The Playboy Philosophy is as important today as the day it was first published in 1962. While many of the references are a little old for today’s audiences, the ideas and arguments are just as relevant.
The Playboy Philosophy lays out the opinions of the magazine’s editorial staff, namely Hugh Hefner, and defines the ideals and culture of the publication. It shows the reader that this wonderful magazine isn’t about making money off sexy girls, it’s a powerful way of contributing to society, a learned and wise voice which speaks for freedoms and a better world. A great many people don’t understand Playboy. This brilliant essay is both an amazing way to truly understand where Playboy is coming from, and serves as an excellent piece of intellectual discourse that will make you reflect deeply on your culture and society.
I agree with huge sections of this essay and absolutely love many of the ideas expressed herein. Freedom of and from religion, freedom of expression and speech, freedom for sexuality, there are so many arguments here for a more open, understanding, tolerant and loving society. This essay is definitely part of my own personal philosophy.
I do not agree blindly with everything contained in the essay. There are ideas about capitalism and individualism which I think have good roots, but which could be read by some as supporting too selfish of a society. I think people today are moving away from ideas of a dependent communist style society, away from a rat-race capitalist style of selfishness and greed, and into a more interdependent society, and that’s excellent. The ideas in this essay can definitely be made to support those ideals too.
I challenge you to read this essay in its entirely. Open your mind to truly understanding what Playboy is really about and why it’s more than just a magazine filled with pretty girls, why it has had a profound and far reaching influence on society and helped bring about many of the freedoms people take for granted today. I challenge you to open your mind, honestly, and consider the ideas expressed in the essay, and reflect on them, and your world today.
My deepest thanks to Hugh Hefner and Playboy for all their years of hard work, self sacrifice, wisdom and beauty. I hope Playboy continues to be a beacon of light for decades to come.
– Timothy Baril
The Playboy Philosophy
Exactly nine years ago this month, the first issue of Playboy was published, with a personal investment of $600 and $6000 begged or borrowed from anyone who would stand still long enough to listen to “a new idea for a men’s magazine.” Now something of a collector’s item, that issue — forged with much youthful zeal by a small group of dedicated iconoclasts who shared a publishing dream — seems almost childishly crude when compared with the magazine you hold in your hands. We have come a long way since then, in editorial scope and polish as well as in circulation, and we are mightily pleased whenever we are complimented on this fact. But when well-wishers sometimes praise us for the way in which our magazine has changed, we must shake our head in disagreement. The fact is that in its basic concepts and its editorial attitude, in its view of itself and its view of life, its feelings about its readers and we believe — their feelings toward it, the magazine called Playboy is the same today as it was nine years ago. Improved — yes, we like to think. Altered in its aims and outlook — definitely no.
Recently, and increasingly in the past year, Playboy’s aims and outlook have been given considerable comment in the press, particularly in the journals of social, philosophical and religious opinion, and have become a popular topic of conversation at cocktail parties around the country. While we’ve been conscious of the virtues in seeing ourselves as others see us, we’ve also felt the image is occasionally distorted; having listened patiently for so long a time to what others have decided Playboy represents and stands for, we’ve decided — on this ninth anniversary — to state our own editorial credo here, and offer a few personal observations on our present-day society and Playboy’s part in it — an effort we hope to make interesting to friends and critics alike.
Opinion on Playboy
When Professor Archibald Henderson titled his definitive biography of George Bernard Shaw Playboy and Prophet, he probably came closer to using the word Playboy as we conceive it than is common today. Certainly, he did not mean that the highly prolific playwright-critic was an all-play-no-work sybarite. He certainly did not mean to suggest that Shaw led a pleasure-seeking life of indolent ease, nor that the platonically inclined vegetarian was leading a secret life of the seraglio. He did mean — and he told us so when he visited our offices on the occasion of the founding of the Shaw Society in Chicago — that Shaw was a man who approached life with immense gusto and relish. As a word, playboy has suffered semantic abuse: Its most frequent usage in the press is to characterize those functionless strivers after pleasure whom Federico Fellini, in La Dolce Vita, showed to be so joylessly diligent in their pursuit of self-pleasuring as to be more deserving of sympathy than righteous condemnation. Playboy, the magazine, has been sometimes tarred with the same brush — usually by those who are more zealous in their criticism than in their reading of it. We have been accused of leadership in a cult of irresponsibility and of aiding in the decline of the Western world. We deny it.
With Playboy’s ever-increasing popularity, it would be foolish for us to pretend that the publication doesn’t exert a considerable influence upon our society. But what kind of influence? Opinions vary. We first became aware that Playboy was developing into something more than a magazine when readers began purchasing Playboy products in considerable quantities: everything from cufflinks, ties, sport shirts, tuxedoes and bar accessories to playing cards, personalized matches and stickers for their car windows all with the Playboy Rabbit as the principal design and principal motivation for the purchase. Readers were soon buying Playboy earrings, necklaces, ankle bracelets, sweaters and Playmate perfume for their own particular playmates, and we wondered at the unusual degree of identification that the men who purchase Playboy each month obviously feel for the magazine and its editorial point of view. They sought, and we gladly supplied, a mark of identity in common with the publication — the sort of honor a man usually reserved for his fraternity, or a special business or social association. By the time we were ready to open the first Playboy Club in 1960, we fully appreciated the impact that Playboy, in its many forms, was having upon the urban community (for by then we’d witnessed the success of the Playboy Jazz Festival, Playboy records, Playboy Tours and our nationally syndicated television show, Playboy’s Penthouse).
The professional critics and commentators on the contemporary scene could not too long resist supplying a personal analysis of the Playboy phenomenon. In Commentary — “A journal of significant thought and opinion on Jewish affairs and contemporary issues,” Benjamin DeMott, professor of English at Amherst, wrote an article on the subject, “The Anatomy of ‘Playboy,'” which he sums up as “the whole man reduced to his private parts.”
But in “Playboy’s Doctrine of Male” by Harvey Cox, first published in Christianity and Crisis — “A Christian Journal of Opinion,” and reprinted in The Intercollegian — “A Journal of Christian Encounter,” and the editorial pages of a number of college newspapers, Playboy is criticized for being “basically antisexual.” Cox describes Playboy as “one of the most spectacular successes in the entire history of American journalism,” but stamps us as “dictatorial tastemakers,” decries the emphasis on emotionally uninvolved “recreational sex” and announces that — like the sports car, liquor and hi-fi — girls are just another “Playboy accessory.”
Writing for Motive — “The Magazine of the Methodist Student Movement,” Reverend Roy Larson states: “Playboy is more than just a handbook for the young-man-about-town: It’s a sort of bible which defines his values, shapes his personality, sets his goals, dictates his choices and governs his decisions. The Playboy philosophy has become…a sort of substitute religion.” But Reverend Larson rather likes Playboy: He sympathizes with our interest in “style” — he is “upset by those people in the Church who seem to assume…that averageness is more Christlike than distinctiveness. Certainly — God knows — there’s nothing in the mainstream of the Christian tradition which justifies this canonization of mediocrity.” And a bit further: “I sympathize with Playboy’s revolt against narrow, prudish Puritanism, even though I would disagree with the way this revolt is expressed.”
The general press has also decided that Playboy’s popularity may have broad implications (no pun intended) and though there isn’t yet the same attempt at pseudo-socio- and psychoanalytical evaluation, the title of a recent feature story on Playboy in Time, “The Boss of Taste City,” indicates that they, too, are at least vaguely aware that something more than a successful magazine and several key clubs is involved here. The story in the Saturday Evening Post, “Czar of the Bunny Empire” by Bill Davidson, was the most superficial and inaccurate piece done on us to date, with almost all of the quotes, and many of the facts, simply invented by the author to suit his purpose, but the Post spent more than $100,000 in advertising and promoting that single article and it sold a whale of a lot of extra copies of that lagging magazine.
There have actually been more major magazine stories on Playboy in Europe during the last year than in the United States, and they have all been extremely favorable; both the greater number and the kinder editorial disposition can be explained in part, we suspect, by our not being in competition with foreign publications for either circulation or advertising dollars; but considering that we are competitors (and doing a bit better than the rest), and not forgetting the general moral climate of middle-class America (at whom most mass media are aimed), the magazines and newspapers around the country that have written about Playboy have been, by and large, quite fair. (Though occasionally a prejudice does creep in, as when a Playboy Club story in Life turned into a general key club story, because, as the editors reportedly decided, “We don’t want to give all that free publicity to Playboy, do we?”)
There are apparently a few cool cats springing up behind the Iron Curtain these days, because we understand that Playboy is now the most popular magazine on the black market in Moscow — the same gents who secretly tune in the jazz programs on Voice of America, we presume. A West Coast newspaper column also reported recently that American airmen stationed in the Arctic have discovered that Playboy is their most valuable item of barter when they pay a visit to the Russian airfield nearby. We haven’t heard about any editorializing on the broader implications of the Playboy view of life in any of the official Russian press, but I think we can safely assume that if they’ve formed any opinion on the subject, it’s negative.
The Canadian Broadcasting Company has done an hour-long network radio documentary (Playboy of the Modern World) and a half-hour network television program (The Most) on Playboy this year — the Canadians came to Chicago for more than a week for each show, used thousands of feet of tape and film in the Playboy Building, the Club and the Playboy Mansion. Both have been nominated for awards and are far and away the most accurate and best coverage the world of Playboy has been given to date in any medium. Yet a small-circulation Canadian magazine, Saturday Night, published an article at just about the same time, titled “Dream World of the Sex Magazines,” that claims the recurring theme in Playboy and its imitators is “the brutalization of women.” We assume they’re referring to psychological or social brutalization, since we never lay a hand on a female except in passion or self-defense.
Comment about Playboy keeps popping up everywhere these days — in movies, on TV, in nightclub acts: In Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three, Berlin Coca-Cola boss Jimmy Cagney’s male assistant got himself delayed while on an unusual errand into East Berlin, dressed as a girl, because the border guards spent a half an hour trying to talk him into letting them shoot some pictures of him for Playboy. Joey Bishop announced on the Tonight show that he’d discovered the perfect Easter gift for pal Frank Sinatra — a Bunny from the Playboy Club. Mort Sahl expressed concern about an entire new generation of guys growing up convinced that girls fold in three parts. And have staples in their navels.
Art Buchwald kidded about Playboy’s impact on the country in his internationally syndicated column: “Some people are afraid that Hefner may try to take over the United States, if not by force, at least by sex. He has 130,000 Playboy Club keyholders now who have pledged to follow Hefner in whatever direction he wishes to go. They all have keys and if Hefner can change the locks on some of the government buildings in Washington, including the White House, there is no reason why he couldn’t take over the country. Many people think Bobby Kennedy’s recent trip around the world was a secret mission for Mr. Hefner to find new locations for Playboy Clubs. The slogan of the Playboy is, of course, ‘Today girls, tomorrow the world.'”
A Unitarian minister, John A. Crane, in Santa Barbara, California, devoted an entire sermon to the subject, “Philosophy and Fantasy in Playboy Magazine and What This Suggests About Us”: “Playboy comes close now to qualifying as a movement, as well as a magazine,” he said. “It strikes me that Playboy is a religious magazine, though I will admit I have a peculiar understanding of the meaning of the word. What I mean is that the magazine tells its readers how to get into heaven. It tells them what is important in life, delineates an ethics for them, tells them how to relate to others, tells them what to lavish their attention and energy upon, gives them a model of a kind of person to be. It expresses a consistent world view, a system of values, a philosophical outlook.
“Not only does Playboy create a new image of the ideal man, it also creates a slick little universe all its own, creates what you might call an alternative version of reality in which men may live in their minds. It’s a light and jolly kind of universe, a world in which a man can be forever carefree, where a man can remain, like Peter Pan, a boy forever and ever. There are no nagging demands and responsibilities, no complexities or complications.”
And yet Reverend Crane, like Reverend Larson in his article for Motive, winds up expressing some positive, if qualified, feelings about Playboy: “But for the most part, the magazine is, I would expect, pretty harmless. It amuses its readers by creating a delightful imaginary world for them, a world that they find it fun to live in; and everybody needs a little fun now and then. The only real harm that it does, I think, is negative: It does nothing important for its readers, doesn’t lead them anywhere, does nothing to enlarge or deepen their awareness of themselves and their lives, does nothing to encourage the growth of insight or understanding.”
But in that same month, in the very same state, columnist Hugh Russell Fraser took a very different view of the more serious side of Playboy’s content. Devoting an entire column, on the editorial page of the Daily Commercial News, the West Coast’s oldest business newspaper, to Playboy in general and the then current issue (March) in particular, he wrote: “One of the most intellectual magazines in America. For a magazine that is devoted to ‘Entertainment for Men,’ it is strangely concerned with two things few men, and even fewer women, have any real interest in: namely, truth and beauty.”
Fraser goes on to extol the literary and intellectual virtues of the March issue, which he says “comes close to being a sheer work of art.” It is the same issue that was on sale at the time of the Unitarian sermon questioning whether Playboy “does anything important for its readers,” but there is no connection between the Santa Barbara sermon and the San Francisco column, except that both were written on the same subject, within a month of one another; we’re quite certain that the columnist knew nothing whatever about this minister’s sermon, and vice versa.
Fraser expresses himself enthusiastically on the subject of March Playmate Pamela Gordon, and then says: “Having drunk deep of this rare and costly wine, let us glance over the other pages. Here J. Paul Getty, the billionaire (tactfully the magazine does not remind us of the fact) has a thought-provoking indictment of The Vanishing Americans. He holds that ‘in the restless voice of dissent lies the key to a nation’s vitality and greatness.’ And that dissent is disappearing. Indeed, it has almost disappeared.
“In the same issue, Alfred Kazin, in my judgment the greatest living literary critic, examines The Love Cult, a slight misnomer, since what he is examining is not a cult but the whole general concept of love from Plato to Freud to the modern psychiatrists. The role that it has played in Christian dogma, as he analyzes it, is especially impressive and is alone worth the price of the magazine.
“Ben Hecht has an intriguing memoir; The Playboy Advisor tells us how to marry the boss’ girlfriend; Ernest Hemingway’s brother writes about his brother; and best of all, Arthur C. Clarke’s article on The Hazards of Prophecy. Here is an analysis of the short-sightedness of men of science in the last half-century, the first of a series of amazing insights into the ‘expected’ and ‘unexpected’ in science. There are other articles of equally rich intellectual fare. But I do not have the space here. However, a new planet has swung into our universe of superior magazines…and it bears the date of March 1962. A toast, therefore, gentlemen, to America’s newest star in the intellectual firmament — Playboy!”
Is it possible that both these gentlemen from California, and all of the others who were quoted here, are referring to the same publication? They are, because life is so subjective that what one person can view as “the whole man reduced to his private parts,” another may see as a concern for “truth and beauty.” We trust there’ll always be this much disagreement on the subject of Playboy, for the magazine was never intended for the general public — it is edited for a select audience of young, literate, urban men, who share with us a particular point of view on life, and when we began, we had no idea it would attract as great a following as it has. In our Introduction, in Volume 1, Number 1, we tried to spell it out: “We want to make clear from the very start, we aren’t a ‘family magazine.’ If you’re somebody’s sister, wife or mother-in-law and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to your Ladies Home Companion.” We should have added: Not all “old ladies” wear skirts — it’s more of a frame of mind than anything else.
