Like many people of the male persuasion, George Russell has developed a certain fondness for the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
In case you are completely unfamiliar with pop culture, the SI swimsuit edition is a departure from the intense sports focus the magazine offers during the other 51 weeks of the year.
This issue is packed with photographs of supermodels posed in exotic locales wearing skimpy swimsuits — so skimpy, in fact, that in some cases the “swimsuits” consist solely of body paint.
The annual arrival of this publication is greeted warmly in many, many circles, as witnessed by the volume of advertising it draws: more than $40 million this year.
One in three Americans will look at a copy of the 2014 edition. Which means a lot of women are looking, too.
Terms such as “objectification” and “eating disorder” come to mind. But so do phrases such as “drop-dead gorgeous” — er, I mean “aesthetically pleasing” — and “cabin-fever busting.”
Anyway, for whatever the reasons, Russell, who lives in West Akron, has been collecting these publications since the first issue hit the stands in 1964.
That cover was headlined, “A Skin Diver’s Guide to the Caribbean.” Not sure whether that was meant as a double entendre, but I do know that the swimsuits have changed dramatically during the past half-century. By today’s standards, the bikini bottoms on the first cover girl, Babette March, look like Michael Jordan’s basketball shorts.
The mag not only employs supermodels but spawns them. The careers of folks such as Christie Brinkley, Elle Macpherson, Rachel Hunter, Cheryl Tiegs, Tyra Banks, Paulina Porizkova and Rebecca Romijn were launched or secured by appearances on SI’s cover.
“Yes, I have [a copy of] every year and they’re all in mint condition,” Russell says. “That should get me something to leave my kids, or whatever.”
His is not a universal aspiration. In fact, plenty of folks — of both genders — would be more than happy to put a match to the nearest SI swimsuit edition.
One of those folks apparently showed up at the Sam’s Club in Fairlawn late last month, shortly after the magazine hit the rack. And that person threw a wrench in George Russell’s attempt to keep up with his hobby.
“Since Costco has magazines for 30 percent off, I started there,” he says via email. “But they hadn’t gotten them in yet.
“Next stop: Sam’s Club. Not to be found.
“Went back a number of times, since Costco is a bit of a drive. Nada.
“But Walmart [in Fairlawn] had them.
“Went back to [Walmart partner] Sam’s — the 30% discount — and inquired. Lo and behold, I was told that they did come in, but they had a — as in ONE — customer complaint, and sent them back.”
Russell says he talked with a number of Sam’s employees and “they confirmed that even if one customer makes a complaint, that’s enough to ‘ban the book.’ ”
This isn’t the first time Russell has dealt with what he calls “censorship” at the Fairlawn Sam’s. “Two years ago, I happened on [the magazine] hidden deliberately — but I don’t know whether it was store personnel or a porn-police customer.
“Last year I was lucky enough to get one before they got sent back.”
He wonders whether that policy extends to other products.
“I find it hard to believe that if someone complained about, say, a food item, or the color of a T-shirt, they would indeed ‘clear the shelves.’ ”
Russell thinks we should “run a test and ring up 1,000 of our closest friends and close down Sam’s Club by making one complaint for each and every item they sell.
“That would make the front page, yes?”
Yes. But that story, like this one, probably wouldn’t include any comment from Walmart’s media relations department, which blew off both an email and telephone inquiry from your favorite columnist.
The spin docs in Bentonville, Ark., could have pointed out that they can sell or not sell any item they choose. But, apparently, they believe the whole topic of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models is simply too hot to handle.
All of which means George Russell had better change his approach next year. Maybe in 2015 he’ll take the easy way out: Just get a date with a supermodel.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.