Go Tell It On The Grocery Store

The press helped elect Donald Trump. The mainstream press loved itself that false balance, giving absurdly pseudo-even coverage to whatever tripe might be spewed by willfully ignorant conservatives. So, screw them, and we await their apology. Meanwhile, the tabloid press has made its own contribution to the problem. Part of that is impressing on so many minds such crazy crap that a large percentage of Americans (apparently about one half of the actual voters) will believe anything. Or, perhaps, simply don't care about what is real and what is not.

People are looking for things to do to push back against the President of the Deplorables (POTD) and perhaps the Deplorables themselves. Well, I was just at the grocery store and I got an idea that I think maybe you may like too.

See the cover above? That was one of the tabloids on display at the checkout line. It is anti-Muslim, engenders hate and intolerance, it is racist, and, by the way, tells us that we should torture people.

So, I took a copy of the National Enquirer to the manager to complain. I should mention that this particular grocery store is in one of the more conservative districts of Minnesota. The area is represented at the state and federal level by members of the Tea Party. I fully expected the manager to be a Trump supporter, but I didn't care.

Eventually the Manager came over to the service desk, and I said this:

"Hi. I'm all for the First Amendment and all, but I don't think this magazine cover should be visible in this store. It is racist, hateful, promotes anti-immigrant feelings and," pointing to the text about torture, "actually says that we should torture people. I don't want my young children to see something in the grocery store saying that we should torture people. So, that is my complaint, could you please pass that complaint on to whomever you send complaints to? Thanks."

The manager, who may or may not have been a Trump supporter, but who was definitely a recent immigrant, I'm pretty sure from Liberia, seemed to appreciate the complaint.

Now, I know some of you may comment that the National Enquirer is not important, that everybody knows it is a fake, that these messages in the checkout line don't matter. Go ahead and post your comment about that below. I'll tell you what I think of it when I see it!

The more relevant question is this: Is this a form of activism that can have an impact, and if so, how do we refine the method? If you have thoughts about that, let's hear them. One thought from me for now: Do bring the magazine to the service desk, and leave it there when you leave. That adds a bit more exposure to the act, as copies of horrid tabloids end up piling up around that location.

I think it can have an impact. If stores actually do take tabloids off the display racks, that's a win. It sends a message to the tabloid press as well as the mainstream press that they need to clean up their acts. I don't actually expect that to happen.

It will send a message to the managers of stores, and to the extent that they have any control over anything, could reduce the total amount of bad, hate-supporting messaging out there. I don't actually expect that to happen either, because, I suspect, the managers don't have any control over whether or not there are copies of the National Enquirer or other deplorable literature in their stores, or where it is placed.

The target, it seems to me, is at the higher level than the manager. If the higher level execs at major outlets start getting a lot of complaints about this sort of tabloid drek, and those complaints get enough attention, it could then send an indirect but firm message to the tabloids. As it is, the tabloids tend to go beyond what is reasonable. With someone like Donald Trump in office, what is beyond reasonable just went over the moon. It would be nice if the tabloids could do something other than considering Trump to be a ticket to go farther than any tabloid has ever gone before. It would be nice if the tabloids that did so suffered and backed off. It would be nice if we actually had a conversation about what constitutes utter bullshit and what constituted a reasonable attempt at being a member of a semi-civilized species on a planet with possible signs of incipient intelligent life.

More like this

"Is this a form of activism that can have an impact, and if so, how do we refine the method?"

I guess my first question is: Do we have any idea of the percentage of folks who take these checkout line tabloids seriously versus the percentage who rightfully view them as over the top exaggerated farce? I don't.

I do think that those are the only two groups to consider - I can't imagine a fence-sitter being swayed by this type of material.

Dean, I think that percentage doesn't matter. For one thing, it is not a zero sum game. We are not evaluating the simple act of complaining about these things against some metric of throughput.