What is this “particular point of view,” then, that Playboy shares with its readers? We wrote about it in a subscription message in the April 1956 issue, under the question, What is a Playboy?: “Is he simply a wastrel, a ne’er-do-well, a fashionable bum? Far from it: He can be a sharp-minded young business executive, a worker in the arts, a university professor, an architect or engineer. He can be many things, providing he possesses a certain point of view. He must see life not as a vale of tears but as a happy time; he must take joy in his work, without regarding it as the end and all of living; he must be an alert man, an aware man, a man of taste, a man sensitive to pleasure, a man who — without acquiring the stigma of the voluptuary or dilettante — can live life to the hilt. This is the sort of man we mean when we use the word playboy.”
The Criticism of Content
There are actually two aspects of Playboy that prompt comment today, where previously there was only one. There have always been those who criticized the magazine for its content — certain specific features to which they take exception. There is another, newer area for comment now: the philosophical pros and cons of Playboy’s concept — the overall editorial viewpoint expressed in the magazine. While both are clearly related — the one (content) growing naturally out of the other (concept) — they are quite different and the comment and criticism on them takes different forms, too.
The critics of content are rather easily disposed of. No one who bothers to seriously consider several issues of the magazine can reasonably question the overall excellence of the editorial content. Playboy published some of the finest, most thought-provoking fiction, satire, articles, cartoons, service features, art and photography appearing in any magazine in America today; Playboy pays the highest rates, for both fiction and nonfiction, of any magazine in the men’s field; and Playboy has received more awards for its art, design, photography, typography and printing over the last half-dozen years than almost any other publication in all the United States. A questioning of the lack of serious “think” pieces in the magazine, as the Unitarian minister did, can only be the result of a superficial scanning of Playboy, as the Hugh Russell Fraser critique of the March issue makes clear. But lest the occasional reader consider that March may have been an uncommon issue, in addition to the Arthur C. Clarke science series and the
J. Paul Getty series on men, money and values in society today, Playboy has published Nat Hentoff’s Through the Racial Looking Glass, “a perceptive report on the American Negro and his new militancy for uncompromising equality” (July 1962); The Prodigal Powers of Pot, an unemotional look at marijuana, “the most misunderstood drug of all time” (August 1962); Status-ticians in Limbo, a biting article on the sociologists and motivational research experts in advertising and the communication industry (September 1961); The Great American Divide, Herb Gold’s incisive probing of “Reno, the biggest little pity in the world” (June 1961); Hypnosis, the most comprehensive article on the subject ever to appear in a magazine, analyzing hypnotism’s implications for surgery, psychoanalysis, persuasion, advertising, crime, war and world politics, by Ken W. Purdy (February 1961); plus such now near-classic pieces as The Pious Pornographers, on sex in the women’s magazines (October 1957); The Cult of the Aged Leader, expressing the need for younger men in our government before any of us had heard of a John or Robert Kennedy (August 1959); Eros and Unreason in Detroit, decrying the ever-increasing size, and emphasis on chrome and fins, in U.S. cars, before the automobile industry reversed the trend and introduced the compacts (August 1958); Philip Wylie’s The Womanization of America, expressing concern over the feminine domination of our culture (September 1958); and Vance Packard’s The Manipulators, on the “vanguards of 1984: the men of motivational research” (December 1957); along with The Playboy Panel, a series of provocative conversations about subjects of interest on the contemporary scene (most recent topic: Business Ethics and Morality, November 1962) and the newly inaugurated Playboy Interview that can produce provocative thought on timely issues, as when Miles Davis discussed his views on what it means to be black in America (September 1962). This small sampling of Playboy’s thought-provoking nonfiction is impressive, we think, for a publication that is primarily concerned with entertainment and service features for the urban man, for Playboy has never attempted to cover every aspect of man’s existence, or pretended that it does, though some of the criticism aimed at us clearly suggests that we do. And that, it seems to us, is rather like criticizing a good book of poetry, because it includes no prose.
Playboy has always dealt with the lighter side of contemporary life, but it has also — tacitly and continuously — tried to see modern life in its totality. We hope that Playboy has avoided taking itself too seriously. We know that we have always stressed — in our own way — our conviction of the importance of the individual in an increasingly standardized society, the privilege of all to think differently from one another and to promote new ideas, and the right to hoot irreverently at herders of sacred cows and keepers of stultifying tradition and taboo.
We at Playboy think there is a depressing tendency to confuse seriousness with earnestness and dullness. We believe in the Western tradition of satire and polemic (and it is our feeling that some of the mass media could do with a little sharpening of their senses of humor), and we aren’t above poking fun at ourselves once in a while either.
Some seem to feel that a happy, even frisky and romantic attitude toward life, and a savoring of its material pleasures, preclude seriousness, work, sensibility, a viable aesthetic. In our book (literally and in the slang sense) this position is untenable. It belongs with such other evidences of semantic dysfunction as the unreasoning suspicion that medicine can’t be good for you if it doesn’t taste bad; that robust profanity bespeaks a limited vocabulary (rather than one equipped with condiments as well as nutrients); that dullness is the ordained handmaiden of seriousness; that the well-dressed man is an empty-headed fop, perforce, and that conversely, the chap who can’t distinguish a fine Niersteiner from a plebian bottle of hock is probably possessed of more intellect of character than the man who can.
A Matter of Sex
At the heart of most of the criticism of Playboy’s contents, we find that ol’ devil sex. We’ll consider the fuller implications of this when we discuss the concept, but we must confess at the outset that we do not consider sex either sacred or profane. And as a normal, and not uninteresting, aspect of the urban scene, we think it perfectly permissible to treat the subject either seriously or with satire and good humor, as suits the particular situation.
For some, it is the pictures that offend — the full-color, full-bosomed Playmates and their photographic sisters, who apparently show off too much bare skin to please a part of the public. That another sizable portion of the citizenry, numbering in the several million, is obviously pleased as punch by this display of photogenic pulchritude is — for the moment — besides the point. We’d like to make our case on merits other than mathematical ones.
It was disconcerting when we first discovered that many of those who consider nudity and obscenity nearly synonymous often drag God’s name into the act — this struck us, and strikes us still, as a particularly blatant bit of blasphemy. The logic that permits a person to call down God’s wrath on anyone for displaying a bit of God’s own handiwork does, we must admit, escape us. If the human body — far and away the most remarkable, the most complicated, the most perfect and the most beautiful creation on this earth — can become objectionable, obscene or abhorrent, when purposely posed and photographed to capture that remarkable perfection and beauty, then the world is a far more cockeyed place than we are willing to admit. That there may be some people in this world with rather cockeyed ideas on subjects of this sort — well, that’s something else again.
And, yes, it’s possible for an entire society — or a goodly portion of it — to get cockeyed on a particular subject, for a while at least. Just how the U.S. developed its own cockeyed Puritanical view of sex — the shackles of which it is only now managing to throw off — we’ll go into some detail a little further on. But it is worth noting here that a remarkable schism exists between the two present generations, as regards sex and several other quite vital subjects, and the gap — in attitude and viewpoint — between the younger and the older generations of our time is far greater that the customary 20 years. This is one of the little recognized, but most significant reasons for a number of well-established magazines finding themselves in serious difficulties over the last decade. With most key editorial decisions still in the hands of older staff members, the publications have become uneasily aware that they are somehow losing editorial contact with an increasing number of their readers (or more specifically, their potential readers, as the oldsters die off and too few young ones are drawn in to take their place), without really understanding why or what to do about it. Similarly, a major part of Playboy’s spectacular success is directly attributable to our being a part of the new generation, understanding it, and publishing a magazine with an editorial point of view that our own generation can relate to. We’ll try to trace the causes of this remarkable gap in the two present generations, and just what the differences may mean to all of us, a bit later, in discussing Playboy’s concept. The marked disagreement in the comment on Playboy, in the pieces quoted at the beginning of this editorial (and most of them from well-qualified, literate sources), is more easily understandable when we realize what a marked disagreement exists between the two present generations on a wide variety of subjects.
A portion of a generally quite friendly article on Playboy that appeared in Newsweek in 1960 offers a good example of the distinct lack of understanding that an older-generation editor brings to the task of explaining our editorial concept and the reasons for our success: “In efforts to maintain Playboy’s sophisticated patina, Hefner and Associate Publisher A.C. Spectorsky (author of The Exurbanites) have given the magazine a split personality. By paying top rates to top authors ($3000 for a lead story), they have bestowed on it a double-dome quality. On the other hand its daring nudes (‘Playmate of the Month’) have catered to the peep-show tastes.” The anonymous Newsweek writer (or his editor) projects the schizophrenic attitude of his own generation (the positive-negative ambivalence regarding sex) onto the more nearly normal new generation and onto Playboy (edited to express the ideas and ideals of the new generation). For Playboy’s editor, a good men’s magazine should include both fine fiction and pictures of beautiful girls with “plunging necklines or no necklines at all” (to lift another phrase from the Newsweek article), because most normal men will enjoy both, and both fit into the concept of a sophisticated urban men’s magazine. For Newsweek’s editor, however, a good men’s magazine should include fine fiction, but no pretty girls, or at least no pretty girls without clothes on — no matter how much the magazine’s readership might appreciate them — because Newsweek’s editor is projecting the uneasy and quite hypocritical and unhealthy attitude, held by much of our society for, lo, these many years, that sex is best hidden away somewhere, and the less said about it the better. Of course, we all enjoy it (sexual activity in all of its infinite varieties, was just as popular a generation ago as it is today — actions haven’t changed that much, only the publicly expressed attitudes toward them have), but it’s a rather distasteful business at best, appealing to the weaker, baser, animalistic side of man (which includes, as we understand it, any need or function of the body and is diametrically opposed to the virtuous, better side: the intellectual and the spiritual).
This nonsense about the body of man being evil, while the mind and spirit are good, seems quite preposterous to most of us today. After all, the same Creator was responsible for all three and we confess we’re not willing to believe that He goofed when He got around to the body of man (and certainly not when He got to the body of woman). Body, mind and spirit all have a unique way of complementing one another, if we let them, and if excesses of the body are negative, it is the excesses that are improper rather than the body, as excesses of the mind and spirit would also be.
The great majority will agree with what we’ve just stated, and yet the almost subconscious, guilty feeling persists that there is something evil in the flesh of man — a carryover from a Puritanism of our forefathers (that included such delights as the torturing of those who didn’t abide by the strict ethical and moral code of the community and the occasional burning of witches) which we have rejected intellectually, but which still motivates us on subtler, emotional levels. Thus a men’s magazine is appealing to “peep-show tastes” when it includes in its contents the photographs of sparsely clad women — a conclusion the Newsweek writer could almost certainly never justify intellectually, but a conclusion that he managed to put to paper just the same.
Last year we had one of the editors of another national newsmagazine visiting us and we were showing him the Playboy Mansion. We took him down into the underwater bar beside the pool (he declined politely our invitation to slide down the fireman’s pole and used the stairs instead) and we fixed him a drink. The light in the underwater bar is quite low and across one wall we have illuminated color transparencies of some of Playboy’s most popular Playmates — very similar to the wall decoration in the Playmate Bar of the Playboy Clubs. Now it should be explained that this editor is not appreciably older than we are — in years. But in outlook, at least a generation separates us. He is what you could safely call a stuffed shirt. It became immediately clear that the Playmate pictures embarrassed and yet intrigued him. He studied them, shaking his head slowly from side to side.
“I think you’d be pleasantly surprised if you met most of these Playmates,” we said, trying to put him more to ease. They’re actually a very nice group of girls.”
He thought about it for a few moments and then said: “That’s really worse, I think.”
In other words, for this fellow (and, we’re afraid, for a great many others) the erotic and sexually attractive have got to be sinful and objectionable — his inner self insists upon it and rejects the very idea that the sensually pleasing may be clean and pure.
That’s how sick our society has become in just one area: sex. And the magazines, the newspapers, movies and radio — all reflected this attitude throughout the past generation — to say nothing of what we managed to project as a national philosophy of life over those 20 years — the Thirties and Forties — with an overemphasis on security, conformity, a downgrading of education and intellect, and a near deification of the Common Man and a great many all-too-common concepts and ideas. No wonder, then, that with the troubled stirrings and awakening that came with the new generation, after World War II, there was a tremendous waiting audience for a magazine that spoke with a new voice with which the generation could identify.
Naturally, Playboy includes sex as one of the ingredients in its total entertainment and service package for the young urban male. And far from proving that we suffer from a split editorial personality, it shows that we understand our reader and the things that interest him.
When the older magazines offer sex to their readers, it is usually in association with sickness, sin or sensationalism. In Playboy, sex is offered in the form of pretty girls and humor. One approach emphasizes the negative side of sex and the other, the positive. It seems obvious to us which approach is the healthy, the natural and the right one.
If Playboy’s approach to sex is sound, then perhaps we are guilty of simply placing too much emphasis on it. We don’t think so, however. Most of the other major magazines in America are produced with the same point of view as the typical television program — they’re aimed at an entire household, at everyone and no one. Playboy, by contrast, is edited solely for the young urban male, who naturally has a little more interest in sex and pretty girls than does a general or family audience. We try to edit Playboy with the adult directness of a good foreign film, the spice and fun of a Broadway show.
Actually, the monthly “conversation” that we hold with our readers is similar to one men have always had among themselves — in both content and emphasis — and have not been noticeably corrupted by. In fact, if the secret psyche of the typical young adult male could be probed, we suspect that we probably err in the direction of less emphasis on sex than the average, rather than more. What the very existence of Playboy means is that there is a publication in which young men’s attitudes towards life and love can be publicly aired. And a perusal of any average issue will assure the concerned, we think, that there isn’t nearly the preoccupation with sex in Playboy that one might assume by listening to the typical critic. The critic can find nothing in the magazine but the Playmate, the Party Jokes and cartoons; our readers, on the other hand, manage to also find the stories, articles, service features, reviews and all the rest of the total package that make Playboy so popular. One gets the feeling, in fact, that some of Playboy’s critics are far more fascinated with the subject of sex, and spend far more time discussing it, than Playboy.
If sex were the principal reason for Playboy’s popularity, of course, then the magazine’s several dozen imitators — almost all of which are far sexier than we — would be the ones with the larger circulations. But not one of them has a sale of more than three or four hundred thousand; Playboy has a larger circulation than the top half-dozen imitators combined. Incidentally, the feature that produces the greatest reader response in Playboy each issue — month in, month out — isn’t the Playmate, it’s our articles on male fashion.
In truth, the vociferous critic of Playboy is apt to reveal more about himself than about our magazine. There is something wrong with an adult who is embarrassed by pictures of pretty girls and who becomes extremely agitated when sex is treated with anything but solemnity. They are frequently people who have more than their share of morbid curiosity about the reams of newsprint devoted in the daily press to stories in which there is a close association between sex and sin, vice, crime, violence and the expos.
During our first year of publication, we had a Chicago police censor point to a full color illustration of a story by Erskine Caldwell and inform us that it was objectionable, because the man in the loose fitting overalls, sprawled out on the front steps of a wooden shack, had an erection. It was an erection that existed entirely in the mind of the police censor. The artist had drawn wrinkles in the overalls, but the diligent had found an erection there.
