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As I finished up back-to-school shopping for the kids last week I was bemoaning the fact that there are very few clothing companies out there with items that are appropriate for the tween girl set. One of the few exceptions to that rule is Lands’ End, which is why it was particularly amusing and a little disturbing to read about their recent customer flub in the New York Post. Apparently, as a reward for spending $100 or more, customers were sent the July issue of GQ magazine. Unfortunately, the model on the cover was topless and the Lands’ End mothers were pretty irate.

Lands’ End president and CEO Edgar Huber wrote to customers after the magazine had already been sent out:

We are truly sorry this magazine was sent to you. . . . There are simply no excuses; this was a mistake. Please be aware of the suggestive GQ cover and take the necessary steps as you and your family members check your mailbox in the next few days.

For many companies, the response to customers would have been a kind of shoulder shrug. Don’t like the magazine? Just throw it out. But here is the head of a company actually acknowledging that simply receiving this kind of trash in the mail is a kind of assault on the senses for some people. Lands' End, which also has a school uniform business, knows their customer base, of course.

But one wonders about exactly how all those GQ magazine got by other employees. There was a time when seeing a topless model on a magazine would have caused anyone to pause. But now it’s just par for the course.

I wrote last year about an ad campaign for the gym Equinox in which models in downright pornographic poses seem to be plastered across building walls and train station platforms. In recent months I have also seen violent television shows, the kind reserved for the after 10pm hour on network TV, being broadcast on screens shared by everyone on an airplane. Even some of the content on the screens in the back of taxis has me rushing for the off button when I’m in the back seat with my kids.

For years, it was up to parents to figure out how to monitor what kinds of culture came through their front door, but how do parents monitor billboards, taxi cab TVs or airline programming? And why should any company care to censor itself? Maybe, if like the Lands’ End customers, someone was up in arms.

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