Skip to content

How many flaps does a mudflap flap?

So Wyoming rolls out this ad campaign for libraries with the silhouette of a naked woman on a mudflap and once again I’m in a mild (very mild, custard-sans-even-vanilla) conundrum.

I can be a Totally Cool post-feminist sex-positive librarian who gets the sheer irony of the juxtaposition of traditionally sexist images with the concept of libraries (here she comes barreling down the reference aisle in her lace-up corset and do-me stilettos!), or I can be a shrill, humorless broad who asks a few questions, such as:

  1. This campaign was quickly deemed a success because librarians are talking about it. But isn’t the measurement how the general public perceives it?
  2. Does the marketing notion that no press is bad press really apply to this campaign? Everyone knows who Larry Craig is, but if I were him, I’d rather be yet another senator most people in the other 49 states couldn’t name.
  3. Is this how we see our users? All of them?
  4. Would it therefore be all right to use the same image within our profession? If this image appeared on university letterhead, or over a library timeclock, or on the front page of ALA’s website, we’d be all right with that?
  5. What exactly is Mudflap Boy reading that makes him so happy? (Brava, SJ, for my Favorite Blog Post for this year if not for all time!)

The discussion has been dubbed “Mudflap girl,” and though some have protested, that’s quite accurate, because that’s how it’s been promoted, even though this poor “girl” is too well-developed to be a youngster except in the imagination of a pedophile.

The usual rules apply. No matter how gently phrased, once women object to yet another stereotype exhumed and stuffed in their faces, they are described here and there as “upset,” “excited,” or “in a tizzy.” When men comment — and I’m very glad they do comment — they don’t get those terms applied to them, I assume because men are perceived as astute, thinking creatures, except when they’re staring at mudflaps emblazoned with nekkid ladies.

Is this the biggest issue we face today? Absolutely not. It’s a wee molecule compared to war or global warming (though we started a war over oil, and trucks are thirsty machines, so maybe all roads do lead to London). I do not lie awake worrying about issues like this; the biggest stressor this week by far was getting the AV system to work at the church for tonight’s movie (I asked God to intervene, and in walked the one person who understands that system better than anyone else).

Besides, maybe it means that we’ve finally swept away the last flotsam of the “@ Your Library” campaign, with its embarrassing message of “look at us misusing a symbol we vaguely know is related to something about computing.” (Q.v. Adam Gopnick’s wonderful essay in Through the Children’s Gate where he admits that for six months he thought “lol” meant “lots of love.” His sister IMs him that she’s getting a divorce, he responds, “lol…” Poor guy.)

Posted on this day, other years: