Abercrombie & F#t@$

Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach has long held a special place in my heart. Whether attending friends’ birthday parties at Aladdin’s Castle Arcade, or hitting up PG-13 movies at the old upstairs theater, Lynnhaven Mall has always been a place that Hampton Roads natives like myself have congregated. Historically, Virginia Beach has been a city without a traditional downtown center, and Lynnhaven Mall has frequently been the most happening place in the area on any given weekend.

And now Lynnhaven Mall has found itself in the national spotlight (thanks, Drudge). Police, responding to a few citizen complaints, entered the Abercrombie & Fitch store at the mall this weekend and took away two large black-and-white advertisements featuring models in various stages of undress (pictured above).

The store manager, who had been warned, was cited for violating City Code 22.31, a crime to display “obscene materials in a business that is open to juveniles.”

This begs several questions…

How do you define “obscene”? Is it the community standard? What if you live in a community that is heavily influenced by the presence of the Christian Broadcasting Network, just a short drive away from the Mall? Did anybody complain about Victoria’s Secret?

Commercial speech is not given the same high scrutiny of First Amendment protection. In fact, a case originating in Virginia helped determine just what level of protection the First Amendment affords to those with economic interests, finding that advertisements providing consumers with truthful information about lawful activity cannot be prohibited. The “Central Hudson Test” provides the following set of guidelines for regulating commercial speech:

  1. The regulated speech concerns an illegal activity,
  2. The speech is misleading, or
  3. The government’s interest in restricting the speech is substantial, the regulation in question directly advances the government’s interest, and the regulation is narrowly tailored to serve the government’s interest.

Accordingly, there needs to be some consistency in the application of these “community standards” to commercial speech. At first glance, the uneven and infrequent application of this regulation seems to indicate that the government’s interest is not substantial nor narrowly tailored to serve that interest.

Do Not Use Your Shift Key!Virginia Beach has been on a crusade to clean up the resort town’s image and make it a family-friendly destination. At the boardwalk, signs are posted everywhere encouraging pedestrians not to cuss (either that, or the shift key for the signmakers was stuck). And don’t forget that our state legislature considered instituting a “droopy drawers” bill that would fine citizens with saggy pants. Furthermore, club owners at “The Block” on the beach have recently accused local law enforcement of racial profiling and unfair intimidating surveillance and selective law enforcement practices, supposedly in furtherance of the city’s goal to promote its clean image (perhaps as a response to the “Greekfest Riots” of 1989). The presence of police chaplains with crosses on their backs patrolling the boardwalk is also symbolic of the city’s struggle to find a comfortable balance between community standards and Christian values.

Can a handful of conservative concerned citizens complaining at the mall define community standards, or will Virginia Beach realize that perhaps its puritan perspective is out-of-sync with progressive America?

Update–> charges dropped

Published in: on February 4, 2008 at 12:44 pm Comments Off on Abercrombie & F#t@$

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