The Burton Bubble

We all live in a bubble. Or layers of them. Pick the topic: war, abortion, gay rights, the economy. We have our views; we hold them tightly. Sometimes with righteousness. They’re often created from a rich combination of family history, values, education and personal experience. They burst when the reality of someone else’s experience we care about, or have the opportunity to connect with, permeates them. Or our own life provides us with an unexpected experience.

“…Burton supports freedom of artistic expression.” That’s their bubble. Their “love” and “Primo” lines of snowboards, depicting cropped porn shots of women and cartoon-like depictions of self-mutilation, related paraphernalia and ad copy, according to them is art that “can be offensive to some and inspiring to others.” Even if one agrees with the argument that this is fundamentally about art and the right to freedom of expression, here’s a pin-prick of reality: “Art,” of this nature, like porn, is something that is privately consumed. We can buy artwork, go to a gallery, or purchase magazines that contain images we wish to see. Or not. However, by shifting these images from a private commodity and placing them in the public domain with no choice regarding access, Burton forces everyone to be a consumer. Ready or not.

There is also the issue of what one is “inspiring,” or more accurately glorifying, by the various depictions of self-mutilation. Self-mutilation is an attempt to release intense emotional pain and a cry for help. It is a pre-cursor to suicidal behavior. There’s nothing funny or creative about taking the painful reality and struggle of some individuals and associating it with a recreational sport. This isn’t about art or graphic designs being simply “offensive” or “tasteless”; it crosses a critical boundary by callously reflecting a public health problem with a cartoon sensibility. In this case, the public needs to be more than offended, we need to be outraged and take action.

Burton characterizes the protest regarding these new product lines as “the opinions of an isolated group of individuals,” in defense of their bubble. This is an attempt at marginalization. And denial. While individuals, like myself, are expressing their concern about these products, a number of organizations including: Vermont Works for Women, Spectrum Youth and Family Services, Lake Champlain Men’s Resource Center, the White Ribbon Campaign, The Howard Center, and the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence have all expressed their concern and/or taken action.

Burton has said that they are a business proudly “founded on the principles of individual freedom,” like Playboy, their partners in the development of the “love” boards. But individual freedom comes with responsibility; it is the appreciation that by exercising one’s own freedom, we are not oppressing someone else’s. It is the recognition that we don’t exploit the vulnerable, to make our own gains.

As Burton is proud to be a risk-taker, here’s a challenge: Let’s ask Burton to come to the table with people who have been personally affected by self-mutilation and sexual exploitation. Let’s ask Burton to sit down with parents who have sought treatment for their teens because of “cutting.” And talk with the teens themselves, as well as adults who have healed. Let’s ask Burton to acknowledge the visible scar tissue. Then they can talk to women who know first hand, and second fist, the experiences of misogyny, exploitation and violence. Let’s ask them to take that risk—to have the courage and integrity to put a human face on these experiences. Let’s make it personal. Make it real. Get real.

Then when Burton rises from the table, let’s see if their bubble is still in tact.