Here’s a more recent example of the same sort of subjective criticism of content: Most of the comment quoted at the beginning of this editorial was concerned with concept and we will get to that in the second half of this statement of Playboy’s philosophy. The most critical of the group was Professor Benjamin DeMott, however, and he concerned himself with both concept and content in his article, “The Anatomy of Playboy,” accusing us in his final paragraph — along with other “girlie books” — of having been born of “stinking seed.” A colorful writer, this professor. Now let’s see how accurate he is. Our Party Jokes page is enlivened each month with whimsical sketches of a tiny female nymph we affectionately call Femlin. In the May 1962 issue, the first sketch shows the little imp watching a man shave with an electric razor; in the second sketch, the Femlin playfully tugs at the razor’s cord, trying to pull free from the wall socket; in the last drawing, the razor has stopped running and the man is scowling down at his Femlin, while she hides the plug behind her back and smiles impudently over her shoulder at us. That’s the way celebrated artist LeRoy Neiman thought he’d drawn his May Femlin illustrations. Now let Professor DeMott describe this very same scene, as he did in his Commentary article: “The white space on a page of a recent Playboy was dressed with three sketches of a man shaving with an electric razor, in the company of Miss Buxom clad in black stockings and gloves. In the first panel the girl studies the wall plug to which the razor is attached; the second shows her pulling the plug from the wall — the man still shaves, owing to the current she generates; in the third, the girl holds the razor cord in her hands and smiles down approvingly as the man touches the buzzing machine to her pleased nipple.”
The professor obviously lives in a far more sensual world than we do, for he apparently sees sexual activity all around him, where none existed. He was able to supply an entire secondary story line of his own to the illustrations, even though the drawings themselves made his conclusions impossible. In the second sketch, where he has decided the Femlin is generating electric current to run the razor, the razor is still running, because the plug (clearly shown in the drawing) is not yet fully removed from the wall socket; in the last sketch, where the professor describes the Femlin smiling down approvingly “as the man touches the buzzing machine to her pleased nipple,” the plug is now out of the wall and the razor is no longer running. In none of the sketches is the Femlin touching the exposed end of the plug (she is always holding the insulated cord), permitting not the slightest possibility for the professor’s interpretation. And lastly, the head of the razor is not pointed in the direction of the Femlin and is not even touching the Femlin’s breast. Professor DeMott used this descriptive scene to help prove the extreme sexual nature of Playboy and the illusion he says we try to create, that all women are oversexed or, as he rather crudely puts it, “wild wild wild to be snatch.”
What do you say about a critic whose sexual fantasies include the application of electric razors to girl’s nipples(?!) and who not only builds such a fantasy without material help from the source (like the joke about the man who saw sexual scenes in every Rorschach inkblot and, after the test, asked the psychiatrist if he could borrow the “dirty pictures” for a party he was having that weekend), but who actually manages to ignore all details in the drawings that make his interpretation of them quite impossible? It may be reasonable to suggest that the “stinking seeds” the good professor finds in Playboy are actually growing in his mind rather than on our pages.
Playboy has become an increasingly popular topic of conversation over the last year or two, and comment on our success has often included discussion and debate on our doctrine and our editorial point of view — in the popular press and various journals of opinion, as well as around the office water cooler, at fraternity bull sessions, at cocktail parties, club gatherings and wherever else urban men and women exchange ideas. Having heard so many others explain what Playboy is all about, we’ve decided it’s time to speak out ourself on what we believe in, and what we feel Playboy represents in present-day society, permitting ourself a few personal asides on society itself along the way.
Last month we offered some opening observations on Playboy’s critics and pointed out that negative comment on the magazine actually takes two very different forms: There are some who criticize Playboy for its content — certain specific features of which they do not approve; while others object to the publication’s concept — the overall editorial viewpoint expressed in the magazine each month.
The critics of content are the easiest to answer. Few would quarrel with the overall excellence of the magazine’s fiction and articles (a list of writers like the ones contributing to this issue speaks for itself) and Playboy has received more honors, awards and certificates of merit for its art, photography, printing and design, during the last half-dozen years, than almost any other magazine in America. The criticism of content is soon seen to be largely a matter of sex, and primarily pictorial sex, at that. For some few, a photograph of the female figure — no matter how attractively posed — is embarrassing, objectionable and even downright sinful. In fact, one sometimes gets the feeling that the more attractively posed — and therefore appealing — the female is, the more objectionable and sinful she becomes to the critical. In order to react in this way, of course, one must believe that sex itself is objectionable and sinful — especially as typified by a beautiful woman. Fortunately only a twisted few are able to fully accept such a negative view of God’s handiwork, but the witch-burning Puritanism, which associated the Devil with all things of the flesh, and which formed a part of our early religious heritage in America, has left its mark on many more. And so the prude, the prig, the censor and the bluenose have a ready band of followers willing to bowdlerize the world’s greatest literature; destroy the too-suggestive art and sculpture; clip, cut and mutilate the cinema; determine — not just for themselves, but for their neighbors as well — what can and cannot be shown on television, what magazines and newspapers can and cannot print, what plays the theater can and cannot present; burning, destroying, defacing, purging, purifying — all in the name of Him who was the Creator of all these things in the beginning. And if they could find some means or manner by which they might burn from the memory of man every sensual delight, every yearning of the flesh, every God-given pleasure of the body, we have no doubt that some would seize the opportunity with much zeal and joy. This, we suggest, is man at his most masochistic — man at his self-destructive ultimate. For here man tries to destroy not simply the body, but the very mind of all humankind. If a person can look at the picture of a beautiful woman and find ugliness there, and obscenity, then it can only be that he carries that ugliness and obscenity within himself. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is its opposite.
The Criticism of Concept
The critics of Playboy’s editorial concept are not so easily answered. Sex plays a part in their attitudes, too, of course, but it is a more sophisticated and complex criticism, as when Harvey Cox, in writing Playboy’s Doctrine of Male for the “Christian Journal of Opinion,” Christianity and Crisis, describes Playboy as “basically antisexual.” And the magazine’s attitude toward the male-female relationship in our society is coupled with what some critics feel is Playboy’s overemphasis on the superficial and material things of life.
According to John A. Crane, minister of a Unitarian Church in Santa Barbara, California, who devoted an entire sermon to “Philosophy and Phantasy in Playboy Magazine and What This Suggests About Us”: Playboy presents “a new image of the ideal man…. [He] is, above all, a skilled consumer of the bountiful flow of goods and services produced by our economy of abundance. He is a man of discriminating taste, style and polish. He knows how to spend money with flair. He is a skilled and sophisticated lover, who knows how to avoid anything resembling a permanent attachment with his paramours.
“Not only does Playboy create a new image of the ideal man, it also creates a slick little universe all its own…. It is a universe for rather elegant and refined consumers, and girls are the grandest of all consumer goods. A girl is something, like a sports car or a bottle of scotch or an Ivy League suit, that is meant to be used and enjoyed by men. But always with flair, with polish. There need be no entangling, no stifling alliances or obligations. Girls are playthings, and once enjoyed will have to be set aside and replaced with others new and fresh.”
On the same note, Harvey Cox describes women as a “Playboy accessory.” “After all,” he writes, “the most famous feature of the magazine is its monthly foldout photo of a playmate. She is the symbol par excellence of recreational sex. When playtime is over, the playmate’s function ceases, so she must be made to understand the rules of the game. As the crewcut young man in a Playboy cartoon says to the rumpled and disarrayed girl he is passionately embracing, ‘Why speak of love at a time like this?'”
And suggesting just how far apart the critics of Playboy’s content and concept may sometimes be, Cox continues: “Moralistic criticisms of Playboy fail because its antimoralism is one of the few places in which Playboy is right…. Thus any theological critique of Playboy that focuses on its ‘lewdness’ will misfire completely. Playboy and its less successful imitators are not ‘sex magazines’ at all. They are basically antisexual. They dilute and dissipate authentic sexuality by reducing it to an accessory, by keeping it at a safe distance.” Cox concludes with: “We must see in Playboy the latest and slickest episode in man’s continuing refusal to be fully human.”
What is Playboy’s answer to these critics of its concept? There would seem to be some truth in what they say, even if we do not agree with their conclusions. How is it possible to both agree and disagree with these critics — accepting some of their evidence, while rejecting their interpretation of it? Part of the answer lies in their incomplete understanding of what Playboy really represents and believes in. Another part of the answer is clearly rooted in a fundamental difference of opinion about life, and the world in which we live, that we would like to explore at some length. But the best way to begin, we think, is through an explanation of just how Playboy was initially conceived and why we feel it has enjoyed such success in a time when many other, older, well-established magazines have floundered and failed. And in fully understanding the Playboy phenomenon, one may also gain greater insight into this entire generation and how it has grown out of the social and economic revolution that has taken place in America over the last 60 years.
The Uncommon Man
Within the threescore years of this century, the American personality has undergone as drastic and dramatic a change as the country itself. The first 30 years of the 20th century were characterized by our unbounded faith in ourselves, both individually and as a nation. We were enjoying the results of the industrial revolution, and if the streets were not literally paved with gold, it was only a technicality. It was a time of confidence and enthusiasm; it was a crazy, romantic, wonderful time, when most men believed they could lift themselves by their own bootstraps, even if they didn’t yet own a pair of boots. Boys hungrily consumed the books of Horatio Alger (he wrote 119, or, as one critic put it, “one book, rewritten 118 times,” that sold an almost unbelievable 250 million copies) with titles like Sink or Swim, Strive and Succeed, Do or Dare, Fame and Fortune. They told a youngster that success, yes, and fame and fortune, too, could be his — no matter how humble his beginning — if he was industrious, honest and had faith in himself, his God and his country. Nothing was impossible. Any boy could grow up to be President of the U.S., or of U.S. Steel.
The United States was the golden land of opportunity and freedom — for its own people and for the rest of the world as well. America’s promise was spelled out in the words inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
These were the years of the Uncommon Man — when uncommon ambition and deeds were the rule rather than the exception. These were the years of the great national heroes, both fictional and real. Before World War I, every young man’s idol was Frank Merriwell, whose exploits in Frank Merriwell at Yale, Frank Merriwell’s Dilemma and The Winning Last Quarter-Mile proved the importance of pluck, perseverance, honor and playing the game according to the rules. Merriwell was the ultimate in the Uncommon Man — he was, as his creator Burt L. Standish modestly informed us in adventure after adventure, the greatest student and athlete that Yale has ever known. The so-called Golden Era of Sports was actually lees that than a period in which important sports figures (and, indeed, anyone who excelled at almost anything) were acclaimed national heroes. It was a time when an entire country could get as cockeyed excited as a kid over a young man’s climbing into a single-motor airplane and flying across the Atlantic alone.
The era reached its apex in the decade now fondly remembered as the Roaring Twenties. After the Great War, a new sophistication and cynicism spread across the land, but the Twenties were a good deal more than Sheiks and Shebas, bathtub gin and the Charleston. It was a yeasty time, a time of innovation and adventure, when new notions and ideas were accepted almost as quickly as they were born — a period of important growth in science and the arts. It ended with the stock market crash late in 1929.
The Common Man
The ten years of bleak Depression that followed the Roaring Twenties came as a brutal and sustained shock to the national psyche. Some saw in it a terrible retribution for the years before — a sort of protracted hangover from an economic binge. It was nothing of the sort, of course, but the generation which came to mature during the Depression suffered just the same.
During the Thirties, worse things than hunger afflicted us. It is difficult — nay, almost impossible — to hold onto one’s optimism, individuality and spirit of adventure when you cannot earn enough to support your family. Intellectual achievement and education lose much of their prestige and appeal when a diploma offers no assurance of a job after graduation, and when the great majority cannot afford higher education in any case. Nor is a man apt to feel particularly competitive in a society that offers him almost no opportunity to compete.
In place of individual initiative, an emphasis on accomplishment and educational attainment, a faith in self and in our economic system, a curiosity about the new and different, Americans became increasingly concerned with security, the safe and the sure, the certain and the known.
Instead of helping the people to sort out their ideas and ideals during this time of uncertainty and confusion, a great many newspapers, magazines and movies actually pandered to the public’s already growing prejudices. If it was especially difficult to get ahead during the Depression, then the popular press was perfectly willing to persuade people that what they already had was plenty good enough. After all, why make a man quest after things he could probably never achieve? If his aspirations were much beyond his hopes of fulfilling them, he would only become frustrated and unhappy. So the newspapers, magazines, movies and radio, too, set about making Americans satisfied with their lot, complacent about the status quo. Some might argue that if you curbed the nation’s initiative, it could cause incalculable damage, but that was an abstract philosophical idea and the problems of the time were the only reality.
This satisfied, complacent, relatively initiative-free social order was achieved in several ways: First, the mass media made the wealthy appear to be as shallow, ignorant, foolish and unappealing as possible. Admittedly, making wealth itself unattractive would really take some doing, but the press and films did a damned impressive job of the next best thing. The Sunday magazine section of the Hearst papers of the Thirties had a fine old time convincing us that most all of society (the socially prominent) and the financially well to do were either scoundrels or scandalous empty-headed nincompoops, or both.
The wealthy, as depicted in the mass media, almost always accumulated their money (“ill-gotten gains”?) in some underhanded or slightly suspect way. Or else it was inherited. And in either case, it was clearly undeserved and unearned. There just wasn’t very much interest in publishing stories of self-made men, who prospered, like the heroes of Alger and Standish at the start of the century, through the application of pluck, perseverance and honest hard work. A catchy label is always helpful in more clearly establishing a desired identity for any group, and the press came up with a fine one: “The Idle Rich.”
In the films, the rich girl-poor boy romance, or vice versa, was extremely popular all through the Thirties, as we became tremendously class conscious in this supposedly classless country. And invariably the wealthy half of the pair, and his or her family, turned out to be the less thoughtful, practical, considerate and nice. Poverty, you see, brings out the best in a person.
Rich young men were played by rather foppish, foolish, weakling types like Robert Montgomery, while the poor heroes were portrayed by more solid, feet-on-the-ground fellows like Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda. Tracy won his first Academy Award of the Thirties for straightening out a rich man’s spoiled youngster (Freddie Bartholomew) in Captains Courageous; Gable got his Oscar for straightening out a rich man’s spoiled daughter (Claudette Colbert) in It Happened One Night. Gary Cooper fought the good fight for the little man, against the forces of evil wealth and power, in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (by inheriting a few million himself and throwing the Haves into an absolute panic with plans for spreading the wealth around to a number of Have-Nots, and winding up in a sanity hearing for his trouble) and again in Meet John Doe (by threatening to jump off the top of a building, when evil Mr. Moneybags, played by Edward Arnold, became too much for him). Having apparently learned nothing from Coop’s chilling experience (it was a subzero December night when he climbed out on that roof to jump), Jimmy Stewart took on the same all-powerful adversary in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (in both pictures dirty Arnold was trying to use his millions to buy his way into the White House, but in this one he even had his own SS-like motorcycle police corps).
A typical example of a romantic movie made during the Depression (and there are dozens upon dozens to choose from) was something called Holiday, starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and a pre-Dr. Kildare Lew Ayres. Cary played a handsome, unassuming, high-principled, philosophical pauper, who fell in love with a beautiful, self-centered, cold-as-ice rich girl, played by we’ve know idea who. Lew Ayres portrayed the wealthy, foppish, foolish, weakling brother, who might have turned out as well as Cary, we soon realized, if only he hadn’t been born rich. As it is, he’s an alcoholic. What else?
The wealthy father was a domineering egomaniac, who kept his children under his thumb, or tried to. (Edward Arnold was apparently busy elsewhere when they made this one, because the tyrannical old man was ably played by someone else, whose name we also don’t recall.) Katy played a second daughter who, by some unexplained miracle, had managed to escape the evil taint of Daddy’s moola.