Second, I don't care who believes them and who doesn't, as that is a question about what people think about those mags when asked about them. The issue here is not that. Such an issue applies to the contents of the magazines, inside and out, and is interesting.

But here, we are talking about words and pictures on display for everyone who ever goes grocery shopping to see every time they do so. Regardless of any feelings or thoughts anyone might have about tabloids, the images and words are being projected again and again. That is one thing that is pretty well understood from messaging and marketing research. That has an impact of some kind.

I'm also not thinking that anyone is being convinced or swayed, though that is an interesting question. I'm more concerned with the effect on the overall range of what is considered acceptable.

For example, Trump pus Tabloids = revival of the conversation as to whether torture is OK or not. Without Trump, we were busy walking away from that conversation. Now it is back. Only takes a few words by Trump and a few dozen repeats of that thinking in various forms, every day, on the tabloid racks, of every single grocery store in the country, to bring the idea back.

"But here, we are talking about words and pictures on display for everyone who ever goes grocery shopping to see every time they do so. Regardless of any feelings or thoughts anyone might have about tabloids, the images and words are being projected again and again. That is one thing that is pretty well understood from messaging and marketing research. That has an impact of some kind."

True, but the type of impact is complicated: the class example is concerns the Energizer Bunny ads: studies showed that when people were asked these two (types of) questions:
1) Have you seen the battery-powered rabbit?
2) If you have seen the ad, what brand of batteries were advertised?

an overwhelming number of people answered "Yes" to the first question and "I don't remember" to the second. The subject of the message was overpowered by the presentation. I wonder whether this happens with these tabloids: the cover is (as you correctly point out) strong, but there are so many messages I wonder which ones are taken away by the folks who scan them.

Please realize that I am in no way contesting your larger point that something needs to be done to combat the (at best) misleading messages and (at worst) blatantly full of shit messages that are going out. I'm just not sure where this particular outlet ranks in terms of importance.

Anyway: I need to walk the dog (and I find very little to be as soothing as doing that, unless it is sitting with him in my lap) and try to get the current state of affairs for the country out of mind for the night. Wisconsin plays for the Big 10 championship tonight: my wife is from Wisconsin, so it will be on. It's only fair: we watched Western Michigan University (where I earned my Ph.D. and she her Master's) win the Mac championship and finish the year 13 and 0.

Hope you can have a relaxing evening in the land of 10000 (or whatever the current count is) lakes.

I can see it now...

"FREE! With every paid subscription to National Enquirer, you'll receive, at no additional cost, a vial of actual blood of a tortured Muslim detainee! Hurry now! While supplies last!"

Where's my can of lighter fluid??

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 03 Dec 2016 #permalink

I think dean makes a fair point.

However, for a lot of right wing nuts and their beloved propaganda/entertainment, I think it isn't about true or false so much as it is about the arrogant ecstasy of being wound up by their ignorant biases and filled with raging, authoritarian sputum.

As for the Enquirer, it should be identified for what it is: a vector of stupid titillation for the stupid thoughts of stupid people made all the stupider in part by trash like the Enquirer.

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 03 Dec 2016 #permalink

“I’m swelling with patriotic mucus!”

Dr. Zoidberg, from Futurama “A Taste Of Freedom.”

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 03 Dec 2016 #permalink

You realize, of course, that trump and Enquirer CEO David Pecker “have been friends for years.” Right?

That's part of the story. Here is another part, IMO:

Murka has a very large component of its population that has one or more of these common features: they are anti-Muslim, anti-Jew, anti-intellectual, anti-free thought, anti-research,anti-science, anti-evolution, anti-liberal, anti-First Nation, anti-African American,anti-clean energy, anti-renewable anything, anti-environment, anti-anything-left-of-Atilla-the-Hun,anti-effective government, anti-political correctness, anti-city, anti-art, anti-creativity ,anti-anti-authoritarian,anti-reality, anti-fairness, pro-mythology, pro-noise, pro-descrimination, pro-repression, pro-torture, pro-punishment, pro-war, pro-pollution,and pro-flag. Just as you want to be able to buy your food without being exposed to vile lies at the check out, these people want to be able to see their "truths", which are our lies, all around them, all the time.

