I recently brought home a 'Love' board and propped it up in my kitchen. I was curious to hear how people would react to seeing it, rather than just reading about it. Without exception, the response has been: "Wow, that's it, that's what this has been all about?"
The last thing I want to do is re-ignite the debate over our Love and Primo boards. But something disturbing has happened in our small state. What started as genuine concern over a couple of board graphics somehow morphed into a full blown attack on Burton, on the work I have done personally to advance the cause of women's issues and even on the non-profit Chill Foundation, which we founded. I understand why some people might not like these graphics. I don't understand why they have become the target of so much anger and outrage in the Vermont community.
I'll admit that when I was first told about the 'Love' board about a year ago, I was ready to go off. Pornographic images of women on a snowboard? I don't think so. But then I saw them. Like the people walking into my kitchen, the images I saw were not what I expected. These are not X-rated images. These are vintage Playboy images from as far back as the 1970s. They are beautiful, kitschy, well-fed models; nothing obscene is revealed. These board graphics are retro, tongue-in-cheek and, in my opinion, harmless. They certainly have what real pornography always lacks - a sense of humor.
I have been around snowboarding's youth culture enough to know that there is a real generational difference as to what constitutes pornography. Even The Stowe Reporter columnist who attacked Burton the most vociferously (calling on her friends to spray paint the boards) admitted that her 30-something daughter had no problem with the graphic. Maybe the younger generation is jaded or maybe they're just more comfortable with sexuality in general. Either way, I knew that most snowboarders would not be shocked or offended by these humorous, somewhat ironic images.
Would I let my 12-year-old son buy a 'Love' board? No. But that's my job as a parent, to decide what is and isn't appropriate at any given age. Will he be shocked if he sees them in a lift line? I sincerely doubt it. I do know that it's my job to talk to him about the real issues women face in our society. His attitude about women will be shaped by his parents' words and actions, not by a snowboard graphic.
As for the Primo board, all I have to say is that this design is a cartoon. It is a piece of artwork and art is, by definition, open to interpretation. The images may be unsettling, but a lot of art is meant to make us uncomfortable. Personally, I interpreted the severed peace sign as an anti-war statement (remember the war in Iraq?). Anyone is free to interpret it any way they want (or not to buy it), but to suggest that these graphics somehow promote - or even accurately depict - self-mutilation is simply wrong. We would never trivialize such a complex psychological disorder and tragic social problem.
I have heard "outrage" defined as screaming with your hands over your ears. That's exactly what happened here. The small group of protestors - the ones who wrote letters, sent emails, screamed at the receptionist at our front desk and eventually organized the picketing outside of our offices - claimed all they wanted was a "dialogue" with us. Unfortunately their idea of a dialogue went something like this: we demand that you remove these boards from the market, issue a written apology, make a donation to the non-profit of our choice... and then you can sit down and talk to us. Not exactly the best way to start a conversation. We did what we thought was the right thing when faced with this kind of attitude - we issued a statement and then ignored them.
We never anticipated the extremes to which these few individuals would go to get us to respond. They contacted multiple local, statewide and national media outlets with the contrived story that Burton was "promoting pornography and self-mutilation". They contacted snowboard dealers, resorts and anyone else remotely connected with the snowboard industry. They took it a step further and contacted every Vermont non-profit group I have ever worked with personally. They tried to make the case that the Love board somehow disqualified me from ever again talking about women's issues or even donating to women's causes, despite the passionate commitment I have made over the past 20 years.
Vermont newspapers, radio and TV covered the story relentlessly for weeks. The tone of discourse deteriorated. Suddenly anyone with a grudge against snowboarders, Burton or even us personally had a way to vent their anger. Our opponents went so far as to contact the agencies that work with Chill. The Chill Foundation operates in more than 14 cities in North America and works with over 300 agencies to identify at-risk, inner-city kids who would benefit from the chance to learn to snowboard. This work has touched the lives of more than 14,500 kids. I have to seriously question the motives of those who would deprive these kids of this opportunity in the name of a "protest" against a couple of board graphics.
There has never been a compelling business reason for Burton to be headquartered in Vermont. Most global businesses of our size would never choose to locate here. We are here because we love Vermont - its people, its values, its mountains and its sense of community. We provide hundreds of high-paying jobs, many to the young people that Vermont tries so hard to attract. We believe in paying our fair share of taxes. We are actively engaged in improving our community and have made it a priority to share our success with the countless non-profit organizations, causes and projects we support. Despite this ugly and personally painful chapter in our history in Vermont, we remain committed to this state and will continue to do what we do best: promote snowboarding as a fun, healthy way for kids of all ages to get out and enjoy winter.
Donna Carpenter is co-owner of Burton Snowboards and Founder & Director of Burton Snowboards Women's Initiatives.