Thursday, January 08, 2009

Seeing the Hooters owl in the light of day

Whether in West Des Moines, Council Bluffs or Davenport, the mere presence of the fantastically unsubtle Hooters "restaurant" shouts a wallop of a cultural statement in the Hawkeye State: women are sexual objects, toys, things with which to be played and dominated.

No matter how thin you string the onion rings there's no getting around it: Hooters is a bordello lobby with barbeque, a strip club with wings, and increasingly, one wonders how the sex-as-universal-side for all orders flies in modernity.

Why bring this up now? Hooters isn't exactly new in the culture.

A disturbing story about domestic abuse that is only tangentially about Hooters nevertheless reveals the ugly side of the beach-themed purveyor of gut-buttressing foods and come-hither table service.

Think of it as spotting an owl at high noon.

A Rock Island, Ill., woman was barred from the Davenport Hooters where she worked because a wicked physical, and apparently domestic-violence-related, attack left her bruised and well under the "glamorous appearance" threshold required of the estimable Hooters girl.

"She probably would not be able to work because of her black eye and the bruises on her face," Davenport Hooters Manager Gina Sheedy said during an administrative hearing on benefits for the employee, according to The Des Moines Register. "Our handbook states you have to have a glamorous appearance. It doesn't actually say, 'Bruises on your face are not allowed.' It does talk about the all-American cheerleader look."

Hoosters surely isn't the only restaurant that doesn't want its wait staff showing up like a human monument of domestic violence.

But in defending its decision to keep the victim out of her cleavage-showcasing tight white shirts and orange shorts, the famous Hooters uniform, the shameless chain revealed just how ridiculous its family values market posturing is.

On its Web site, Hooters audaciously spotlights a photo of a family enjoying some wings and things. There's dad, with his best John-in-the-Lexus smile and just that hint of gray. And then they have all-American mom, drinking what appears to be a cola. After all, someone has to drive following this idolatry to the frontal female form.

But the Hooters excursion would be barren desert stuff, far short of full-flavored family fun, without the presence of the pre-teen son, who miraculously, in some real-world McLovin turn, seems to be captivating the Hooters waitress with witty banter in this promotional image.

Now, lasses, before you go dreaming of joining the ranks of Hooters girls, there, are, shall we say, standards.

Not any old Destiny, Amber or Savannah has the right stuff to be a "nearly" world famous Hooters girl.

Presumably, the company, Post 9/11, inserted that "nearly" caveat to account for nations in which it would be a beheading-worthy incident to parade around as Hooters girls.

Back to the standards.

"There is no set requirement in order to be a nearly World Famous Hooters Girl!," Hooters tells us on its Web site. "We look for the all-American cheerleader / surfer-girl-next-door image to fill our restaurants. In other words ... Very bubbly, outgoing personalities!"

I get the whole girl-next- door thing. But surfer girl? Admittedly, in western Iowa, we are not exposed to many surfing enthusiasts of the Kate Bosworth in "Blue Crush" variety. Regrettably, this is something with which we must make peace daily.

That said, I struggle to find wholesome, hometown girl elements under the lifestyle banner of "surfing" - a pursuit associated more with truancy, slackery and bong-huffing beach philosophizing than plucky Kate and the catchy Bananarama "Cruel Summer" remake that provides pitch-perfect atmospherics for her wave-piping ways

In a very detailed section of its Web site, full of photos and videos, all of which took me the last six hours to review for this column, Hooters offers a veritable anatomy course for women looking to make the life leap from a young lady interested in passing the bar to a teasy chick who hula-hoops around in one chasing tips.

At least street-corner pimps are up front and honest about their sex trafficking. They just get their whores addicted to drugs and promise to keep the fixes regular.

What's more, you can work with bruises.

(This originally appeared in The Carroll Daily Times Herald.)


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