Despite the fact that it's headquartered in a progressive community in a liberal state, Vermont's Burton Snowboards has been taking a lot of heat lately for an exceptionally edgy line of snowboard designs.
A couple of Vermont ski resorts have banned employees from riding on the boards, which feature naked women. I can see that. The Girl Scouts Council of Vermont is in a tizzy, which also isn't surprising. But what is surprising to me is that the Burlington City Council considered asking Burton to withdraw the designs (they've since toned down the proposed resolution.)
I visited Burton's headquarters last summer for a profile on the company [read it here], along with the folks at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters for a separate story. Apart from an extremely laid-back work environment (flip-flop wearing employees bring their dogs to work and can head to the slopes instead of the office when it snows more than two feet), what struck me was how hard the Burton team strives to promote self expression. No two boards they produce are exactly alike, and to keep it fresh, the design department contracts with a lot of artists.
Some residents, like this woman quoted in a UPI story filed under "odd news," find the boards offensive because they say the designs objectify women: "When you really think about it, it's a young man standing on top of a naked woman's body."
Here's a response from Jake Carpenter, Burton's founder (courtesy of The Stowe Reporter):
"We...make boards for 18-year-old guys...The fact that these boards don’t appeal to some people is not a surprise. The important thing is that the vast majority of young, core riders appreciates the graphics and does not take them so seriously or perceive them as a threat to society...While I do understand that some people’s feelings are heartfelt, the local reaction to these graphics has been hurtful and out of line."
He concludes with:
"Honestly, I would rather relocate the company to another state than compromise our commitment to listen to core snowboarders."
Several days later, the Burlington Free Press ran a response from Jake's wife, Donna Burton:
"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."
This Boston Globe story features a slideshow of the boards, but I'm not brave enough to view it at work.