The conflict in the film develops over Daddy’s insistence that he will consent to the marriage only if Cary agrees to come to work for him as a vice president in one of his corporations. Miss Rich-bitch sides with Daddy, of course, but Cary realizes that if he consents, he will surely be corrupted and destroyed, no doubt winding up like the wealthy, foppish, foolish, weakling Lew Ayres, or worse. And he doesn’t even care for a cocktail before dinner.
At this point, it would be legitimately argued that this movie is less concerned with a conflict between the virtues of acquiring or not acquiring money than with the more basic question of whether a man should give up his individuality, independence and integrity in exchange for a soft, secure and purposeless life. Obviously, the only thing for Cary to do is to tell the old man to shove it, which is exactly what he does. But here’s the rub — and this is what makes this particular picture an especially interesting example of the philosophical content of Depression-day film fare. Why did Cary turn down the old man’s offer? (And it should be mentioned, he thought long and hard before finally deciding to turn it down at picture’s end.) Exactly what was Cary weighing this executive position in Daddy’s firm against? Did he have a plan for going into business for himself? Did he prefer to work his way up in another company of his own choosing? Did he have the driving urge to become a doctor — to heal, to save lives, to get an
M.D. movie series of his own going before Lew Ayres sobered up and latched onto the Dr. Kildare gimmick at Depression’s end? Maybe he wanted to build bridges or skyscrapers? Or would he heed the call of politics and help Junior Senator Jimmy Stewart take care of power-mad Edward Arnold? Forget it. Cary had worked just long enough to save up enough money to buy a small boat. He was in his middle 20s and he figured that work could wait for at least 12 years. He planned on bumming around the world in his boat for the next dozen annums. Honest. That’s it. And that’s exactly where he was headed at picture’s end. Naturally, Katherine Hepburn knew a good thing when she saw it, so when her sister bowed out, she tagged right along after Cary — leaving the purposeless life with the wealthy family for a purposeless life with a boat bum. No doubt she made the best decision under the circumstances (boat bum or not, Cary Grant is still Cary Grant), but one can’t help wondering why the makers of this movie, like many of their brethren during the Depression, felt obliged to preach a philosophy that said, in essence, the best thing in life is sitting on your ass. Actually, we don’t wonder at all. Since a major part of the country was forced to do a little more than sit on its ass through much of the Depression, it was just good box office to give them movies that said that loafing and doing nothing with your life is really desirable. Why, look, Cary Grant is doing it by choice — he’s passing up several million dollars and marriage to Rich-bitch, who the movie would have us believe he loved — right up until the last couple of scenes anyway — and all so he could loaf. The public liked that sort of soothing syrup, and so the movies gave it to them, and so did the magazines, and the newspapers and radio.
A majority of the movies made during the Thirties were musicals, comedies and other forms of escape entertainment exploiting the public’s desire to avoid the realities of the times. And when a realistic film was made, it usually was depressingly downbeat. No point in being overly optimistic about this world in which we struggle to survive.
Initiative, ambition and the accumulation of wealth were not the only virtues made light of or actually ridiculed during the Depression. Education, intellectual achievement, science and the arts took their knocks, as well. By Depression’s end, the press had even come up with a suitably negative label for excessive intellectualism and academic accomplishment: “Egghead.” In place of Picasso, we were given Norman Rockwell and in place of literature, the Reader’s Digest.
No general truth is without its exceptions and no time is without its virtues. The Thirties did witness the positive emergence of greater concern for one’s fellow man and the immense strides made in the labor movement, but even these worthwhile accomplishments had their negative aspects, for they further de-emphasized the individual in favor of the group. And concern for the collective many is not always the same as concern for each and every separate member of society taken as the single person, with his individual hopes and dreams, desires and aspirations.
Legitimate interest in the welfare of the average man became subtly transformed into an idealization of the average man. To be an average guy, a part of a group, one of the gang became a pretty good thing to be. “Mr. Average Man” was someone with whom everyone could identify, and who wouldn’t be proud to be considered “Mr. Average American”? But just a generation before, no American worth the name would have settled for the notion of being an “average” anything. His aspirations were a good deal higher than that. For there is something far better than being just average, and if most of us aren’t aiming for that something better, then the very average itself will drop lower and lower, along with our aspirations.
During the Depression, concern for the Common Man turned into deification of the Common Man, and of common ideas and common taste. Who needed an education? Wasn’t common sense what really counted? There was no room in the Thirties for the uncommon act, the uncommon accomplishment, the uncommon mind or the Uncommon Man.
There are very few great heroes in Thirties, where there had been many in the Twenties and before. (The single notable exception was F.D.R., who existed less as a hero during this time of trouble than as a truly national Father Figure.) And the temper of the times may be most clearly appreciated when we consider that during the Depression, and thereafter, we not only failed to recognize and acclaim the Uncommon Men we’d most acclaimed a decade earlier.
Charles Lindbergh was the greatest single hero of the Twenties. He had gained an even greater hold on America’s heart in the early Thirties through the tragic loss of a child in a world-famous kidnap-murder. But when he returned from a visit to Germany late in the decade and expressed the unpopular view that we should avoid a war with that nation, because her armed might would prove too much for us, his ideas were not considered the honest, if inaccurate, opinions of a sincere and patriotic American, they were damned as being little short on treason. The Lindbergh Beacon, atop the Palmolive Building in Chicago, was promptly renamed and the “Lone Eagle” was really alone from that time on. The public never forgave him. But was it a single unpopular opinion they were unwilling to forgive, or the fact that he’d been an uncommon hero to them in the first place?
Charles Chaplin is unquestionably the greatest comedian the world has ever known. He was beloved all through the Twenties, not only in America, but everywhere. He made some of his most delightful feature-length films in the Thirties, but the U.S. began to cool toward the little tramp. They didn’t like Chaplin’s politics. Born and raised in London’s slums, he’d always been a bit left-of-center politically, but he was certainly no active Communist, as some suggested. The public didn’t care much for his personal life either. The U.S. government actually brought criminal charges against him for violating the Mann Act, because he transported a woman, with whom he was having an affair, from one state into another — a “crime” that, in these days of more easily accessible and less expensive transportation, probably over half the adult male population of this country has committed. And despite the fact that the Mann Act was passed to cover white slavery, as clearly stated in the law, and the “immoral purposes” referred to therein, in connection with transporting females over state boundaries, is prostitution. Chaplin was acquitted.
The spurned female, who had helped the government with that case, then filed a paternity suit against Chaplin, claiming him the father of her illegitimate child. He lost that case, despite the fact that blood tests proved conclusively that the child could not possibly be his. Neither the public nor the press ever forgave Chaplin for these breaches in good conduct. Yet Errol Flynn, who was involved in maternity and rape suits at about the same time, was secretly admired by most and generally considered to be a lovable scalawag. Charles Beaumont, in his article, Chaplin, published in Playboy (March 1960), commented on this paradox: “Flynn, even when he was consorting with girls young enough to be his granddaughters, could do no wrong. Chaplin could do no right.” And Beaumont also suggested a possible reason for this double standard: “Perhaps because he [Flynn] did not add to these [his affairs] the affront of genius.”
One of the greatest actors of our time, and as much responsible for the early worldwide popularity of movies as any other human being, Charles Chaplin was never given an Academy Award. His last two pictures to be released in the United States (Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight) were generally panned here and did poorly at the box office, although they both won praise and prizes in Europe. Badgered by the public, press and the U.S. government (the then Attorney General of the United States, James P. McGranery, called him an “unsavory character” and ordered Immigration authorities to hold a hearing to determine whether Chaplin was an undesirable alien), he was English and had never taken out citizenship papers, an “affront” for which America would never forgive him, Chaplin finally chose exile in Switzerland in 1945.
We feared that the memory of Charlie’s genius was fading, for almost nothing complimentary had been written about him in any large-circulation magazine in the previous half-dozen years, so we asked Charles Beaumont to write an article on Charlie, the talent, as distinguished from Chaplin, the man.
Beaumont’s article began: “High on the list of America’s pet hates is a man who, over a 30-year period, gave this nation — and every other nation throughout the world — a gift valuable beyond price and beyond estimation the most desirable and most difficult to receive: the imperishable gift of joy.”
Beaumont continued: “An anti-Chaplin campaign was begun, calculated by its emphases and omissions to present a single image of Chaplin, so hateful an image that some European critics concluded that it was a classic admission of guilty conscience….
“Not content to destroy the man, the columnists proceeded to attack the man’s work. Learned students of the cinema, such as Hedda Hopper, began to have second thoughts about the “so-called Chaplin masterpieces.” Were they really as funny as they were cracked up to be?
“Only a few months ago, a logorrheic Hollywood TV personality was asked why he persisted in slamming Chaplin. ‘I’ll tell you,’ said the personality. ‘I’ve got nothing against the guy personally. What he does is his own business. I’m sick of hearing all this stuff about what a great comic he was. You see one of his pictures recently? They’re pathetic. Stupid. What’s funny about a little schmo who looks like Hitler and acts like a queer? I’ll tell you a great comic. Joey Frisco. There’s a great comic….’
“So now even Charlie — as distinct from Chaplin — is under attack. It would be comforting to think the Little Fellow isn’t in danger, that nothing so magnificent could possibly perish, but other magnificent things have perished, and at the hands of men. Why not Charlie too? Film doesn’t last forever, and memory fades. And though we speak of a wonder that held the world enchanted for three generations, the wonder has demonstrably begun to dim. The young in America today do not know Charlie at all, except as the monster the press has built, and that is sad. Unless they live in the few great cities of the nation [in which some few Chaplin films are still shown], they don’t know Charlie, either. And that is tragic. For the artist and his art, separable as they may and must be, are of vital importance to the cultural and moral development of America. If we allow ourselves to forget what we had, then we shall never understand what we lost, and that will make us poor indeed.
“‘I have a notion that he suffers from a nostalgia of the slums.’ So wrote Somerset Maugham of his friend Charles Spencer Chaplin, touching upon one of the great secrets of Chaplin’s art. From the beginning it has been a celebration and a mockery of the earth’s poor. Celebration because while we breathe, even in the dankest air of the lowest slum, we live, and life is sacred; mockery because in Chaplin’s words, ‘The poor deserve to be mocked! What fools they are!’ What holy fools, he should have added, for that must be the final description of his masterpiece, Charlie.
“…Dispensing love, he received love in return; and his fame grew, like a vast silvery balloon.
“That this must have its effect upon a man is, or should be, self-evident. Chaplin the man had always been withdrawn. The sudden overwhelming popularity caused him to withdraw further. People did not understand. They did not understand that Chaplin’s way of repaying them for their love was to give them the best of him, through Charlie, and that having put into Charlie all that was wild and sweet in him, there was little left over.
“But people have a way of resenting great artists. A man may travel to the searing center of his soul and come out with a new vision, and the world will ask him why he hasn’t changed his shirt.
“This is what the world — our American world — began to ask Chaplin. Over a 20-year period, working 20 hours a day, making the finest films anyone had ever seen, distilling his genius to its greatest perfection…. And people laughed, but they did not forgive. For while Chaplin was dishing up these delights, he was living a life described by columnists as ‘unnormal.’
“To ask an artist to please everyone with his life as well as his art is both stupid and unfair. Even if all of the charges against Chaplin were true, America’s attitude would be difficult to understand. As the charges are almost entirely false, the attitude is inexplicable.” Beaumont concluded: “It is for these reasons, for his occasional weaknesses as a person and for his incredible strengths as an artist, that Charles Chaplin became one of the most despised men in America. Now, in Vevey, Switzerland, he lives quietly with his wife and seven children — one of whom this remarkable man sired only recently, despite the fact that he is in his 70s. Because he is in his 70s, Chaplin will, before long, die. And then, because his legend has been all but destroyed, he will probably be forgotten, as most men are.
“But what Chaplin created we must not allow to be forgotten: Charlie the fool. Charlie the clown. Charlie, the spirit of Man, walking with a goatlike skip in his oversize shoes and a hitch of his baggy pants — bewildered, but unafraid — into the unknown. Charlie, the best of us.”
A bit later, near the end of his editorial, we plan to list a number of specifics in which Playboy believes. You may put one down now, ahead of time: We believe wholeheartedly in the Uncommon Man and his right to be uncommon. There is perhaps no single belief that is more important to us. It is in man’s God-given differences, more than his similarities, that we find the very best of him. And our America was founded on the unique understanding that through man’s differences, and the fullest protection of their free expression, we might create the most perfect society yet conceived.
Playboy has never done much direct editorializing — this present piece is a rare exception — but regular readers have come to know the things we believe in through the subjects we choose to write about and what we choose to say about them. One of the things we believe in is the Uncommon Man, and the magazine has included articles on the Uncommon Men from its earliest issues — Chaplin, Frank Lloyd Wright, Hemingway, Charlie Parker, Stirling Moss. We’ve commented upon their uncommon natures and expounded their uncommon philosophies.
We have never been big on quotations or precepts, but we have two that we took for ourself in our early teens and they’ve formed a pair of guiding principles by which we’ve tried to shape our own life.
The first: “This above all, to thine own self be true, and thou canst not then be false to any man.”
The second: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for.”
Our article on Chaplin produced more warm compliments and comment from readers than any other personality profile we have ever published: George Jessel wired, “THE PIECE ABOUT CHARLIE CHAPLIN WRITTEN BY CHARLES BEAUMONT IS THE MOST SENSITIVE AND TOLERANT PORTRAIT OF A MAN THAT I HAVE EVER READ, WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF BERTRAND RUSSELL ON TOM PAYNE.” Hollis Alpert wrote, “…a wise, balanced and warm description of the artist and his career. About time, too, before his legend and reputation suffer completely from his vituperative, ignorant detractors. Congratulations on Playboy’s judgment and courage in publishing the article.” Paul DeWitt, “…An essay worthy of the highest praise. An eloquent tribute to one of the most misunderstood men of our time.” Dore Schary, “The Chaplin article written by Charles Beaumont is a good piece; a warm and sympathetic recounting of a tragedy.” Charles B. Yulish, “The ‘protective’ picketing of Chaplin films will no doubt continue, as well as Philistine panning of his genius. I am truly sorry for those who participate in such. I am more sorry, however, for the millions who will never share the experience of crying during the ending of City Lights, or roaring at Chaplin’s comic mastery in Limelight.” Herman G. Weinberg, “Bravo! I refer to that Chaplin piece by Beaumont. It needed to be said and I’m glad it was Playboy who said it.”
These letters appeared in our July 1960 letters column. We had also recently published an article on the Academy Awards (The Oscar Syndrome, April 1960) by Dalton Trumbo, a man unusually well-qualified to write on the subject since he is one of Hollywood’s finest screenwriters and had only recently won an Oscar himself, pseudonymously, for scripting The Brave One as “Robert Rich,” because he had been blacklisted in Hollywood and could not write there using his own name. His article was personal, provocative and stimulating of thought. We published it before he succeeded in breaking through the blacklist barrier, so his thoughts were all the more vitriolic and searing. A few months later, his own name appeared on a screen credit, for the first time in 12 years — first on Spartacus and then Exodus. We had also made the serious error of inviting Larry Adler to perform on our television show, Playboy’s Penthouse. Our only excuse, and we must admit it’s a slim one, was because Adler is the virtuoso on the harmonica, the man responsible for getting the mouth organ accepted as a musical instrument instead of a toy, and we felt our viewers would find him entertaining. We had no idea that Adler, too, was on somebody’s little black list, but he was. And we think it is only fair to add that if we had known he was on somebody’s little black list, it wouldn’t have mattered a bit.
