Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Brief Review of an American Taboo

I was at work one night waiting for my shift to end and, having nothing else to do, I picked up the latest issue of Playboy and began flipping through it. I haven't been too impressed with it these days, but one thing did catch my interest, and that was a collage of photos from each decade since the magazine's first issue.

The first women to pose for the magazine, to my pleasant surprise, were not all the qualified "perfect 10" that we expect today. Currently, there seems to be a certain very narrow list of criteria into which playmates must fall in order to be considered sexy enough to photograph. Age is a big one. There were pictures from the early issues of women who seemed to be well into their forties. Things like hair, tatoos, piercings, and anything less than the hourglass figure and perfectly shaped breasts are also enough to disqualify you from that "perfect 10" designation nowadays.

I always had something of a love/hate relationship with Playboy that I could never put my finger on, but now I think I know why. Playboy was born out of a social desire, not by men but by women, to be able to express themselves as sexual beings and not as sexual objects. Women's only place in the world was derivative of man. She exists for his sake, not for her own. If she has pleasure at all, sexually or otherwise, she isn't to speak of it to anyone. You can even see traces of it today, by how films are rated by the MPAA. If a man orgasms on screen, there's no problem. But a woman -- very different story.**

Having said all that, I believe Playboy's purpose has been served and is now doing very little in the way of promoting this idea of feminine sexual freedom. In fact, I've realized that its depiction of women is evolving into some strange hybrid of glamour magazines like Vogue mixed with equal parts Girls Gone Wild and one of those sleazy porno fliers you find on the Las Vegas Boulevard curbside. It's as if it's returning to the day when women wanted to be like the women in the magazine, and men wanted their women to be like the women in the magazine, too.

Even if it seems to have lowered the bar a bit, I believe it's for the better. I believe that a good sign of social progress is the chipping away of taboos in order to facilitate a more open and communicative environment. Unfortunately, when members of society deem something offensive, they don't try to remedy the situation by providing alternatives or understanding; usually they just throw everything they can at it to make it stop speaking. "Stop saying those things that are making us cry."

In any case, where Playboy left off, other things like Suicide Girls will take its place. And the truth of the matter is that, despite all of the arguments I've made for these different viewpoints, I really think the most interesting and telling part about the whole thing is how society responds to these things. I suppose that's the crux of it, isn't it? Would a naked baboon in the woods offend anyone? Probably not, unless there are people in the woods, and chances are, they wouldn't be. What about a naked baboon in a movie theater? Well, that would certainly be odd, and the audience may share a mite of discomfort if it started flinging poo. But for the most part, probably not.

What about a naked man at his brother's funeral? There's a toughy. He probably knew the guy better than anyone in the room, and yet every single person would no doubt be thinking "someone needs to tell him to leave and put on some clothes." That's just how we are. We can't let things be. That is because whenever something like that comes along, we think, "stop that! I have a viewpoint, and you're making it very hard for me to have that viewpoint when you're around, so won't you go away?" It's much more than a censorship issue or a moral problem. It has to do with society's fetishistic tendency to want to regulate perspective. For better or worse, the fear that everything will breakdown entirely if this one thing is given free reign motivates us to cut off certain ideas entirely.

In the case of sexuality, what exactly is it that these intolerant motivators of moral regulation are trying to accomplish? What do they propose instead? That we revert to abstaining from sex entirely until marriage, at which point she is given by her father to her groom -- with or without a dowry -- to live out the rest of her years in his bed? If this isn't the biggest elephant in the room, I don't know what is. I realize this may offend some people, but only as much as the idea of this so-called moral high ground from which they approach me: To cling to this mode of thinking objectifies the female considerably more than the sexual freedom they fear. Keep in mind, I'm only referring to the scenario I described three sentences ago.

And lets look at that, shall we? Abstinence until marriage. Really? Well it turns out that what I have always believed to be true in fact has be documented in a recent study by Johns Hopkins University: those who make a pledge to abstain until marriage are statistically just as likely to have sex before marriage as those who don't abstain; those who make the pledge simply delay it longer. In fact, the biggest difference is that those who choose to remain abstinent are more likely to have unprotected sex, and thus more likely the contract an STD.

So choosing to wait seems like a statistical bluff, but the marriage part, that's still up there on the moral high ground right? Wrong. Realize that if you want your father to give you away, it's because you acknowledge that you are his property and that he MUST give you away AS SUCH. Furthermore, you are being handed over to, shall we say, your new Owner. If you are fine with this, great. Perhaps marriage is for you. But I don't think it's a stretch to say that someone living in denial about this should not be telling ME how to live my life. If I was gay, I would be one of the many sad Arizonians who can no long get married because of confused Mormons who thought of nothing better than spending $20 million to make sure I can't.

The whole notion of chastity is grandfathered in from an era dominated by patriarchal traditions. Even the idea of wearing white and having the most expensive and elaborate ceremony is an aristocratic tradition that was assimilated by the revolutionaries from the British royalty they were supposed to be fighting. Society operated better to them when women were loyal to their masters. What more has to be said? The idea that Playboy objectified women, at least in its early years, seems ludicrous when propounded by women who willingly become objects themselves.

I'm not saying, "let's all go fuck like rabbits." If you wish to hold off for personal reasons, go right ahead. If you want to fuck, that's fine too. It's your body after all, you can do with it what you want. Just don't sell it.

That would be illegal.

**Rent This Film Is Not Yet Rated for more on how sexual content is rated by the MPAA.

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