June 19, 2024

Capital city hypocrisy

Recently, one of the most innovative and attention-catching ideas, resulting in nationwide attention for Maine, was violently forced into the corner. The undergarment and unmentionables shop, Spellbound, located in a hitherto uninteresting and underdeveloped downtown Augusta, created the stir when owner and my former seventh-grade teacher, Felicia Stockford, decided to have live models in the windows.

In newspapers ranging from The New York Times to The Washington Post, making headlines on MSNBC.com and CNN, the story spread like wildfire. Not only did the idea grab the attention of the nation, but as well the ridiculous controversy that it stirred. In Augusta, we have our own version of Pat Robertson and Dr. James Dobson (of the “Spongebob is promoting the gay agenda” affair) in Michael Hein, who found it necessary to form a group with the express intent of removing Stockford’s business from the town.

In a letter to city officials, Hein expressed his displeasure: “It is not just ‘aggressive marketing’ or ‘creative advertising’ that is taking place. Felicia’s activities at the store border on lewd criminal activity, and are brazen and unscrupulous. Felicia Stockford is running a den of indecency and immorality. She is crude, crass, unprofessional and unrepentant.” Said Carrie Rossignol, co-owner of Video Game Exchange (who, by the way, sells video games to youths which border on the pornographic), “It’s tainting the wholesome businesses down here. I think it’s selfish, and I think it’s morally reprehensible.”

This sort of controversy, apparently, was also the reason the story caught on nationwide. Most in the country found it difficult to believe that lingerie could provoke such horror in the 21st century. Anyone who has been to New York can attest to the stories-high pictures of models in undergarments along Times Square at any given day.

Sex sells. It is a reality of life. And sex was selling in Augusta, doubtless helping the city in economic ways.

Yet all of this was abruptly stopped last month because of the acts of a few who took standing in one’s underwear a little too seriously. One of Stockford’s models received dangerous, threatening phone calls, and had her car tires slashed, prompting the store owner to cease the display, much to the delight of those who felt it was “tainting” the downtown which parallels the Kennebec into which those very same stores once dumped their waste.

And I must admit, for one who tirelessly promotes Maine’s lifestyle, low crime rate and natural wonders, for once I was ashamed to share a story about my hometown. How can having fake models, whose uncanny resemblance to humans served as the basis for a hilarious “Seinfeld” episode, wear lingerie in windows and in stores be somewhat “wholesome” while using human beings be “unscrupulous”?

And should we fully expect these groups and protesters to show up at any of Augusta’s four public pools where the lifeguards work often times in more scantily clad attire than those models in Stockford’s window? Hopefully, if that happens, the lifeguards will not be threatened or have their cars attacked.

It is perfectly understandable for some to disagree with what is appropriate and what is not. However, it is not acceptable for some who feel that the law (within whose bounds the display was perfectly congruent) does not match their agenda and retroactive thinking styles to resort to violence to get their point across.

It is not shameful for Mainers to have ideals. Indeed, these are what this state was built upon. What this state was not built upon is vigilantism and, in a word, terrorism. Do we accept the actions of al-Qaida, who, based on beliefs as strong, if not stronger than those fully opposed to my English teacher’s display, wreak havoc to get their message heard, to try to intimidate others with whom they do not agree to change positions?

No. Instead we condemn those who choose violence, and stand by the victims, whether we agree with their stance or not (re: the Chechen violence directed at Russia last year). This situation is different only in degree, not in kind. Mainers should stand by the victims and condemn the terrorists, lest we send the message that violence is the way to solve problems in this state.

Michael Rocque is a graduate student in criminology at the University of Maryland, College Park. His e-mail address is mrocque@crim.umd.edu.

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