Nevertheless, the profile on Chaplin, the article by Trumbo and the TV appearance of Adler were enough to prompt a few letters of quite a different sort, and we published those too, in July 1960: A.C. Cohn wrote, “Chaplin in you magazine, Larry Adler on your TV show. You are becoming a stink in the nostrils of the American people.” T.F. Hanson asked, “What’s the matter with Playboy? Is it beginning to follow the Communist party line?” And R.E. Chasen wrote, “Please cancel my subscription at once. First, the hearts-and-flowers for Chaplin, then Dalton Trumbo. As an ex-FBI agent, it becomes impossible to continue.”
All this sound and fury (the ratio ranges nearly 30-to-1 in favor of the Chaplin and Trumbo articles) gave us one of our rare opportunities to spell out (in an answer in the letters column) a portion of Playboy’s philosophy: “Playboy sincerely believes that this nation is big enough, strong enough and right enough to give free expression to the ideas and talents of every man among us without fear of being hurt by any man’s individual weaknesses or follies. We believe, too, that no good idea, no important work of art and no meaningful talent becomes less good, less important or less meaningful because it comes from a doubtful source. You don’t have to be a homosexual to read Oscar Wilde or an alcoholic and a drug addict to appreciate the prose and poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. It is also possible to recognize the comic genius of Chaplin, read an article on the Academy Awards by Dalton Trumbo and enjoy the music of Larry Adler without necessarily approving of either the men or their personal philosophies of life. For the record, of course, none of these men has ever been proven a Communist — a matter of some importance in this country that prides itself on fair play and believing a man innocent until proven guilty. But that’s really beside the point — for we also appreciate Picasso as one of the world’s greatest living artists, and we know he’s a Communist. Politics may be important in government, where national security is a vital consideration, but it has no place in art and literature. Not if America’s art and literature, and indeed the country itself, are to remain free.”
We think it quite important to have a magazine of considerable circulation and influence establishing and re-establishing these basic concepts of freedom upon which our nation is built. If Playboy hadn’t spoken up in behalf of Chaplin in 1960, no one else would have. At any rate, no one else did — no other major magazine — either before or after. Chaplin wasn’t a very popular cause. But it’s important to voice opinions on unpopular causes, too, when there is something that deserves to be said.
Back in the Thirties, there was a certain hue and cry for social reform and some of it was good and some of it wasn’t, but almost no attention was given to the most important single item in a free society — the significance of the individual and his right to be different.
The Invisible Man
Whether the country would have recovered from the psychic depression as readily as it did from the economic depression will never be known: The Second World War ushered in a half decade demanding a high degree of rigid conformity. So Americans gave up willingly what individuality they had left, and gladly, in order to exert a total and unified effort in the defeat of the enemy. In the silence that followed the firing of the last shot and shell, a quiet searching out of the things that we had won (and lost) in the war might have been expected, but instead the shrill voices of extremists at both the far Left and Right shattered any hope of a peaceful time at war’s end. Americans became aware of the Communist threat from without and the demagogues among us used a fear of Communists within to trample human rights and individual liberty in a lusting after power. McCarthyism was born in America in the middle Forties. Congressional committees on un-American activities investigated and interrogated the common citizen, as well as our greatest scientists, our university faculties and our clergy; Americans demanded that other Americans sign loyalty oaths; the communications industry (movies, television and radio) drew up blacklists that permanently barred individuals suspected of politically improper views or affiliations; neighbor spied on neighbor; brother turned in brother. Anyone who had ever been a member of the Communist Party, for whatever reason (except as an agent for the FBI) and at whatever time, was a Red (completely ignoring the fact that many misguided but sincere and loyal Americans joined the Party in the Thirties when Communist Russia was not our enemy and in the Forties when she was actually our ally); anyone who presently belonged, or had ever belonged to any of a hundred different clubs, organizations or affiliations that appeared on any of several hundred different lists (made up by almost anyone who had some names available and a mimeograph machine) as pro-Communist, a Communist front, Communist influences, Communist infiltrated, or sympathetic with any Communist cause, was a Red; and anyone who objected to, and spoke out against, the injustice, defamation and persecution of these individuals was a “Pinko” or a “fellow traveler.” At no time in America’s history was the label-libel technique more frequently, or successfully, put to use. A real, 100-percent, red-white-and-true-blue American was judged not by what he stood for, but for what he stood against. If it was unwise to voice an unpopular point of view during the Depression and War, it was positively foolhardy once the War had been won, for it could cost a man his job and his good name. Conformity was the safest road; to be outstanding or outspoken was to be exposed; to be invisible was to be secure. We had created a nation of conforming, security-conscious, stay-in-line, group-oriented, nonthinking, unquestioning, responsibility-avoiding Invisible Men.
In 20 years of Depression, War and Post-War pressures, we had very nearly managed to destroy the fundamental spirit and social, economic and political beliefs upon which this nation was founded and through which we had prospered and grown.
The Upbeat Generation
Somewhere in America in the late Forties a significant counterwave first began to be felt: A new generation was coming of age that seemed unwilling to accept the current shibboleths, chains, traditions and taboos. It was none too soon, for America was lagging woefully in education, the arts, the sciences and world leadership. There were and are pessimists who believe the nation drifted past the point of no return. We are not among them.
A small portion of this new generation, a colorful fringe only, broke from the fetters of conformity in what has been called a revolution without banners. These were the so-called Beat Generation, modern-day nihilists for whom it was enough, apparently, to flout and defy. For their few number and their profound negativism, the Beats attracted an incredible amount of national attention. So much so, in fact, that the nation was distracted from a much more significant and larger segment of the new generation, a group less colorful on the surface (without the beards, berets and dirty underwear), but sharing the rebellious spirit of the Beats, and equally ready to throw off the shackles of sameness and security. Both groups refused to accept the old ideas and ideals passed along by the previous conformity-ridden generation, but whereas the Beat part of this new generation rejected the old in a negative way, simply turning their backs on society and ceasing to communicate, the rest searched for new answers and new opportunities in a spirit that was positive in the extreme. We’ve named these, appropriately we think, the Upbeat Generation. They are bringing the country alive again and they are, we’re certain, the only hope America has for the future.
Actually, the spirit and attitude of the Upbeats is right out of the first part of this century — it’s the same optimistic viewpoint and zest for living that made America great in the first place. In the Thirties and Forties we lost faith in ourselves, we hid our individual identities in groups, decisions were made by committees, companies were run by boards; today, a younger and less fearful generation seems willing to look the future straight in the face and spit in its eye. Life calls it the “Take-Over Generation” and they devoted an entire issue to the subject last fall. “Coming hard over the horizon,” Life wrote in its introduction to the issue, “just beginning to make his presence and his power felt, is a new breed of American. He is filled with purpose and he thinks on a scale that often scares his elders. He demands responsibility, not because he craves authority but because he can get the job done. He is, at this moment in history, starting to take over our destiny.
“…Younger men and women [are] pressing into authority: in government, in business, in science, in education and the arts. ‘The guy you give the job to is 23. The guy who tells him what to do is 25,’ says the 39-year-old boss of one of the biggest nuclear laboratories in the U.S. where all of the concepts as well as the people are brand-new. Even in older American establishments the take-over has started. In the big corporation, where the old desire for job security is giving way to a new insistence on job opportunity, the daring young idea man is finally starting to lay the Organization Man to rest.”
Life noted that the new generation was moving so fast that of the 1200 freshmen entering Harvard last September, over ten percent were well-enough prepared to be given the option of starting right off as sophomores. Life quotes young Dr. John Stuart Foster Jr., head of Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, as saying, “You can excel. You just can. There are very few things in this country that can’t be figured out. Most people are just too prone to laziness.” He has made his laboratory, located in Livermore, California, a place “where men have the ability to explore their own abilities.”
“If I went by the book, I couldn’t get a flight off the ground,” says Lewis B. Maytag Jr., 36-year-old president of National Airlines, whom Life describes as having “monumental impatience with anything that stands in his way when he wants to get something done. He has always been equally impatient with himself…. He resents what he considers a too helpful, too protective society. ‘Free enterprise,’ he says, ‘lets the cream top out. Suppress this, make everybody a common man, and society’s in trouble.’
“Nothing moves fast enough for Richard L. Dorman, Los Angeles architect and designer,” according to Life; Dick, winner of ten national awards, is co-architect and designer (along with Arthur Davis of New Orleans) of the Hollywood and San Francisco Playboy Clubs. “I want to change everything,” Life quotes him as saying, “my letterheads, my office, the decorations. I want to upgrade everything.”
After 20 years of stultifying conformity, a new generation has awakened America’s natural optimism, rebel spirit and belief in the importance of the individual. A certain enthusiasm, restless dissatisfaction with the status quo, a yearning to know more and experience more is typical of youth in any time, but America is unique as a country in having most successfully put this youthful vigor and attitude to work as a national dream. The dream got lost for a time — but the new generation, the Upbeat Generation, though it grew up through the Thirties and Forties, was relatively unaffected by the profound negativism of those two decades. Its members were too young to feel the hardship and humiliation of the Depression, and without the real fears and frustrations of the Thirties branded deep into their psyches, they were able to shake off the conformity of the War years and the threats of the Post-War period with relative ease.
The manner in which America finally rejected and struck down McCarthyism in the mid-Fifties should have proved the changing temper of the times. But there was other evidence of startling change available as early as the late Forties, for those who could read the signs: The new generation displayed the frisky and romantic side of its nature by starting a love affair with the Roaring Twenties — the decade it has come to most resemble in mood and attitude. It began with the resurrection of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author most associated with the Jazz Age: Fitzgerald had not been popular since before the Depression and when he died in 1940 every one of his books was out of print, but suddenly he was one of the most widely read and talked about writers of the day and his popularity, far from proving a fad, has continued undiminished over the last dozen years. Our women began wearing fashions adapted from those of the Twenties (the Chemise, the Sack) and some of the most popular styles were almost exact copies. We sang their popular songs; acclaimed their 25-year-old slapstick comedies the funniest thing to be seen in movies in our own generation; kept a slight British musical titled, The Boy Friend, running month after month after month on Broadway because it was an enchanting parody of the romantic musicals of the Twenties; made a brief national fad of the Jazz Age’s most famous piece of wearing apparel, the raccoon coat, a craze that was over almost as soon as it had begun, but not before Time was able to report that Macy’s was unable to keep enough in stock to handle the orders (we remember our reaction to that story in Time: an image of a dozen industrious ladies down in Macy’s basement — surrounded with piles of unsold Davy Crockett raccoon hats from stock — sewing them together into coats for the new fad). And some of us even tried to learn the Charleston, before the Twist got us by default. The Upbeat Generation clearly feels a strong kinship with the Roaring Twenties and the two periods share much in common in both spirit and point of view. The Upbeats can enjoy kicking up their heels, participating in the same sort of fun and frivolity for which the Twenties are most famous, but they are equally capable of knuckling down to a particular job and getting it done, as described by Life in its “Take-Over” issue. What some fail to realize (and this includes a number of Playboy critics) is the extent to which the lighter side of life truly complements the serious side: Either without the other would result in only half a man. The fellow who spends all of his time in leisure activities never knows the intense satisfaction that is to be had through real accomplishment; but the man who knows nothing but his work is equally incomplete. And because activity actually begets activity, the man who works hard, and plays hard too, will soon find that he is accomplishing more of both than if he had tried to concentrate all or most of his efforts in only one direction.
Playboy, of course, is primarily concerned with the lighter side of life, but we have always tried to view man and his world as the sum of all their parts and we believe that properly balanced all of the parts should fit together and complement one another.
One editorial emphasis is on entertainment and leisure-time activity rather than on the ways in which a man earns his daily bread and yet the articles, on the creature comforts and the infinite variety of man’s more elegant, leisure-time possessions, clearly stress that these are the prizes available in our society in return for honest endeavor and hard work. Thus Playboy exists, in part, as a motivation for men to expend greater effort in their work, develop their capabilities further and climb higher on the ladder of success. This is obviously desirable in our competitive, free enterprise system, for only by each individual striving to do his best does the country itself progress and prosper. The fact that a man is motivated by material possessions and comforts does not mean that he has no other interests and that he is not also motivated by other nonmaterial considerations. The acquisition of property — and in the Sixties property may mean a handsome bachelor pad, elaborate hi-fi rig and the latest sports car — is the cornerstone of our American economic system. And a publication that helps motivate a part of our society to work harder, to accomplish more, to earn more, in order to enjoy more of the material benefits described — to that extent, the publication is contributing to the economic growth and strength of the nation.
Religion and Free Enterprise
Americans actually suffer from a slight case of schizophrenia where money is concerned. Most of us would like to have a goodly supply of it on hand (preferably tax free), but we also refer to it as filthy lucre and the root of all evil. We believe in American free enterprise, but its natural benefits sometimes make us feel guilty. These mixed emotions are a reflection of a schism between our religious and our political, sociological and economic beliefs.
On the religious side, it is argued: Because we spend a relatively few years in this world and an eternity in the next, none of the things of this world really matter very much. Whatever we achieve and acquire on this earth is meaningless for, as some sage has observed: You can’t take it with you, not even by Air Express. The body of a man is soon dead and gone, but the soul lives on forever, so it would seem only right and natural to give the bodily comforts, desires and needs relatively short shrift. From this point of view, it’s easy to understand why Playboy’s editorial interest in fine food and drink, male fashion, cars, hi-fi, apartment design, and such would seem superficial and our concern with sex nothing short of sinful. (We plan on exploring the matter of sex in some detail, but prefer to tackle it separately a bit further on.)
Unitarian minister John A. Crane criticized this so-called superficiality in a sermon on the magazine: “Playboy teaches polished consumership for older children,” he said. And also: “The magazine presents, implicitly, a new image of the ideal man for its readers, the kind of man every modern, liberated, intelligent, red-blooded American boy may aspire to be. The ideal man is, above all, a skilled consumer of the bountiful flow of goods and services produced by our economy of abundance. He is a man of discriminating taste, style and polish. He knows how to spend money with flair.”
Harvey Cox had this commercial aspect of Playboy in mind when he called us “dictatorial taste-makers” in an article on the magazine in Christianity and Crisis and Reverend Roy Larson wrote, in Lowdown on the Upbeats for the Methodist publication Motive: “Playboy’s readers…need never make the mistake of serving YMCA-type foods, for the magazine has a food editor whose knowledge of foods is matched only by his knowledge of the psychology of the young urban male. My favorite food article appeared in one of the early issues under the title The Sophisticated Cheese. After extolling the virtues of what he called ‘certain urbane bacteria,’ the author went on to suggest that one can measure the degree of one’s maturity by one’s choice in cheese.
“More specifically, he said: ‘The best kinds of cheese are never eaten by youngsters. A growing boy will gobble down a Swiss cheese on rye at the corner drugstore, but he will consistently drown all the cheese flavor with a double-rich malted milk. After his graduation from college he’ll learn to appreciate a Welsh Rabbit, but he’ll not be able to tell the difference between French and Canadian Trappist until he reaches his late 30s.'”
