Back in January, rumors emerged about the folks in charge of the Shanghai Auto Show and their efforts to retool the event. Though officials themselves wouldn't comment, those in the know said that bigwigs wanted to return the show to its "original spirit of showcasing auto technology and products".
One of the ways that organizers aimed to do that was by banning the scantily clad women who have typically stood alongside auto displays, sharing information about various vehicles and showing more than a little skin. In layman's terms, that meant 86ing the time-honored "booth babes".
Detroit News reports that the rumors have turned out to be true. Is this the way of the future, or will motor-show modesty be limited to China?
VROOM-VROOM VS. VA-VA-VOOM
At the current Shanghai Auto Show, organizers have insisted that representatives on the convention floor must cover up. Though it's unclear whether officials set detailed standards about hemlines, bodices, and such, it appears that automakers, tuners, and other booth-renters are playing it safe this year.
By all accounts, the atmosphere is far more businesslike, with all attention being focused on the cars. Conventional booth babes are nowhere to be seen, and in their place are fully dressed women brandishing tablet computers, loaded with details about the vehicles on view.
This isn't something that happened overnight, though. For years, the Shanghai Auto Show has been trying to class up the joint by adding cultural events like performances by modern dance troupes. (We can only hope they were better than those we've seen elsewhere.)
However, the shift does raise two questions: (1) will this trend have legs, and if so, (2) how far will it travel?
WILL DETROIT GO DEMURE?
Auto shows aren't the only conventions to employ models in skimpy outfits. Have any of you been to a boat show lately?
By our non-scientific estimation, though, the number of people who find T&A to be the star of the auto show is small, and getting smaller. (Then again, we tend to be there on press days, surrounded by hordes of jaded journalists, so our impressions could be off.) Frankly, the whole phenomenon seems very retro, like something that Gloria Steinem would've gone undercover to investigate during the Kennedy administration.
If those impressions are correct, we'd expect that auto shows will change and modernize over time. At the very least, we'd expect that booth babes will be able to dress more warmly down the road.
That said, there's no guarantee that Shanghai's sudden cover-up policy will spread to other motor shows overnight.
China is in a curious position right now -- a fairly unique one. The country is experiencing massive growing pains rooted in tensions between a growing, aspirational middle class and political officials reluctant to cede control to market forces. The former want the material goods and the lifestyles they see in movies and online, while the latter want to keep legal and social strictures in place.
In a nutshell, officials are still very concerned about the Big D: Decadence, generally considered a product of the West. Decadence comes in many forms, from conspicuous consumerism to easy access to pornography. And while many people view booth babes as fairly innocent examples of female sexuality, China's modesty-minded tastemakers and policy-setters are probably a little zealous right now.
Booth babe fans shouldn't despair, though. Sex will always sell. The only thing that will change is how it's packaged. China may be covering up now, but if history is any guide, something will eventually drop.