ASHLAND, WI—Check any U.S. map and you'll see that you can't get much closer to Canada in Wisconsin than the city of Ashland, which sits on the shore of Lake Superior—but that city's newspaper most definitely doesn't share Canada's liberal free speech values... nor those of most of the United States.
How do we know? Well, when the repertory company StageNorth decided to present Eve Ensler's multi-award-winning play The Vagina Monologues at its theater in nearby Washburn this weekend, the company wanted to take out an ad in the Ashland Daily Press to advertise it—and that's when it learned just how backward the Daily Press's editorial staff was.
The image on the left-hand side of the photo accompanying this article is the ad as it appeared last Monday in the Ashland Daily Press, while the one on the right is the ad StageNorth said it had wanted to run. There are a couple of obvious differences, most notably the X'ing out of the word "Vagina" in two places in the ad, plus omitting the description, "The Vagina Monologues is made up of a varying number of monologues read by a varying number of women. Each of the monologues deals with an aspect of the feminine experience, touching on matters such as sex, love, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm, the various common names for the vagina, or simply as a physical aspect of the body. A recurring theme throughout the piece is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment, and the ultimate embodiment of individuality."
It even left out StageNorth's warning to the sexually repressed: "Please Note: This production includes descriptions and depictions of violence against women, mature language, and explicit sexual material," preferring instead to direct readers to StageNorth's website—though even more informative is the company's Facebook page.
All of this found its way to the internet, of course, with a tipster having called it to the attention of liberal news site, Jezebel.com.
"We were given a choice between running the ad that the Ashland Daily Press (ADP) ultimately printed or running no ad at all," explained StageNorth's Managing Director Scott B. Burchill to Jezebel.com reporter Kate Dries. "It should be noted that we had no objections to the initial version of the ad which we posted on our Facebook page Monday morning. We appreciate our relationship with the ADP and are sorry for them, and our community, that they felt the need to censor our ad, but we decided that running the censored ad was a better choice than running no ad at all. We are committed to supporting our local daily newspaper with some of the theater's advertising dollars. The whole mess just points to the continued relevance of The Vagina Monologues even 17 years after its debut."
We're not sure what Burchill expected, given that ADP posts obituaries on its home page, while its online Opinion page is taken up with such stirring social issues as, "Indigo bunting make colorful appearance," "Orioles add a splash of color, song," "Digging up some info on the chipping sparrow," "Singing the praises of the white-throated sparrow," and "Ermines weasel way onto the scene."
Fortunately, StageNorth's supporters found some humor in the situation, posting Facebook comments like, "What if my daughter was to see this???? I don't know how comfortable I feel telling my middle schooler she actually HAS one of these horrible V-things!"; "I prefer the lesser known but still pertinent version of this play, The Elbow Chronicles"; "HOLY birth canal.... Thank goodness the Ashland Daily Press is here to protect us"; "OMFG YOU SAID THE V WORD OMG OMG OMG. *facepalm"; and the ever-popular, "My eyes, my eyyyyyeeeeeeeeees!"
It also attracted a few pro-censorship types, including one of ADP's former employees, who commented, "As someone who used to answer phones for the Daily Press, I'm guessing they were just trying to avoid the hundreds of calls and complaints they would have gotten had they printed as is. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't."
And then there was a real bluenose, who fulfilled everyone's expectations with misspellings, mis-punctuation and inappropriate capitalization (or lack thereof): "not everyone that sits down at night and picks up a paper, wants to see full page adds of tasteless garbage. Censorship was a Great way to Not offend any of the LOCAL readers that happen to READ the paper on a daily basis, not for one add or for one SMALL show!"
So anyway, if you're planning to be in northwest Wisconsin this weekend, why not catch the show? And depending on which uptight locals show up, you might even be able to be part of a counter-picket line!