If you are now weighing the full implications in this criticism of Playboy’s “polished consumership,” along with the church doctrine that lies behind it, you are about to make the rather disturbing discovery (or perhaps you’d already made it) that U.S. religion and free enterprise are, in certain respects, incompatible. The really basic beliefs in our religious life are intimately and inseparably entwined in our dream of a free democratic society, but certain of the old traditions and taboos, conceived in another world and another age, then passed down as a part of organized religion through the centuries, are as much in conflict with our present-day ideals in America as the Mormon belief in multiple wives was a few short years ago.
Perhaps the notions that poverty is holier than wealth, and the poor are more certain to receive eternal salvation than the rich, made some sense as religious preachment many centuries ago, when almost all men were paupers and certain to remain that way; they make very little sense in America today, however, where every man has an opportunity to better himself. Perhaps the solemn claim that the meek shall inherit the earth suited a time and place where nearly all men were slaves; but free men in a democracy have a right to be heard, have a right to disagree, have a right to be different and take pride in their differences.
If what many of us profess to believe religiously were actually applied to American social, political and economic life, we would have a system more nearly socialist than capitalist. Much of the dogma still remaining in today’s organized religion tends to de-emphasize competition and the importance of the individual; a sort of selfless interest in helping others, without doing anything to help oneself is stressed, with more attention often given to man’s inherent weaknesses than his strengths; accomplishments in this world are of relatively minor importance and physical comforts and pleasures are often frowned upon and sometimes thought to be sinful.
We’re applying 16th century religion to a 20th century world; a more sophisticated time requires a more sophisticated faith. There’s no logic in the belief that a man’s body, mind and soul are in conflict rather than harmony with one another, and the idea that man was placed upon this world, but not expected to accomplish anything while here, seems especially inane. In man’s success, and in his struggling for success, others benefit as well as he, himself; and civilization — and sometimes truth or beauty, as well — gets advanced another notch. If it were not for this, if man were not allowed to struggle and dream and accomplish wondrous things on his little planet, there would be no point to his existence here at all, and it would require a very strange and calloused God to play so pointless and cruel a joke on all mankind.
To some of us capitalism is almost a dirty word. It shouldn’t be. It’s time Americans stopped being embarrassed and almost ashamed of their form of government and their economy. It’s the best two-horse parlay in the world and perhaps if we were more fully sold on it ourselves, we could do a better job of selling it to other countries. It is certainly essential for us to clean out any areas of confusion in our thinking — like the free enterprise and religion conflict — so that we fully understand what it is we do believe in. Whole countries are often won to one side or the other with ideas these days. This is not a time to be vague or uncertain.
Maurice Stans, president of the nation’s largest bank holding corporation, and author of a nationally syndicated newspaper column on business and government, recently wrote: “What we have in American free enterprise is an almost perfect blending of the forces that motivate people. It combines equality of opportunity and freedom of choice with our dominant individual traits of acquisitiveness and competitiveness.”
If we were looking for additional evidence of the merits of the free enterprise system, we couldn’t ask for much more dramatic proof than East and West Berlin today. The contrast between the two halves of that once whole city — one rebuilding under a democratic free economy and the other under Communist socialism — says more than any business or financial expert ever could. And so do the East Berliners scrambling to escape over and under the hated wall that separates the two sectors.
There’s another bit of negative evidence here in the U.S. that deserves a comment, too. During the Depression of the Thirties, this country came as close to socialism as it ever has, with the government creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for the unemployed. During that period, the optimism, initiative and competitive spirit that supply a unique spark to our free enterprise system disappeared. As a result, this country literally stood still for ten long years and dragged its heels for another ten — not just economically, but in almost every area of activity. We’re feeling the effect of it now in the race for space. Russia used that generation to pull ahead of us in missile research and to shorten the gap between the two countries in many other areas. Where socialism has failed her — as it has in many areas — Russia has introduced various capitalistlike incentives. But one thing Russia has been unable to supply to its program is the spark that only a free society has. It can make the difference.
For today, in America, a new generation is taking over — with all the upbeat spirit, questing impatience and rebel derring-do that are needed to put the United States back in the position of unquestioned world leadership.
The Upbeat Generation has arrived and its conflict with the old ways, the old traditions and taboos is evident all around us. After 20 years of Depression-bred and war-nurtured conformity, and compulsive concern with security and the common man, the Uncommon Man has at last come back into his own, along with a renewed respect for the uncommon mind, the uncommon act and the uncommon accomplishment.
A great many Americans now recognize that the de-emphasis of both initiative and education along with our lack of growth in the arts and sciences cost us the position of undisputed world leadership we once took for granted. Another country, hardly as high as our belt buckle three decades ago, is now reaching for the stars ahead of us. We’ve learned a bitter lesson, but if we’ve learned it well, it may well have been worth it.
By subverting our faith in ourselves, both as individuals and as a nation, by shaking our faith in the superiority of the free enterprise system, we managed to bring the greatest country in the world to a near standstill. By again stressing many of the basic tenets upon which this nation was founded, we have begun forcefully to move ahead once more.
If any of us were ever in serious doubt about the relative merits of group-oriented, collectivist socialism or communism versus self-oriented, individual initiative, free enterprise capitalism, we’ve witnessed irrefutable evidence of the strengths and weaknesses of both over the last generation. Setting aside the social significance of a free society for the moment — and the fact that no government that places its emphasis on the importance of group good over individual good can long remain free — capitalism has proven itself the superior economic system in country after country since the war.
It is not because of any inherent flaw in American capitalism that Russia has been able to catch up to us in many areas over the past 20 years — quite the opposite: It is because this country drifted dangerously in the direction of socialism during the Thirties and Forties that we began to falter and fall behind. Several nations in postwar Europe have found a new economic strength through capitalism, and much of Western Europe is enjoying an unparalleled prosperity because of having taken the free enterprise system to the international level with the Common Market. America, on the other hand, has stifled her natural growth through initiative-inhibiting taxes and restrictive legislation regarding the roles of labor and management in business. Now there is a promise of change, however, as both political parties recognize that this country’s economic health is intimately tied to the profit an individual or a company can hope to turn, after taxes, for additional effort or for risk capital invested in a new product, a new idea or a new enterprise. Last fall Congress gave the President sweeping powers over restrictive import and export tariff, so that the U.S. might successfully compete with the Common Market; this year and next, we are promised major tax reforms and reductions aimed at putting more enterprise back in our free enterprise system.
Truly dramatic evidence of the relative strengths in the two economic systems can be seen in East and West Berlin today. The contrast between the two halves of this once whole city — one rebuilding since war’s end under a democratic free economy and the other under a totalitarian Communist regime — says more than any economic theorist or political philosopher ever could. And the Wall, with East Berliners risking death to scramble over and under it to West Berlin and freedom, says more about the social worth of the two systems than any words could, too.
Fidel Castro has all but destroyed the Cuban economy with his brand of Communist socialism. And while Red China falters and fails in its attempt to duplicate with communism what America achieved through capitalism, Japan has moved ahead to unprecedented wealth since the end of the Second World War by patterning its economy directly after the United States. As the limitations of communism become clearer, Russia has been subtly changing her own economic system, supplying capitalist incentives as required. But Russia remains a totalitarian state and suffers the inherent weakness of all dictatorships: No nation can enjoy the full benefits of a free economy and the free enterprise system, if the nation’s people are themselves not truly free. Thus freedom itself is the spark that a free competitive society requires to drive it at peak efficiency and that is why America can regain its position of world prominence and leadership if it never again loses sight, as a nation, of the fundamental faith in itself, belief in its uncommon citizens and in freedom and the free enterprise system that made it great in the beginning.
The entire world is presently benefiting from the competition between the U.S. and Russia in our “race for space,” each country spurred on by the accomplishments of the other. Without this international competitive enterprise, man might well be waiting another generation or more to reach the moon and begin his exploration of the stars. If the same competitive spirit were brought to the research of the world’s half-dozen most deadly diseases, the resultant money and man-hours expended would in all probability produce cures for all of them in our lifetime and the next generation could look forward to a life expectancy of 100 years and more. A properly controlled competitive society works with nations as well as individuals, supplying the maximum motivation and thus benefiting everyone in the society with the resulting maximum accomplishment or progress.
The mood is optimistic. In the Atomic Age, with the continuing threat of world conflict, no tomorrow can ever be a certainty, but certainty is a security the new generation does not require. There is, in its place, a new satisfaction in accomplishment — a new savoring of life and all that it offers. The possibility of imminent extinction has given life a new significance. Too often in the past, man has lived almost entirely for tomorrow — thereby living less, enjoying less and doing less. Many of the new generation are discovering that the ultimate satisfaction comes from living for both today and tomorrow.
What we have termed the Upbeat Generation (sharing the spirit of rebellion with that sliver of it called beat, but differing radically because of the far more positive, upbeat attitude about life and itself) bears little resemblance to the generation that preceded it. Yet some are still unaware of the change that has taken place and many do not realize the size of the gap that exists between two generations that followed one immediately upon the other. The great difference in feeling about Playboy and its editorial point of view is but one example of the gap: Playboy expresses itself in terms a great many members of the new generation understand, but that are incomprehensible to others only a single generation older.
The American Renaissance
In an introduction to a recent issue devoted to what they termed the “Take-Over Generation,” Life magazine said: “Coming hard over the horizon, just beginning to make his presence and his power felt, is a new breed of American. He is filled with purpose and he thinks on a scale that often frightens his elders…. In the big corporation, where the old desire for job security is giving way to a new insistence on job opportunity, the daring young idea man is finally starting to lay the Organization Man to rest.”
Science, both pure and applied, has accomplished more in the last dozen years than in the two dozen that preceded them. The same is true in architecture and design. In fine art, the U.S. had previously done little more than follow European trends, but in the Fifties and Sixties American painters set the pace and have maintained the lead: Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and their compatriots are the creators of the most important and most influential work of any artists of our time. The description of Pollock by English art critic Bryan Robertson in his introduction to a book of Pollock’s paintings published in 1960 associates the artist with the rebel spirit he shared (until his death) with much of the new America: “For an entire generation Pollock has become a symbol of revolt against existing conventions in imagery and a touchstone in a commonly shared search for new methods to contain a new vision in painting. Apart from this, Pollock has emerged as the first American artist in history to influence European art…. The present work has as its mainspring the author’s conviction that Jackson Pollock [is] second only to Picasso in the hierarchy of 20th century art.”
Rebellion against the tried and not necessarily true has abounded everywhere. In jazz, America’s one original art form, traditional sounds have given way to experimentation in a variety of unexplored directions, from bop to third stream. In acting, classic styles have bowed to a new naturalism with Brando, et al., and something called The Method. In popular music, the moon-and-June syrup of Tin Pan Alley has been replaced by the earthy reality of folk music. The new spirit of rebellion has even shown itself in the growth of a new American humor — Mort Sahl, Mike and Elaine, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory and the rest of what Time called the New School of comedy have replaced tired jokes with social commentary and have made us laugh at our fancies and foibles: politics, sex, religion, racial prejudice — no cow remains sacred. True satire has returned to the American scene. And it can be argued that a nation’s real inner strength is revealed through its ability to laugh at itself.
Serious social change has been taking place also. The inequality of the races has received increasing attention from all Americans concerned with the rights of others as well as themselves. Politics — long an area of interest left almost exclusively to the politicians — is now a matter of continuing discussion, debate and active participation by youthful citizens of both the right and left. Nor are most Americans’ interests and concerns any longer limited to the continental boundaries of this country. The knowledge that this is indeed one world has never had greater acceptance by the majority of Americans: We now recognize as never before in peacetime, that what happens in Cuba, India or Berlin is of paramount importance to us all and conversely, what happens in Mississippi is of grave importance in Africa and throughout Asia.
Corruption in high governmental places, the TV quiz scandal, disc jockey payola, police crime in Chicago and other major cities, the indictment of top business executives for price fixing and restraint of trade, the Billie Sol Estes affair are seen by some as evidence of a trend toward decadence in our society, but they represent just the opposite to us. In each case, the significant fact is that the crime or corruption was brought to light — no matter how high up and potentially protected the offenders — and in almost every instance, justified penalties were meted out. Moreover, corrective actions were usually taken to preclude similar lawlessness. In the case of the Chicago police, not only were the men involved prosecuted, but Mayor Daley ordered a sweeping cleanup of the entire force — and he got it. In times past, such a scandal would have been hushed up and things would have continued on as before. There will always be crime and corruption in the world, but recent public exposures suggest a moral rebirth in America rather than the reverse.
The way in which Americans rejected McCarthyism and subversives of the extreme right as well as those of the left in the early Fifties was a portent of the independent spirit rising up in this country and served notice that most Americans would not long submit to being herded about like so many gray flannel sheep. Hitler used a fear and hatred of the Jews to bind the German people together in a controllable mass. Similar attempts here immediately after the war, using the fear and hatred of American communism, were partially successful for a time (some neighbors actually did spy on neighbors, brothers turn in brothers, students intimidate teachers; there were loyalty oaths to sign, some books literally were burned and industry black lists cost a number of Americans their jobs), but the arrival of the new generation coupled with those free minds of every generation that refuse to be intimidated and herded, cut short the demagogic dreams of power. A few neofascist and hate groups have persisted up to the present, using the fear of the omnipresent Communist menace and/or the hate of Negroes, Jews, Catholics, non-candy eaters (a logical minority for Welch’s John Birchers) or some other suitable group as their scapegoats. But the burgeoning independence and rebel individualism of the Upbeat Generation make it increasingly difficult for extremist groups of the right or left to gather any sizable portion of the population to itself. An American of the new generation may hate communism for its tyranny, but he is unwilling to submit to the tyranny of a professional hate cult in order to fight it, being aware that the best way to combat the ideology of totalitarian communism is not through some equally totalitarian concept or group, but through a strengthening of democracy and the free enterprise system.
American education today is receiving a much needed, if still not entirely satisfactory, shot in the arm. During the Depression we tended to de-emphasize education and intellectual pursuits (the uncommon mind was apt to be derided as an “egghead” as to be admired), because the nation’s economic problems made higher education available to so very few. One of the best things to come out of World War II was the G.I. Bill offering, as it did to hundreds of thousands of young American men, the opportunity for a college education or training in a specialized profession or trade.
Erasing the color line in education will, in the future, permit American Negroes to receive a far better and fuller education that they could have hoped for previously. This will benefit both the individual Negroes and the nation, for the total brainpower of any country is one of its most valuable natural resources. Until now, the United States has permitted a sizable percentage of its potential brainpower to go partially undeveloped by not offering full educational opportunities to its colored citizens. This is rather like leaving a part of a rich mineral deposit in the ground when you know that it’s there and that if it was mined and processed it would be extremely valuable to the national economy and to the U.S. defense effort as well. Making sure that all American youth, regardless of race or economic position, receives the best and most complete education for which it is able to qualify makes sound economic sense for the nation and is, we feel, one of the obligations of our government.
At the grade school level, there has been considerable concern and debate over Johnny’s inability to read. Playboy shares this concern, for when Johnny becomes old enough to subscribe to our magazine, we would like to think he is enjoying the fine fiction and the thought-provoking articles and not just ogling the current Playmate of the Month. But whether the ability to more fully appreciate Playboy figures in the new American concern over schooling or not — and we rather suspect that it does not — there is a greater awareness of the importance of education today than at any previous time in our history.
We appear to be moving into an American renaissance — a period of growth and prosperity unequaled in the past. Art, science, philosophy, politics, education — all are broadening their horizons and man is meeting the challenges and the opportunities of his world with unparalleled determination, delight and derring-do. Nothing seems impossible and man has never been more alive and aware. Life is a bold adventure and the new American Renaissance Man seems destined to make the most of it.
