With the walkout of the Graduate Employees’ Organization set to begin today and felony charges hanging over Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s head, one would think the stormy local landscape had offered enough this week to fuel our neighborhood appetite for scandal. Instead, as I contemplated how to fill this space, popular demand led me down State Street to peer up at a logo adorned on a trashy new storefront that shows a woman riding a giant hamburger.
And what a logo it is. If by some measure you have avoided it so far, the hand-drawn emblem atop the new Quickie Burger & Dogs restaurant features a cowgirl who excitedly rides a condiment-spewing hamburger. She’s wearing a bright red shirt that makes her natural endowments the obvious focal point. We’re offended, says one student group. Cue collective eye-roll from campus.
The issue has become the latest flashpoint between so-called far-left student groups – this time, the Stonewall Democrats – and the campus everyman, who, they say, just wants to live in P.C.-neutral peace. And though the sign is clearly problematic, I have to admit solidarity with the everymen if the listless activism of the Stonewall Democrats is my alternative.
There was an enormous response to the story the Daily published on Friday about the “controversy” (Burger joint’s name, logo irks LGBT group, 03/21/2008), which had more than 40,000 hits on the paper’s website. There were more than 100 comments as of yesterday as well, at least half of which were overtly sexist. Maybe the most formidable came from a gentleman named Steve, who advised those offended to “grow a pair.” I’m sure that invigorated, in particular, the women who objected to the sign. The extended display of boorish ignorance on the part of the story’s commenters did nothing to hurt the protesters’ cause.
But the comments from the member of the Stonewall Democrats interviewed by the Daily weren’t much more articulate. “Basically, what it has is a provocatively dressed woman straddling a hamburger, and she’s very busty and it’s kind of really horrible,” the story quoted him as saying. From the sound of it, you’d think he was objecting to the size of the woman’s breasts, not her portrayal. And it seems the sign is “not putting a good message out there for the objectification of women.” Not to parse words, but that doesn’t even make sense. Some have suggested the “quickie” part of the restaurant’s title is a problem, while others have not. I asked for a look at the petition the group was circulating, but my request wasn’t returned.
For my own satisfaction, I walked across campus Saturday and looked up at the logo. A few people paused slightly as they walked by and I looked up; I suspect they were waiting for my picket sign, but no dice. OK, so this woman was riding a hamburger. It implied pretty obviously that there were two objects there for rapid consumption. I’ve heard people argue that if it was a cowboy rather than a cowgirl, there wouldn’t be a problem. But let’s face it: Most industries do not hyper-sexualize male bodies to sell things-they do it to women’s-and it’s not outrageous that some people would feel uncomfortable with the image. It may be “just a logo” for you, but if it encourages misogynistic behavior, it should be addressed.
But the hasty objection on the part of the Stonewall Democrats was too quick to evoke platitudes of these debates that always lead to nonsensical backlash and seemed incapable of addressing the issue in a concise and, most important, organized way. It quickly became a pointless spectacle. This is a powerful student group that rightly commands attention on campus, but it has to be careful what it does with it. I am aligned with the group politically, which only contributes to my frustration that it leaves itself so open to obvious criticism even when the objections it raises have substance.
This sort of scandal that never was has become a new touchstone of our campus politics, the muted legacy of student activism here. There’s no reason any activist group (especially a brand name like Stonewall Democrats) should allow itself to become a punching bag every time it takes up a cause. Reputation is important, and these leaders owe it to the campus – let alone the people who they support – not to allow themselves to become caricatures of college-town protestors.
Jeffrey Bloomer was the Daily’s fall/winter managing editor in 2007. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.