"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Recalling the old allure of "Playboy"

We have reached the end of a very uncomfortable chapter in the history of civilization. Just say "Playboy" around anybody my age, and you'll cause a mix of amusement and shame. Actually the amusement isn't real.
We'll pretend that Playboy was no big deal, that we had fun with its prohibited status. If we're honest we'll say it wasn't fun. Playboy was alluring beyond words for boys of my age. Hardly anything would thrill us more. Yet we knew we were doing something deeply taboo. It's a shame such a situation was allowed to exist.
Playboy is in the news today, Oct. 13, 2015, because of its announcement that it will no longer publish nudie photos of women. Such photos were once its stock in trade, of course. How can it survive today? I stopped caring about the existence of Playboy a long time ago. I suppose we assumed that it was still being published. That's because print publications, despite the meme that online is taking over, rarely die. They hang on, at least in vestigial form. They hang on in the waiting rooms of dentist and doctor offices. Oh, not Playboy of course.
So Playboy continues and it probably presents some decent journalism like it always claimed it did. Remember the famous John Lennon interview? We'd laugh at its claims of superior journalism, because we knew what its primary appeal was. The barber might hide a copy of Playboy in his shop.
With the distance of time, we now must ask: why was it so illicit? There's a scene in the movie "Born on the Fourth of July" that presents a textbook example of what I'm referencing. Many boys feared this greatly: a parent, OK let's make that a mother, discovering a Playboy copy in your bedroom. The Tom Cruise character is berated terribly. You'd want to die if that happened. It was less likely for your father to discover a copy. Dads did less household cleaning. A father's reaction would be much different, a reaction really of indifference. He might be amused. Then he'd say "don't let your mother find this."
Why the hyper concern on the part of mothers? You cannot blame the boys for their reaction to this material. Heterosexual boys simply had a God-given makeup of finding thrills in this. We felt the same thrills going to Annette Funicello beach movies. Our bodies reacted in ways we didn't understand.
The "greatest generation" of parents were not great at helping its sons come to grips with sex. We were supposed to live our lives as if sex didn't exist. To the extent we came to acknowledge it, we were supposed to feel utter shame. Our parents didn't realize the harm they were causing with this stigmatization of sex.
I remember seeing an extensive documentary on the Manson family once. A young man had grown up as the All-American boy, football hero and everything, only to unravel with all the crazy stuff infecting our society in the 1960s. What happened? A documentary contributor offered the following: "There was something (those young people) weren't getting from their parents." That stuck in my mind.
Whether this theory explains everything, I don't really know. But there were odd and in many cases destructive impulses coming forward among young people - my generation. My peers will all recall this, but they'd be reluctant to tell about it. It's almost as if we emerged from some sort of strange spell. But of course it wasn't a spell. It was stimuli from our environment.
We see a scene in "Born on the Fourth of July" where the Cruise character loses a high school wrestling match. It's a drawn-out match in which Cruise feels the humiliation so common in wrestling: his back is on the mat. Why do we subject young people to a sport like this? Who would design such a sport?
The Cruise character develops an itch to join the Marines. Is it a strange sort of death wish? Is he ashamed because of so many of his growing-up experiences? "There was something they didn't get from their parents."
There was too little joy in the boomers' childhood. It was hard to just chill out and enjoy life. Many of our school classes seemed designed to torture us. In sports, half the kids involved in any given game would go home having "lost." Why such a complex apparatus for testing kids in a way almost remindful of war, where "victory" is the goal and you vanquish the other side?
Today with sports like swimming and gymnastics, the old model has faded. The hard edge of competition seems to have faded some. Football coaches are required to bench players who are hurt. They are being taught to do this routinely and not to gnash their teeth.
It's easy to theorize why Playboy has lost its old position among young males. The Internet makes sexually explicit images readily available. I would suggest it's a blessing. How can you argue for a model where the magazine is illicit and has to be hidden away? It's never healthy to have to hide things.
A little biology too
I suspect that a major problem is that young people started reaching puberty at a younger age. Being a teen was rather arduous in an earlier time. How many teens do you see in movies from Hollywood's "golden age?" Adults predominated with their ballroom dancing and nightclubs. Gary Cooper in a suit and tie. Teens must have been out there somewhere. They didn't yet have small radios by which they could enjoy their own type of music.
As teens became sexually aware at an earlier age, they needed help. They didn't get it. To the contrary, adults were unbelievably unnerved and shocked. We had the door slammed in our face, thus we were left to just stew with these feelings, and maybe discuss them with our peers on the proverbial playground. Boys went to Annette Funicello beach movies and developed an erection. It was as if we were in deep water and unable to swim, thrashing away, frustrated and unable to get guidance.
We were supposed to shut out sex. That of course wouldn't work. So we suffered psychologically.
The Manson family were total outliers, of course, but some of the familiar factors were at work with them.
There was a time when a magazine photo of a naked woman was the most taboo yet fascinating thing a boy could observe. The Tom Cruise character was scolded in typical fashion. He ended up in the Marines and got wounded horribly in Viet Nam. What a time to be an adolescent.
So, Playboy is discontinuing the naked women stuff. Its niche in American history with this commodity is weird, puzzling and shameful. And don't blame the boys.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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