Man’s new zest for living can be seen in his interest in a car that has style and speed, in his savoring the pleasures of the senses with good food and drink and stereo sound, in his involvement in the decor of his apartment and the cut of his clothes (the American male is the active participant in a minor fashion revolution that supplies still another example of the changing time: To the universal, gray flannel sameness of Ivy has been added the individual style and flair of Continental, with a new elegance and enough variety in its design to permit a re-emphasis of the individual within the clothes).
No conflict exists between the pleasure a modern American finds in material things and his struggle to discover a new scientific truth, or evolve a new philosophy, or create a work of art. The good life, the full life, encompasses all of these — and all of them satisfy and spur a man on to do more, see more, know more, experience more, accomplish more. This is the real meaning, the purpose, the point of life itself: the continuing, upward striving and searching for the ultimate truth and beauty.
The Sexual Revolution
America has come alive again. And with the social revolution has come a sexual revolution as well. Gone is much of the puritan prudishness and hypocrisy of the past. But far from being representatives of a moral decline, as some would like us to believe, we are in the process of acquiring a new moral maturity and honesty in which man’s body, mind and soul are in harmony rather than in conflict.
This revolution is nowhere more obvious than in the changing public taste in books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television and theater. A society’s media of communication offer an especially sensitive gauge to the changing manners and mores of any time, and in this regard the contrast between the present generation and the one just past is remarkable.
In the Thirties and Forties Hollywood movies were never allowed to show a man and a woman in bed together — not even if they were married in the picture — not even if they were married in real life. If a scene had to be played in a bedroom, the couple appeared in that blight upon marital bliss: twin beds. In the same period, if a woman were to have an illicit affair in a film (which meant any relationship not blessed by matrimony), the audience could be certain that before the final scene she would suffer the severest possible consequences. That some romances outside holy wedlock end happily or do not end at all would appear to be facts of life the movies of 20 and 30 years ago preferred to ignore. And the worst profanity heard in a film during more than a decade of picture making was Clark Gable’s parting shot, “Personally, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” to Scarlett O’Hara at the end of Gone With the Wind. GWTW was the only motion picture of the time that was allowed a single hell or damn (the line never failed to produce a titter from surprised audiences), and we tend to forget for how short a while such common expletives have been permitted in dramatic shows on television.
In 1938 an issue of Life magazine was banned in a number of communities in the United States, because it included a picture story depicting the birth of a baby. That was just 25 years ago. And it has been less than ten since New York City censored the birth of a baby buffalo from one of Walt Disney’s award-winning wildlife features. Today Ben Casey delivers a baby on home TV and nobody even blinks.
A few short years ago the number of specific subjects that could not even be mentioned in movies included drug addiction, homosexuality, incest, nymphomania, necrophilia, abortion, masturbation and hand holding (we just slipped the last one in to see if you were paying attention). More recently, a number of these subjects (not including hand holding) have been the central themes of motion pictures and most all of them appear in interrelated combinations in films by Tennessee Williams.
If movies are badder than ever, books are even badder than that. Well, bolder, at any rate. The public has displayed a new willingness to accept the previously taboo in colloquial dialog (thus permitting James Jones’ soldiers in his best-selling, prize-winning Army novel, From Here to Eternity, to use the same locutions real soldiers employ, even though this remarkable innovation prompted Life to waggle a warning finger in an editorial titled, “From Here to Obscenity”), in subject matter (Vladimir Nabokov’s bestselling, prize-winning tale of the 12-year-old nymphet, Lolita) and in the first U.S. printing of long-banned books (James Joyce’s Ulysses, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s two Tropics -all outlawed for more than a generation and by now all very nearly modern classics).
One of the first books after the war to become a best seller because of sex was a statistical survey by Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey and his associates of Indiana University. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, followed by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, proved that the public earnestly wanted to know more about sex, and the sham and secrecy that had for so long surrounded the subject finally began falling away. “The Kinsey Report” was the first extensive scientific study of sex practices in the U.S., and it unquestionably affected behavior even as it reported it. America’s sexual hypocrisy was out in the open — we had been preaching one thing and practicing another. The country’s purityrranical zealots, who had successfully sustained the image of sex as sin by keeping it in the shadows, suddenly found that someone had let the sunshine in. And in the bright light of day, sex didn’t seem so terrible to most of us.
In the mood of conformity that was still with us in the late Forties and early Fifties, various self-appointed civic and religious groups were extremely active in censorship. The very notion that one adult has the right to tell another what book he may or may not read and what movie he may or may not see is repugnant to most Americans, but we had been turned into a nation of sheep and there were few voices raised in protest. With the coming of the new generation, however, individuals began speaking out against such conformity and control over the minds of men.
The NODL (National Office of Decent Literature) prepares a monthly list of “disapproved” paperback books and magazines that is supposed to be a guide for Catholic youth, but the list was often used as a weapon of censorship instead, until various magazines and newspapers began to cry out against the practice.
In an editorial titled “The Harm Good People Do,” in its October 1956 issue, Harper’s Magazine stated: “A little band of Catholics is now conducting a shocking attack on the rights of their fellow citizens. They are engaged in an un-American activity which is as flagrant as anything the Communist party ever attempted — and which is, in fact, very similar to Communist tactics. They are harming their country, their Church, and the cause of freedom…. This group calls itself the National Office of Decent Literature…. Its main purpose is to make it impossible for anybody to buy books and other publications which it does not like. Among them are the works of some of the most distinguished authors now alive — for example, winners of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.”
Without intending to, a Post of the Catholic War Veterans in Hartford, Connecticut underlined the similarity between their tactics and those of the Communists in a letter to book dealers in their community aiming to suppress, through the threat of boycott, certain publications they considered undesirable. The letter was accompanied by the NODL list of “disapproved” publications and it quoted the Chinese Communists who had been conducting a campaign of their own against “disapproved” literature: “‘These books and pictures seriously harm those workers who by constantly looking at them can easily become degenerate in their thinking,’ cautions the Peking Worker’s Daily as quoted by Newsweek magazine, January 23, 1956. We have to hand it to the Communists…who have launched a nationwide campaign against pornographic trash…. Should not this example provoke a similar literary cleanup in our land where the morality of our actions is gauged by service to God and not to an atheistic state?”
The NODL black list, which has included books by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, George Orwell, John O’Hara, Emile Zola, Arthur Koestler and Joyce Cary, does not represent the attitude of all Catholics, of course, and the list has been used by a number of non-Catholic censorship groups as well.
Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., professor of moral theology at Woodstock College, Maryland, warned against such practices, and in an address on “Literature and Censorship” said, in part: “No minority group has the right to impose its own religious or moral views on other groups, through the use of methods of force, coercion or violence.”
Dean Joseph O’Meara of the Notre Dame Law School expressed it like this: “Unfortunately many sincere people do not comprehend the genius of our democracy…such people would deny free speech to those with whom they are in fundamental disagreement…. They would establish a party line in America — their party line, of course. This is an alien concept, a totalitarian concept; it is not consonant with the American tradition; it is antidemocratic; it is, in short, subversive and it should be recognized for what it is.”
And another eminent Catholic, President John F. Kennedy, then a senator from Massachusetts, summed up the matter in these prophetic words: “The lock on the door of the legislature, the parliament or the assembly hall, by order of the King, the Commissar or the Fhrer, has historically been followed or preceded by a lock on the door of the printer’s, the publisher’s, or the bookseller’s.”
Censors wither before such criticism and the NODL has since gone back to its intended function: issuing a list by Catholics for their fellow Catholics to consult as a guide to reading — if they wish.
A concern for the country’s children has often been used as an excuse for censorship in the past — certain words, ideas, pictures, stories or subjects might have a negative effect upon a young, impressionable mind — might turn our children into a community of juvenile delinquents — or so the thinking went. And there was no less an authority than J. Edgar Hoover supplying suitable statements about the multimillion-dollar pornography business in the U.S. and its effect upon the nation’s youth. Unfortunately, J. Edgar has always been something of a nut on the subject of sex, and while his words carry the impact of his important position as head of the FBI, he is not an expert on the subject — is not, in fact, even acquainted with some of the most fundamental research in the area. Hoover’s statements notwithstanding, there is no multimillion-dollar pornography business in the U.S. Pornography has never become a well-organized national or even regional operation simply because, unlike gambling and dope, there simply isn’t enough profit in it to make it worthwhile. Moreover, experts in the field of human behavior have never been able to find any causal relationship between reading habits and delinquency and do not believe that any exists — except that delinquents are apt to read fewer books and magazines of all kinds than their nondelinquent brothers. In the most thorough studies of crime, delinquency and their causes, reading habits have not even been included as a possible factor, because of the recognition by experts that no correlation exists. But some citizens like to believe statements like Hoover’s, because they take part of the blame off the real, primary culprit — the home environment, for which the citizen himself is responsible. And such statements have a similar effect on the other side, too — taking attention away from the embarrassment of the nation’s thriving crime syndicate that the FBI seems unable to do anything effective about, as it grows bigger and more prosperous year after year.
The implied hurt that a particular movie or article, piece of fiction or photograph might do to children wields a far greater power over the nation’s publishers, the film industry, radio and television than one might at first suppose. For long before there is any question of censorship, the publisher or producer must himself determine what goes into his product and the pressure to make it “suitable for children” or “entertainment for the entire family” is a strong one. And the net effect of that, of course, is a society in which much of our popular culture and communication is strained to a thinness (all meat removed and sweetener added) pleasant to the taste and easily digested by children. Just what effect a society geared to the sophistication level of a ten-year-old is apt to have on its adults is another matter entirely. Instead of raising children in an adult world, with adult tastes, interests and opinions prevailing, we prefer to live much of our lives in a make-believe children’s world. Without attempting to evaluate the results this is certain to produce in society as a whole over any period of time, it can be reasonably argued that it is also a lousy way to bring up kids and prepare them for taking their place in the world as mature adults.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on this question recently, striking down a Michigan statute as unconstitutional, because it used as its rationalization for state censorship the theory that it was thereby protecting its youth. The Supreme Court held that it is impossible to justify censorship in the adult community by referring to what may or may not be suitable for children without soon creating a community suitable for children only. Or, more probably, for no one at all.
The mind of the censor is often magnificent in its machinations and incredible in its incomprehensibility. Some examples of censorship would be amusing in the extreme, if fundamental rights and freedoms were not involved — as when, a short time ago, one U.S. community contemplated banning the books of Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, from their children’s library, because Tarzan and Jane had never been joined in holy wedlock and thus must be living in sin in their jungle home. (We’d always assumed, as a youngster, that they kept things straight by relying upon the honor system. In the movie adventures, starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan, you may recall that “Boy” came from heaven only in the sense that he was the sole survivor of an airplane crash and was adopted into the Tarzan family. It never occurred to us in our innocent youth that Tarzan and Jane were anything more than good friends. It was Cheetah, the chimp, that we were always a mite suspicious of. He always seemed to be hanging around the tree house, when Tarzan was off on one of his vine-swinging excursions.)
The would-be censor in any community is rarely the best informed and best qualified for such a job, and this is probably because real knowledge of a subject and an interest in suppressing it do not often go hand in hand. Even if the censor had the necessary insight, it would not justify the forcing of his own particular tastes and interests onto the rest of society, but most often it is actually a matter of dragging down the tastes and interests of the community to a decidedly lower level. Far more energy is expended, for example, in attempts to suppress appeals to the normally heterosexual than to the somewhat more subtle offerings to sadism, masochism, the homosexual and fetishism. Few censors comprehend the labyrinthian twistings and turnings that suppressed or perverted sexuality may take in the human animal.
The censor may be driven by any of several motivations: He may anticipate some personal or political gain for his involvement in censorship; he may enjoy the sense of power achieved through a control over what others can do and say; he may be a quite sincere, if misguided, citizen who believes that the world would be a better place if only the rest of the community held the same values and beliefs he holds; or he may be one of those whose dedication to the suppression of certain aspects of our society is itself a symptom of subconscious sexual needs and guilt feelings.
The U.S. Post Office has built a reputation in times past as a watchdog of public morality. Not because it was qualified for such a task and certainly not because it had any legal right to be involved, but simply because some members of the postal authority wanted to use that authority to control the free communication of ideas. There have always been ample laws for the prosecution of illegal use of the mails, but it is a peculiar fact that censors — whether from government or some civic or religious group — rarely find due process of law satisfactory to their needs. The censor’s methods are almost always illegal.
In the most famous case involving censorship and the Post Office, an attempt was made to deny second-class mailing privileges to Esquire magazine in the mid-Forties. The publication defended itself, finally winning a unanimous decision in the Supreme Court. In the landmark determination written by Judge Thurman Arnold, of the U.S. Court of Appeals, the postal authorities were told that their job was to deliver the mails, not censor them. Judge Arnold finished his decision as follows: “We intend no criticism of counsel for the Post Office. They were faced with an impossible task. They undertook it with sincerity. But their very sincerity makes the record useful as a memorial to commemorate the utter confusion and lack of intelligible standards which can never be escaped when that task is attempted. We believe that the Post Office officials should experience a feeling of relief if they are limited to the more prosaic function of seeing to it that ‘neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed round.'”
Incredibly, even after that decision, the Post Office continued its quite illegal activities in censorship right up until two years ago, when the new administration brought in a fresh Postmaster General who, unlike his predecessors, apparently feels that delivering the mails inexpensively and well is quite enough of a task for his department. Unfortunately, though they won their case unanimously in the highest court in the land (at a cost of over $1 million), Esquire was badly frightened by the experience (if they had lost their second-class mailing privileges, they would have been put out of business) and the robust quality of the magazine’s earlier issues was never to be seen again. Playboy locked horns with the Post Office twice in its first years of publication and thoroughly trounced them in the courts on both occasions. We’ve never been bothered since, nor have any threats or attempts at coercion from any quarter ever influenced our own editorial judgment.
Americans were so generally embarrassed by sex in the early part of this century that sex statutes still standing in some of our states do not even define the behavior or activity they prohibit. The legislators were seemingly able to spell out fornication and/or adultery with only an occasional blush, but when they moved into the slightly more exotic areas of fellatio, cunnilingus and pederasty, it appears that some of them broke into a cold sweat and were just too intimidated by the entire subject to explain what offenses the laws were intended to cover. Thus, in place of the specific, the state statutes prohibit “vile and contemptible crimes against nature.”
Every state in the Union has some laws covering the sexual activity of its citizens, and it is a further indication of our changing mores that almost none of them, except those concerned with minors, acts of violence and prostitution, are regularly enforced. Dr. Kinsey and his associates have estimated that if all the sex laws in the United States were fully and successfully enforced, the majority of our adult population — male and female — would be in prison. Since they go unenforced for the most part, it would seem that we are finally reaching that level of maturity where we recognize that a man’s morality, like his religion, is a personal affair best left to his own conscience. Some of our state laws are now being rewritten to reflect this enlightened attitude.
Freud and Kinsey must be given a maximum amount of credit for the awakening of the past few years — Freud for setting the stage and Kinsey for trotting out the players. It is surprising that no popular philosopher stepped forward to shape and polish our new understanding of ourselves and form a consistent cohesive constant for living — even as rugged individualism found its Ayn Rand and Little Orphan Annie — but perhaps that lack partially explains Playboy’s phenomenal impact and popularity. By default, as it were, and quite without planning, Playboy has become a voice for the new generation, reflecting a new view of contemporary man and the world in which he lives.