We are dealing with people who need their hunter-gatherer values. We of no faith should probably be thankful for those moderate churches that still stand for the more humanitarian side of Christianity. They may be one of the only things now standing between us and complete, repressive, concentration camp style fascism.

Trump and David Pecker thrive on a system that believes that giving people whatever they want is a sacred virtue;as long as you can separate them from their money in the process. Good luck banning the Enquirer from super markets.

Besides, if you ban it, how will the Men In Black figure out their next assignment?

Peace in 2017. With, or without people.

Dean: "an overwhelming number of people answered “Yes” to the first question and “I don’t remember” to the second. The subject of the message was overpowered by the presentation. "

Yes, that is a classic retort to anything anyone ever says about marketing!

Those are the wrong questions, of course. The real question is, are bunnies energetic?

"I need to walk the dog"

Stop in at your local grocery store and see what they've got on the tabloid rack!

OA: "As for the Enquirer, it should be identified for what it is: a vector of stupid titillation for the stupid thoughts of stupid people made all the stupider in part by trash like the Enquirer."

Right. And I'm saying that I don't want that showing off in the local grocery store where families go to shop. It should be a standard of our society that such bullshit is not considered normal on the shelf.

We don't put pictures of people getting lynched, or various other images, on the grocery store line because we have a certain degree of social sensibility. I'm saying that calling for the arrest of hundreds of fictitious muslims or the torturing of people is in that category.

SteveP, just to be clear. Nobody is talking about banning anything.

We are talking about telling the manger of a grocery store that disturbing verbiage and imagery has no place in the grocery store line.

I'm not sure if you meant to use that term in that way, but we should avoid calling this censorship or banning, because it is in no way such things. People are quite free to tell businesses which of their practices are found reprehensible. The businesses can then react as they wish. There is no governmental agency telling people what not to do. Just a community asking for their children to not be exposed to outrageous and offensive imagery and language.

They cans till sell the tabloids in the pornography section, behind the counter, covered with brown paper, of course.

This is a great idea!

On the other hand - I wonder if there are people who would complain about, oh say the StarTribune?

Before you know it everything will be behind the counter covered with brown paper.

What is a retail store to do?

Another very public showing of the true nature of so many americans! ALso Gitmo will never close because its true purpose is to intimidate americans!! If you piss off the gov'mint then they declare (UN)Patriot Act and ship you out to torture.

Greg @ 9, I agree.

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 04 Dec 2016 #permalink

I think the point has to do with what propaganda is and how it actually works.

Propaganda doesn't work (intrinsically) because people take it as fact & believe it, nor does it "not work" because people know that it's "over the top" or realize that it's bunkum.

Propaganda works by repeated exposure to untruths, half-truths, misleading media, etc. First it's a joke, then it becomes normal, and eventually it's treated as though it were true (by too many people). Once too many take it as normal, there's an inhibition to speaking out against it.

We don't want to start down the path of having this kind of crap become "normal" within our culture by repeated exposure. Eventually it will become normal by "doing"...

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 04 Dec 2016 #permalink

Gitmo will close right after the Democrats control both houses and the White House, as promised. It has always been a Republican project.

re OA: "As for the Enquirer, it should be identified for what it is: a vector of stupid titillation for the stupid thoughts of stupid people made all the stupider in part by trash like the Enquirer.”

Easy now, almost everything I know about Bigfoot and alien abductions has come from "trash like the Enquirer".

I suspect that the National Enquirer, and similar, given that hey are all owned by extreme right-wing supporters are being used to normalize what what should never be seen as normal. It gets the outrageous ideas out there in a manner which is easily discounted and for which there is no effective redress.

