More than half the human population has a vagina, but the word itself is too salacious for the general public to handle. That's according to a broadcast corporation that has banned its New Orleans radio stations from mentioning the local run of the off-Broadway hit The Vagina Monologues.
Promoters say the play, penned by Eve Ensler, "explores the humor, power, pain, wisdom, outrage, mystery and excitement hidden in vaginas." It has enjoyed sellout crowds (including a performance in Madison Square Garden) and has become a pop culture phenomenon, referenced in numerous national TV sitcoms and talk shows. Its 100-city tour includes a local run at the Orpheum Theatre through Dec. 9.
But six New Orleans radio stations are forbidden from mentioning The Vagina Monologues, either via advertising or editorial content. The sticking point: the 'V' word.
The directive came from the New Orleans office of Entercom Communications, a national conglomerate that owns radio stations in 18 markets. Its New Orleans stations -- WEZB-FM, WLMG-FM, WKZN-FM, WSMB-AM and WWL-AM -- may not air radio spots for The Vagina Monologues or discuss the play because of "community standards," says Jeff Scott, director of operations for Entercom New Orleans.
"We have a number of family-oriented radio stations that we broadcast in this market," Scott says. "We felt like running commercials with repeated usage of the 'V' word, if you will, would probably elicit a negative response from our audience."
The problem lies not with the play itself, according to Scott, but in the show's title. "You have to be very cautious about any sort of language you use on the radio, whether it's comedy content or news talk content," he says. "People have the tendency to leap for the telephone before they really listen."
Entercom's refusal to air The Vagina Monologues ads is baffling to officials at Stone Productions, which produces the touring show and says it has not encountered resistance in any other major cities.
"They don't want to say 'vagina' on the air," says Tom McCann, the show's tour engagement manager. "With everything that goes down in New Orleans, with Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence, it's unbelievable that they won't run a radio spot that's run in some of the most conservative cities in the countries -- El Paso, Texas; Greensboro, North Carolina; Salt Lake City."
McCann says the company is advertising on other New Orleans radio stations, as well as print media and on billboards and bus panels. "We have never heard one word of complaint," he says, though he acknowledges stations in a handful of other cities across the country have also resisted running the ads. However, other Entercom stations have aired the spots in Boston; Seattle; Madison, Wisc.; and Norfolk, Va., according to McCann.
He likens the ban in New Orleans to censorship. "When I get a conglomerate radio station turning us down it impacts us, and it affects the community. Radio is a mass audience and we are being barred from that because of the word," McCann says.
"They're basically censoring this information from the community. The radio stations feel the community doesn't want to hear the word 'vagina.' 'Vagina' is not a dirty word. We teach it to our children; it's a body part."
Scott, of Entercom, denies the corporation is playing censor and is unapologetic about the corporation's decision, saying many of its listeners just don't want sex organs discussed on public airwaves.
"There are a contingent of people, particularly mothers with young children, who simply do not want to be embarrassed by having to explain what that word is," Scott says. "We end up getting calls from angry mothers who are in their minivans dropping off their children at grade school, and having to explain what 'vagina' is."