that image. Who knows how he might turn out.
And what's the first thing the Kroger shopper encounters upon entering? Nothing but damned fruits! What did your mamma say? "Don't put that thing in your mouth! Do you know where that fruit has been?"
I shudder guilt-filled at the sight of bananas with their upward curvy thrusts, fuzzy kiwis nestled together and an old man groping the ruby reds like plump breasts. The lewd puckers of pomegranates, the naked navels of oranges -- a veritable pornucopia of nature's sexual attributes are all sold out in the open!
And the fleshy display isn't diminished among the vegetables -- yellow squash has great potential for the dirty mind. Then there are voluptuous folds of cabbage, dripping with moisture; the obscene bulbousness of celery root; the ovarian tubers of kohlrabi; the flushed bright veins of swiss chard; mauve kale in tight bondage; and the impure presence of sweet potatoes, odd turds you could never hope to flush.
Upon leaving produce, the bakery greets me with white froth drizzled over sweetcakes, tumescent loaves dappled in seed, glistening danish showing the pink within, and cherry turnovers with, of all things, their cracks gaping. Ropes, twists and knots are displayed, brown cinnamon sugared donut holes in bulging baskets, oozing creampuffs and filled longjohns. Near the cheese, I find firm, hard baguettes.
Of the prepackaged items, Roman Meal's Centurion is flexing his muscled legs and staring immobile to his side, no doubt posing for either the Green Giant drag queen or the gold lamé jock from the front door. Typical two-dimensional jerks.
I get a chuckle from the Otis Spunkmeyer banana nut muffins and an unexpected perverse delight to discover that Hostess has brought back Ding Dongs! Now there's a favorite lunchbox treat! What would you have traded for one of them as a kid? Remember when they were renamed "King Dons" in the 1970s? Courtesy once again of those Queen City crusaders! True story, I swear.
Turning the corner into health and beauty, I find Skintimate Shave Gel in a pink cylinder and get suspicious glares from a dumpy little assistant manager as I scribble notes and consider the potentials of the Fa bottle. The shelves around me all shout "Caress!"
OK, I admit it: I'm having way too much fun on this shopping trip. I'm just being clever and ignoring the seriousness of the issue, I agree. I came here for one purpose, to look for the sexually suggestive, and now I'm just letting my imagination take over.
And then I step into the books and magazines section.
Suddenly it's not a goofy exercise anymore. Sex screams from the shelves. As the perky female Kroger voice comes over the sound system, representing all that's pure, sweet and savvy about the suburban mom shopper, her darker side finds its outlet here. The nude male image abounds. The titles accentuate the visual titillation: Naked in Death, Mr. Hyde's Assets and Seducing Tony, all featuring nude men and all in plain sight, right in front. An entire genre of others feature shirtless or scantily clad, dark-skinned males, catering to women with fantasies about "going native:" Apache Tears, Cinnamon Roses, Dakota Dawn and Shawnee Bride flesh out this form of suburban sex fantasy.
And all of these, and many others, are directly across the aisle from the Crayola Crayons, Rugrats folders, posterboard and thermoses. One-stop shopping, indeed! What was that about keeping sex out of sight of children?
Turning the corner into the magazine section, the publications at the heart of the policy change, the story is the same. Again, I haven't had to paw through the display to find the racy images or captions -- they're right there in front of me. The teen magazine Sugar advertises a "swoon poster-boy calendar" and "your sex checklist ... make sure you're ready!" Startling Detective graphically illustrates and prints in bold type "Murder at the Sex Party," while a quite unexpected little gem, Pop's Ladies, apparently geared for teen lesbians in training, features "romantic daydreams with Britney and Christina."
Directly next to this display, and I'm not kidding, can be found the children's books Pokey and Friends, Pooh's First Words and Toy Story Sticker Book.
My jaw hadn't hung slack like that in a long time. And I hadn't yet made it to the real meat market, with all of its rich suggestions. But I definitely got what I came for.
Since it's doubtful that many Kroger executives are picking up our dirty little tabloid, CityBeat, these days, why don't we all clip this column, send it to them and encourage them in their crusade against sex in the supermarket? It appears there are some things they've simply overlooked, though how they could be missed is beyond me. But then again, maybe Kroger isn't serious about their concerns and is simply making a cheap gesture for media attention. Do ya think?
Just consider the possibilities. If the suburban shopper couldn't satisfy her darker cravings within the safe respectability of a Kroger, she might have to go someplace else, like a Hustler store. And we couldn't have that now, could we?
POWER OF ONE is the political made personal. Contact Michael at CityBeat, 23 E. Seventh St., Suite 617, Cincinnati, OH 45202, or e-mail him at email@example.com