The interim answer is to get the Enquirer behind modesty shields like they put in front of fashion magazines. You can still read the magazine name and get an idea of what is on the cover but it obscures the fleshy landscape enough to protect feelings.

A shield would likely lower sales of the Enquirer, which breaks my heart, but it decreases the amount of visual abuse while still allowing sales.

art: Note that the front cover of the Enquirer is designed to go behind a modesty shield.

One question that will be asked is, is this a First Amendment issue?

Obviously it is not, for the decision of the management of any store chain (I assume that is where the decision is made) to carry or drop the National Enquirer) will not prevent it from being sold elsewhere.

The key question is whether the manager of any given store can decide where to display the NE. I would guess they do. If so, what will make a difference is if a large enough number of customers complain as you did.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 04 Dec 2016 #permalink

A relevant factor is whether it helps the store's bottom line. Obviously it does, or it wouldn't be sold. I don't really understand its appeal. On 1 or 2 occasions I've laughed out loud at its headlines, drawing strange looks from other customers in line. I only ever bought one copy. That was the one that featured "plant people." (I can't remember if it was the NE or the Weekly World News when it was still in print. Probably the latter.)

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 04 Dec 2016 #permalink

Other than the occasional "Plant People" issue (which one would of course buy) has anyone ever seen anyone ever buy any of these?

Increasing correlation of geographical and political segregation implies that local activism is mostly -- with some important exceptions and you may be one -- becoming irrelevant, at least on short timescales. So not sure if this is even worth thinking about.

"Obviously it does, or it wouldn’t be sold. "

Something in its place would also, obviously, be sold.

Of course, Wow. But would the something be substantially different than NE?

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 05 Dec 2016 #permalink

Maybe a boycott should be organized?

We could make a list of all the publications we find offensive and demand they be covered with brown paper!

Or, we could give them to every kid in elementary school...

No, let's cover them with brown paper instead. And boycott their publishers.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 05 Dec 2016 #permalink

The boys huddled around some Dad's copy of Playboy (insert name of offensive magazine here) was a time honoured tradition when I was in elementary school (say 6th grade).

My point is I think they already have them.

RickA, Greg's point is that NE is a propaganda rag, not a magazine that caters to prurient interests of teen-agers.

The first degrades the moral interests of society; the second upsets someone's parents.

Not the same.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 06 Dec 2016 #permalink

Oy, Greg, sorry to see all the trolling, which we should of course ignore.

Yes I saw that issue of the Enquirer at a grocery store and I thought, "right, next comes the N-word." But it didn't even occur to me (and it should have) that I could have made noise about it.

However, last night I happened to stop by a Safeway in or near Oakland California, and noticed that there was a big empty spot where the Enquirer would normally be. I was mildly puzzled but didn't think much of it (though I should have).

So maybe someone had the guts to make the noise, and the manager agreed and pulled it off the shelf.


Because by now we've all also heard about the shooting in that pizza place in DC that's the subject of some horrible conspiracy theories that have been promoted by various sleazy media outlets. That's straight-up stochastic terrorism: stir up the hate and a random nut predictably drops out of the tree and goes Boom.

That's the danger of hate propaganda. It predictably unleashes violent acts. Racist drivel against Muslims + favorable mention of torture = some nut decides to take matters into his own hands. It's only a matter of time.

It should not be 1st Amendment protected speech, but between now and the day that happens, it's up to us to remove as much of it as we can from places where the public might be exposed to it.

Next time any racist hate-spew shows up in the grocery check-out line, I'm going to step up and make some noise. Politely of course. As in, "if you were an 8-year-old Muslim kid and you saw this, you'd think your family were about to be taken to a concentration camp and tortured. We can't have that in our neighborhood."

Anyone who thinks free speech = the right to give someone nightmares, is welcome to put themselves at the receiving end of that and have the nightmares. What they don't have the right to do is put someone else there. That's cowardly, disgusting, evil, and immoral. And we will do our best to put a stop to it.