From: Brian Sorgatz <email@example.com>, 14 and 18 Jul 2003
Subject: Towards a second-wave Playboy Philosophy
This ... is theoretical rather than practical. It deals much more in abstract ideas than concrete suggestions. Many of us wish for PLAYBOY to aspire to intellectual sophistication again, as it did in the Sixties. But this requires a willingness to discuss ideas that have no immediate practical application, and I haven't seen this willingness here. Our dialogue has been so strictly nuts-and-bolts as to be almost anti-intellectual.
I hope to stimulate dialogue on that set of ideas loosely defined as the Playboy Philosophy. I believe that some of those ideas ought to be clarified or modified over the magazine's next fifty years... I have chosen two of many possible topics:
I. Reverse puritanism
In December 2002, Salon.com published an interview with Geraldine Brooks, author of Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women. Brooks says that the anti-woman, anti-sex regimes of the Taliban and the Saudi royal family do not represent Islam as a whole, which is much more congenial to women and to sexuality. At the end of the interview, she urges Western feminists to
> support Muslim women and listen to them. And if they say, "It's > important to us that our daughters have the right to wear a head > scarf to school without being teased about it," then try to figure > out a way of having a bit of consciousness raising for our kids in > school so that they don't tease girls about that, and then try and > see the benefit for ourselves of having a range of approaches to > teenage sexuality available for our own daughters. > > A lot of us don't have a problem that our daughters might be in > school with somebody who's wearing a bare midriff and a bellybutton > ring and has 10 boyfriends, but we do have a problem that she's in a > class with a girl who wears a head scarf and doesn't date. Now > that's pretty cockeyed to me, because it seems you would want her to > be able to make her way with a whole lot of options in front of her.
Many readers reacted defensively to this call for more freedom of self-expression. One letter to the editor accused Brooks of wanting to outlaw bellybutton rings and dating. It claimed that Brooks "has one very strict range of options she'd like all women to adhere to: the Islamic range, which runs from Cotton Mather to Pat Robertson." Another letter asked, "How does one talk about the 'right' of a girl to wear a head scarf in school when she has been forced to wear it by her family? That's not a choice." Apparently, it never occurred to this letter writer that a young woman might actually *want* to dress modestly.
I would characterize the attitude revealed in these letters as reverse puritanism. PLAYBOY occasionally shows this attitude (albeit less frequently than its critics think it does). In his book Reaching for Paradise, Thomas Weyr observes its historic tendency to respond to opponents of its philosophy by essentially saying, "What's wrong with you?" This has needlessly alienated people and spoiled opportunities to make more subtle arguments about the perennial human ambivalence about sex and how it can adversely influence social mores and public policy.
I envision a second-wave Playboy Philosophy that not only advocates the decriminalization of pornography and prostitution, but also harbors genuine respect for modesty, chastity, virginity, and celibacy. The June 2003 Forum says, "Let [the clergy] marry so they can enjoy sex with other adults. Look at what happens when they can't." Objection! There are some fairly strong arguments for abolishing the celibacy requirement for Roman Catholic clergy, but does anyone really believe that a vow of chastity can turn a healthy man into a sexual predator?
Celibacy is not just for prudes. For a splendid example of a pro-sex celibate, take Andrew M. Greeley, Catholic priest, sociologist, and novelist. The URL below links to one of his essays, in which he reveals an almost Hefnerian attitude towards sexuality.
I have some personal reasons for opposing reverse puritanism. When I was growing up, my parents had a lot of trouble understanding why I resented their teasing about my sexuality. They completely dismissed my protests. The memory still makes my blood boil. On a more positive note, female modesty provides the context that makes PLAYBOY pictures sexy. If most women weren't inclined to keep their bodies covered most of the time, it wouldn't be such a privilege to get to see them naked. Too much social pressure on women to display their bodies spoils the game. Naturally, being a guy, I will utter a Homer Simpson-esque "D'oh!" when a particularly attractive female refuses to pose nude. But I will nonetheless be thankful for the part she plays in keeping me agreeably tantalized. Aphrodite and Artemis must both have their due honor.
