Thursday, February 02, 2006

Waldenbooks sells pornography to minors

I went for a walk in the Orland Park Mall today with my two little daughters in order to get some exercise, and I stopped in Waldenbooks to browse for a little while. They have a new sign outside the front of the store proclaiming "Waldenkids", inviting families and children to come view the books for youth. So we walked around, looking at what they had to offer. Then, I noticed something disturbing: on the shelf directly next to the poetry and classic literature, Waldenbooks was selling Penthouse Letters and other explicitly pornographic fiction.(If you are unfamiliar with Penthouse Letters, they are extremely explicit descriptions of sexual activity. Everything from an X-rated movie except the pictures.) These books, with lurid covers of lingerie-clad models, were placed on the ground level, where any child or teen could browse through them. In addition, there were no restrictions on who could buy them.

I asked to speak to the manager, and he wouldn't address my concerns, except to give me a letter from Waldenbooks, and refer me to his district manager. Here is the letter:

Policy Statement in regard to Sale of Adult Materials

Dear Customer:

As a responsible company, Waldenbooks is sensitive to both the needs of its customers and the public at large. Waldenbooks is proud of its atmosphere as a first class family bookstore. Waldenbooks, however, cannot act as a censor in regard to the sale of material found in our stores. To do so would present a serious encroachment on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

We, therefore, have a specific policy on regard to the sale of adult magazine titles. These magazines are displayed on the top shelf of our magazine fixtures as close as possible to the cash wrap (register) area. Waldenbooks does not allow minors, defined as anyone under the age of eighteen (18) years, to browse through or purchase materials of this nature.

Waldenbooks does not offer for sale any publication which has been deemed obscene by any court of competent jurisdiction. Waldenbooks does comply with all local ordinances regarding display and sales of adult magazine titles.

We trust that you, who have inquired as to our policy, can understand the balance that must be reached in regard to such matters and appreciate the actions taken by Waldenbooks to be responsive to your concerns. Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us in writing, addressing your inquiries to the attention of our President. Our store management can provide you with the address of our Corporate Office.

We appreciate you [sic] patronage of our store and hope that you will continue to purchase at Waldenbooks.


You, as an intelligent reader, will have noticed the misrepresentations and inconsistencies in this letter. First of all, I complained about the placement of pornography (writing about porneia) and was given a letter about the placement of pornovideo (images of porneia). I wasn't complaining about the shameful magazines, but about the shameful books; the letter does not apply. Second, the First Amendment does not require stores to sell such things. Barnes and Noble, for example, and the Daughters of St. Paul don't sell such things. The appeal to the U.S. Constitution is a red herring. Third, Waldenbooks does in fact engage in censorship: it won't let minors buy Hustler. But it will allow (and even encourage, by its placement in the store) minors to browse and purchase Penthouse Letters. Why not place Hustler on the rack for the kids? Is there a qualitative difference between a picture and a story?

I was invited to call the district manager. He hasn't called me back. I will keep you posted. Waldenbooks, of course, is the same as Borders, which is the same as Amazon. What a wondrous web we weave.

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