My native state has a gift, unparalleled in either contemporary America or remembered history, for making a public and collective fool of itself in headlines, Web hits and comedians’ monologues.
Still fresh in the national memory is the instant Internet blockbuster of a Gaylesville woman literally dragging her toddler through a store on a leash. Now comes Package Store Porno.
The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (more on that quaint anachronism in a moment) recently ordered stores and restaurants to stop selling a wine called Cycles Gladiator because the label features a picture of … parental discretion advised here … a nekkid woman.
The label — a print of an 1895 French poster ad for bicycles — is an advertising and decorating classic in France and elsewhere; original prints reportedly sell for upward of 50 grand.
In Alabama, it violates a state prohibition against images of “a person posed in an immoral of sensuous manner.”
So you see the problem: Not only is the picture immoral — it’s French. (Boo, hiss, shouts of France-bashing, Bible-brandishing, flag-waving patriotic righteousness.) The nekkid woman isn’t even a good American nekkid woman.
You’ve probably seen the picture; we printed it a few days ago. It‘s a side view of a nymph flying over one of the Gladiator bikes.
Its pornographic impact is roughly that of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Maybe this is the opportunity for a new state motto. Alabama: Our Grapes Wear Fig Leaves.
As you might guess, the winemakers are ecstatic.
Cycles Gladiator is one of the labels produced by a California outfit called Hahn Family Wines. Hahn’s president, Bill Legion, said the publicity is worth more than all the wine it ever sold in Alabama: The vintner is already preparing “Banned in Bama” and “Taste What They Can’t Have in Alabama” store displays, and the flap earned Hahn a blurb in Wine Spectator magazine:
“Banning things is a rich tradition in Alabama … it recently outlawed the sale of all sex toys, and interracial marriage was technically illegal until 2000.”
(All true, but the WS editors left out one of my personal favorites — the state school board’s rejection of an art textbook in the mid ‘80s because it contained a photo of Michelangelo’s David. The Alabama Porn Police are a veteran unit.)
There are, to be sure, some successful wineries in Alabama. One of the most popular labels of Perdido Vineyards, on the Gulf coast, is Cou Rouge. That means “redneck.” Yes, it’s French. But the bottle keeps its clothes on.
Some of fine print in all this might have to do with the fact that the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board doesn’t just regulate booze, as is the case in most other states; ABC also sells it. So the label on hooch you might buy from the government must send an appropriately sedate message.
It’s an anomaly familiar to everybody who’s ventured into one of those curious caverns of commerce we call “state stores,” perhaps the closest thing in American culture to a Soviet commodities line. You feel like you ought to be twisting a fur cap in your hands and furtively darting your eyes around as you ask for your allotted ration of The People’s Bourbon.
It’s Prohibition Lite: The state allows wine, beer and spirits, and will even sell them to you. But only after it’s sure you’ve noticed its institutionally pursed lips.
I had never heard of Cycles Gladiator wine, and would otherwise have no particular incentive to sample it. Now I’ll try to find a bottle or two here in Columbus. Some things are a matter of principle.
ContactDusty Nixat 706-571-8528 or firstname.lastname@example.org.