II. PLAYBOY and humanism
On at least one occasion, Christie Hefner has described PLAYBOY as a humanist magazine. This term well describes PLAYBOY's devotion to individual human freedom and pleasure. But humanism, like feminism, comes in a multitude of varieties, some of which are congenial to PLAYBOY and some of which aren't. Critics from the left, right, and center who condemn PLAYBOY's "objectification of women" or "commercialization of sex" are inspired, I believe, by a not-so-enlightened variety of humanism (not necessarily secular or "liberal" humanism). In this view, everything is reduced to an interpersonal scale. Sexuality has meaning and dignity only within a psychologically intimate relationship. But I have found that a relatively impersonal, commercial expression of sexuality such as a professional striptease or a PLAYBOY centerfold can be gloriously meaningful, sometimes making me feel as though I were communing with a goddess.
It's easy to ridicule the excesses of the feminist far left or the religious far right. It's harder to challenge the humanistic pieties that are conventional wisdom all across the political spectrum. PLAYBOY could break a lot of ground by doing this.
I'm not necessarily calling for a new official statement to replace or supplement the one Hef made in the Sixties. I'm just hoping for a shift in some of PLAYBOY's attitudes and biases and a renewed sense of mission.
From: Dan Stiffler <firstname.lastname@example.org>, 15 Jul 2003
Subject: scattered shots
I very much enjoyed reading Brian's piece on a second-wave philosophy and I endorse the concept unequivocally. One of my ten suggestions was for PLAYBOY to once again stand for something. I think Brian is on to something important here. However, the original philosophy grew out of the magazine's defensive posture and it expanded beyond all expectations when the first installments created a torrent of correspondence from readers (this is how the Forum was born). Given that Hef thinks the "victory is won," does he see the magazine in a defensive position anymore? If not, this second-wave philosophy will need to be generated in some other way and by some other writer (I don't see Kaminsky doing this).
From: Dianne Chandler <email@example.com>, 06 Aug 2003
Subject: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Aretha sang
[PLAYBOY] seems to feel they've "fought the good fight" and for some years has been sliding downhill in terms of relevancy. Marilyn Monroe and all the lovely Playmates notwithstanding, the thing that really made PLAYBOY great was their willingness to take a moral stand on the issues of the day. I've said all this before in many interviews over the years and on my website, etc., but now's the time to say it again. What really drew me to PLAYBOY while still in high school was the daring interviews and the articles that were out in front on issues like civil rights, the VietNam war (support the troops wholeheartedly, oppose the war itself), gay and lesbian issues, freedom of speech, separation of church and state, fighting for women's reproductive freedom and so many more...
In the early days, the magazine was able to combine highly intellectual, political text while staying in touch with the college crowd by doing articles on psychedelic music, fun photo pieces on "flower children" and other "with-it" ideas. Since the college kids today are so apolitical (not being subject to a draft and seeing your friends killed or return home burned out on drugs makes a difference in your attitude), Mr. Kaminsky has a difficult balance to achieve. The September issue was a good start.
From: Steve Migala <HiHef@msn.com>, 2 Mar 2004
Subject: Forum Letters
One thing I noticed about the March 2004 issue that disturbed me was that there was just one column (actually, a sidebar) for letters to the Playboy Forum.
I hope this is not permanent. Since its inception, one of the most important features of the Forum has been the feedback from the readers about the important social issues that are discussed. This apparent deemphasis of reader dialogue on important issues may be the most serious indication yet of the much-feared "dumbing down" of PLAYBOY yet.
From: Brian Sorgatz <firstname.lastname@example.org>, 03 Mar 2004
Subject: Forum Letters
Actually, Steve Migala doesn't put the matter strongly enough. At its inception in the early Sixties, the Forum consisted entirely of readers' responses to Hef's "Playboy Philosophy". I'm disturbed not only by the creeping anti-intellectualism of the situation, but also the creeping anti-historicism, if you will. I've said it before and I'll say it again: With a bold, clever, and energetic promotional campaign, PLAYBOY can—and should—sell itself as "classic" rather than bulldoze its time-honored elements.