Burton: The Greater Dialogue

Many Vermonters, myself included, appreciate Burton is a successful, Vermont-based business contributing to the state’s positive image and supporting the health of its economy. Last November, Burton announced its 2016 snowboard design collaborations with Peanuts and Playboy franchises, the former for girls and women, the latter for men. This is Burton’s second collaboration with Playboy. The first in 2008 sparked protests from public health, non-profit agencies, community leaders, and private citizens concerned about the infiltration of soft porn culture into family-friendly recreational spaces. Unfortunately, in 2008, the media and related dialogue hinged too much around the topics of “artistic expression,” “free speech,” and “censorship,” which were never in debate or the core point of public feedback. No one challenged Burton’s legal right to produce the ‘love’ boards or wanted to critique or limit definitions of artistic expression. As well, a discomfort with nudity was never the point: Naked is beautiful; context is everything.

In announcing the new Playboy snowboards, Burton has again framed and rationalized their collaboration on the premises of artistic expression. However, this ignores a more elevated inquiry and dialogue: What does it mean to be a responsible local and global community member regarding gender in/equality, sexual objectification, and covert and overt messages about the roles of men and women? Soft porn images have many unspoken, but clearly translated messages to males and females of all ages: a) women’s bodies are objects and how they look is more important than any connection to personal narrative, feelings, thoughts, dreams; b) women are submissive to male desire, c) girls and women are subliminally encouraged to be vested in attaining an idealized and sexualized body image, d) relationships between the genders are not of equal status, power, and respect. For starters.

I have a custom-designed Burton snow globe on my desk. It is a work of art and whimsy, the epitome of “artistic expression.” Two riders, with boards on their backs are climbing a mountain in the wilderness. A cool dude snowman with punk hair, an orange earring, a baby blue scarf, and a huge smile is at the summit. You can imagine the boarders, after a good chuckle, are going to have the ride of their lives. I imagine one of them is a woman. It takes two hands to turn the glass globe with the intricate carvings upside down—and then the snow flies on adventure. In this beautiful, funky globe, I see the best of Burton: its pioneering spirit, its sense of fun, its capacity to take us to new heights in the best of possible ways. It is my hope Burton will reconsider and stop production of these boards, and that in the future, their design choices are more consistent with their overall positive history (and desired image) of supporting women. And like in my imagination: women are truly the riders, not objects to be ridden or stepped on. Peanuts’ Lucy, The Doctor Is In, would thoroughly approve.