This is what the writers and critics, quoted earlier in this editorial statement, mean when they suggested that Playboy has become more than simply a magazine — that it is, to use of their own terms: “a way of life”…”a movement”…”more than just a handbook for the young-man-about-town: It’s a sort of Bible.”
If there is any truth in this, and we don’t deny that there may be, it has not been as a result of conscious calculation. Playboy’s attitude and point of view has always been an editorial expression of the things in which we personally believe. If Playboy’s voice is one to which this particular, most remarkable generation responds, it is perhaps because most other publications (along with other media of communications in America today) are still in the hands of — or at least under the ultimate control of — the older generation, whereas we ourself are a generation younger and think and feel naturally the same things others of our generation think and feel. The total of these thoughts and feelings is what makes up the Playboy Philosophy.
We have tried to show in previous issues how an improper emphasis on security and conformity stifled this country for a generation and we have pointed to signs that suggest, to us, that initiative and the individual may soon again be receiving their proper due. But there has been another stifling influence in America — far more insidious — that has pervaded our culture since the nation’s beginnings, yet most of us are only vaguely aware of its continuing effect on every facet of our laws and our lives.
Puritanism — as stultifying to the mind of man as communism, or any other totalitarian concept — has been a part of the American culture since the country’s earliest settlers landed on Plymouth Rock, or thereabouts. For it matters little if a book is burned because it contains an unpopular political idea or an unpopular moral or religious one — the book has been burned just the same — and society is little poorer for having lost perhaps just one small voice, one difference of opinion, one divergent thought or idea.
We must never forget that this democracy draws its matchless strength from the continuous free exchange of differing ideas and by keeping open the channels of communication for even the most unpopular points of view. Our founding fathers made the protection of every minority and every minority opinion of paramount importance in both our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They recognized that down through history great men and great ideas have been unpopular in their own time. Man learns slowly and cultural changes that might otherwise take years require generations while those that might take generations sometimes take centuries. Socrates, teacher of Plato, and recognized today as one of the great philosophers of history, was accused in his own time of being without fixed principles and sentenced to die by drinking poison hemlock; Van Gogh, the brilliant and prolific impressionist, sold only four paintings during his lifetime, was driven mad by despair and killed himself; Galileo was twice tried by the Inquisition for daring to suggest that the earth revolves around the sun; Christ was nailed to the cross for teaching that man should love his fellow man.
Progress necessarily requires the exchange of outdated ideas for new and better ones. By keeping open all lines of communication in our culture, every new idea — no matter how seemingly perverse, improper or peculiar, has its opportunity to be considered, to be challenged, and ultimately to be accepted or rejected by society as a whole or by some small part of it. This is the important advantage that a free society has over a totalitarian, for in a free exchange of ideas, the best will ultimately win out. A dictatorship, with its pre-established dogma, is chained to the past; a free society may draw from past, present and the future.
If much of the foregoing — and of what follows — seem obvious, even elementary, it is necessary, we think, to clearly spell out those accepted beliefs that form the common ground from which our philosophy is derived. Too often the most readily acknowledged precepts become cliches to which mere lip service is paid while their real intent and significance are lost.
In America, we have built an entire nation — a social order, economy and government — on this concept of freedom. And whatever shortcomings it may seem to have are, we believe, less inherent in the ideal of a free society than they are the result of our failing to keep faith with that ideal. This is not to suggest that a nation as large and as complex as this one is capable of remaining free for all without some supervision and control. The economic system of free enterprise, for example, wold not continue to function successfully without certain necessary checks and balances. But it is important for us to never lose sight of the primary aim and purpose of our government, which should be to achieve and perpetuate the maximum amount of freedom and opportunity possible for all of its citizens.
True freedom also includes freedom from ignorance, sickness, poverty and fear, without which the other freedoms would be meaningless. Our government is sometimes likened to a parent, but it must be careful not to become a too overly protective parent, whose guidance and control smother initiative and self-respect.
The individual remains the all important element in our society — the touchstone against which all else must be judged. The individual’s very individuality — his right to look, think and act as differently from his fellows as he chooses (without, of course, interfering with the similar rights of others) — supplies the divergent, interacting components that produce progress.
No group is necessarily more important than each individual member of the group. Group thought is not necessarily superior to individual thought and neither is group taste. It is our feeling, moreover, that actions taken to allegedly benefit almost no one group or another — the taxpayer, the working man, the consumer, society, the nation — too often benefit almost no one. So-called “group good” is sometimes a vaguery that shields an activity that could not be justified on any individual basis.
All totalitarian concepts place a particular group — a race, a religion, a class, a country — ahead of the individual. Thus the political extremes of right and left — socialism and communism on the one hand and fascism and Nazism on the other — have more in common, each with the other, than they do with democracy, whose system of checks and balances places it at the political center. Einstein’s theory of curved space would seem to apply to the political universe as well as the physical one: The opposite extremes of political dogma eventually meet.
It is not enough to recognize that a nation is no more important than the sum of all of its people: A country is no more important than each of its citizens, taken singly, and apart from all the rest. For only through concern and respect for each member of society can the whole of society hope to achieve its ultimate potential.
Our founding fathers established protections for America’s individual citizens in both the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, assuring that this nation’s rule by the majority would always be tempered with a concern for the rights and privileges of the most insignificant of our minorities.
American jurisprudence is especially concerned with the protection of the individual, differing from much of Europe’s law in that a man must always be considered innocent until proven guilty; and further, that we would rather allow four guilty men go free than unjustly convict one who is innocent.
With such an acute awareness of the importance of protecting the rights and freedom of every individual in our society, it is interesting to see how and why many of these rights have been lost. Please do not consider us impious if we suggest it is American religion that is largely to blame.
Since many of the early settlers left Europe for the New World specifically because of religious persecution, it seems especially strange that they should adopt the very practices from which they had so recently fled. Nevertheless, this is precisely what they did.
Organized religion, as separated from any personal faith, has had a considerable civilizing influence upon mankind through all of history; it has fostered hope, charity and education. But bloody wars have also been fought because of it, and millions kept in abject poverty, tortured and executed in the vilest ways.
Presumably, a man’s religion should make him a better person — more tolerant, sympathetic and understanding towards his fellows. Too often organized religion has had the opposite effect, placing its emphasis on orthodoxy instead of understanding and emphasizing ritual and dogma rather than spiritual founding principles of faith and love. And make no mistake — the tyranny of man over his fellow man is just as great an evil when it is wielded in the name of God as in the name of the state.
The early Puritans who settled in America did not see their religion as simply one aspect of life, but as the whole of it. As Puritan leader Jonathan Edwards wrote in describing the Christian’s “practice of religion”: “It may be said, not only to be his business at certain seasons, the business of Sabbath days, or certain extraordinary times, or the business of a month, or a year, or seven years, or his business under certain circumstances; but the business of his life.” The attitude is shared by a great many religious people, of various faiths, today. And as far as it goes, it can hardly be criticized. But it must be recognized that in defining the “practice of religion” as a full-time, 24-hour-a-day proposition, religion pervades, directs and controls the totality of human life and thought. Religion may thus be used to justify the regulation of all of man’s activity — and indeed, it has been.
The early Puritan in America is described by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as “a spiritual athlete, characterized by an intense zeal to reform, a zeal to order everything — personal life, family life, worship, church, business affairs, political affairs, even recreation — in the light of God’s demand upon him.” This religion required conformity and things went badly for those early Americans who proved unwilling to conform.
If unauthenticated cases of “witch burning” were relatively unknown in early America (compared to the thousands of religious executions in Europe by fire, drawing and quartering, boiling in oil, disembowelment and a great variety of other tortures too numerous to catalog here, throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries), our Puritan forefathers had other subtler ways of keeping the citizens in line — public floggings, the stocks, the scarlet letter, the ducking stool and an occasional hanging — all for relatively minor infringements of the religious dicta of the time.
The Britannica further describes the daily routine of the Puritan as having involved “the keeping of a spiritual diary in which the events of the day were closely scrutinized and an accounting made of moral successes and failures as well as note being taken of the signal evidences of divine grace or displeasure that had been disclosed during the course of the day.” And if all this strikes the reader as more like Orwell’s 1984 than the beginnings of democracy in America, we can only add a solemn amen.
Freedom of and From Religion
When the leaders of the American Revolution sat down to draft the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they were keenly aware of the excesses that may be perpetuated in the same name of the Almighty and the need for checks and balances if further abuses of power by either church or state were to be averted. John Cotton said: “Let all the world learn to give mortal man no greater power than they are content they shall use, for use it they will…. It is necessary that all power that is on earth be limited, church power or other…. It is counted a matter of danger to the state to limit prerogatives, but it is a further danger not to have them limited.”
Historians generally credit the reaction to this purityrannical society as a major factor in the early American denunciation of arbitrary power, the demand for liberty and development of our democracy. The founding fathers included necessary safeguards in both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights specifically establishing religious freedom and the separation of church and state. To this end, they had a much earlier reference: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” (Luke, 20:25) But for all their precautions, we do not enjoy true religious freedom in America today. In a remarkable example of double-think, we’ve successfully sustained our freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion.
There is a clear and quite significant distinction between these two aspects of religious freedom in a democratic society: Most of us are able to worship God in a manner that suits us and there is never a question or concern about governmental pressure or intervention; only an occasional offbeat cult is apt to draw down civil censure for its meetings (we haven’t heard of any Black Masses being broken up by the gendarmes lately, but there was a back-hills community holding services not long ago involving rattlesnakes that officials put a stop to after one of the faithful was bitten and died). Some of the present-day religious charlatans, who seem more interested in reaching into the pockets of the poor than in reaching heaven with their shorn flock, out-Gantry Elmer by holding their revival meetings on local radio and television, where the audiences can be counted in the hundreds of thousands (the offerings are taken by mail). Although these “services” are patently not as perilous as live serpents, they may provide some of us with cause to wonder whether there is actually too much freedom allowed in certain areas, in the name of religion.
By and large, the U.S. government goes out of its way to respect and protect the personal beliefs of its many religious minorities (and in America, all religious denominations are minorities): Though suicide is legally equated with murder in our society, a Christian Scientist is not forced to accept medicine or undergo surgery, even when a physician may know that without them he is going to die; nor does the government force an authentic conscientious objector to bear arms, even in wartime. Religious freedom is recognized as one of the most basic rights in our democracy, but we protect only one half of it.
The other half — freedom from religion — became an issue of considerable controversy recently in connection with a Supreme Court ruling against the reading of a state-prepared prayer at the beginning of daily classes in New York’s public schools. The decision was widely misunderstood and irreligious in many quarters, including the floor of Congress, but it was actually just the opposite, being a reconfirmation by the High Court of our Constitution’s guarantees regarding the separation of church and state powers, which are as much to safeguard religion from encroachment by government, as to protect government from undue religious pressures.
It should be understood that when we refer to freedom from religion, we are not simply contemplating the problems that a publicly professed atheist or agnostic may encounter in being accepted in certain areas of our society today, whether or not his religious beliefs (or, more accurately, disbeliefs) would work against him in any attempt to hold public office, become a schoolteacher or receive a promotion in most major business firms; and a good deal more is involved than religious phrases on our federal currency and prayers in our legislative forums. Our concern is the extent to which religious beliefs and prejudices have infiltrated and influenced our laws — the men who enact them, execute them and judge by them.
Caesar and God
Just how important is true religious freedom and a total separation of a people’s church and state? Certainly this country was founded by men with a fundamental faith in God. References to Him are to be found throughout the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Why were these devout men so concerned, then, with keeping separate the things that are Caesar’s and the things that are God’s?
Our founding fathers had the whole of European history, as well as early American Puritanism, to prove only that by keeping religion and government separate is it possible to keep each free. The extent to which this is true may be illustrated by considering the differences in our more fundamental religious and democratic convictions.
At the heart of the matter is religion’s belief in itself as an absolute: There are thousands of different organized religions throughout the world and each is convinced that its own basic beliefs are divinely inspired and true. So resolutely are these beliefs sometimes held that many of history’s bloodiest conflicts have been waged over them. But a free democracy draws its strength from the exchange of many divergent ideas and the recognition that the best of all concepts may give way to a better one tomorrow.
Religion is based upon faith; democracy is based upon reason. America’s religious heritage stresses selflessness, subservience to a greater Power and the paying of homage to Him in long-established, well-defined, well-organized ways; democracy teaches the importance of self, a belief in oneself and one’s own abilities. Religion teaches that man should live for others; our democracy’s free-enterprise system is based on the belief that the greatest good comes from men competing with one another. Religion offers a special blessing to the meek and the promise that they will inherit the earth; democracy requires that men speak out and be heard.
Most religion in America teaches that man is born with the stain of original sin upon him; a free democracy stands on the belief that man is born innocent and remains so until changed by society. Most organized religion in the U.S. is rooted in a tradition that links man’s body with evil, physical pleasures with sin and pits man’s mind and soul against the devil of the flesh; the principles underlying our democracy recognize no such conflict of the body, mind and soul. Religion tends to de-emphasize material things, discourage a concern over the acquisition of wealth, bless the poor and promise that they shall dwell with God in the kingdom of heaven; our free enterprise system is founded on the ideal that striving to materially better oneself is worthwhile and benefits not only the individual, but the world around him. Most religions are based upon the importance of this one.
We trust that we have stated the contrasts fairly. Remember that we are referring here to the underlying Puritan religious heritage that runs through all American history (most modern-day U.S. religion, of whatever denomination, shares at least some of these viewpoints with Puritanism). Recognizing that we are necessarily oversimplifying matters a good deal, if you take exception to any of the above, it matters little, so long as we have made our overall point — that American religion and democratic government are built upon different premises, with a great many divergent, if not actually conflicting, ideas and ideals. That’s as it should be, of course, and no one is obliged to pick one over the other — only to recognize the necessity for keeping them separate.
With a need for separation of church and state so fundamental to a free democratic society, with a spelling out of that need by our founding fathers in both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, with the urging of the Holy Bible to render unto Caesar the things that Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s, how is it that Americans have still allowed religion to enter their government — their laws, their executive offices, their legislatures, their courtrooms?
Quite simply, because the traditions of our people opposed any such separation and traditions do not die easily; they cannot be killed by mere logic, whether voiced in the street or written into a constitution. Throughout European history there has been an intimate connection between religion and government. The Puritan faction that broke away from the Church of England introduced a number of reforms, but a separation of religion and law was not among them. Though early Americans cried out for freedom and hailed the new democracy, Puritanism was not dead. And because certain men continued to act as though church and state were not then, and from that time forward, to be wholly separate and distinct, they never truly have been.
Never on Sunday
How serious have been the results? Your point of view may depend upon how successful your own particular religion has been in affecting the laws of our land — unless you share, with us, a greater concern for a truly free society in which no legislation, no court decision, no governmental action is based upon religious influence, intimidation or prejudice.
All of America’s so-called Blue Laws have been religiously inspired. Every state in the Union except Alaska has its citizens controlled by some form of Sunday legislation. Recently a Pennsylvania justice of the peace convicted 225 people for engaging in “worldly work on Sunday”; included among his victims: stage actors and highway toll collectors. In New York City you can buy newspapers seven days a week (unless some irreligious union leader stops the presses), but you can purchase few of the items advertised therein on Sunday. Last year a Bronx motorist was arrested for changing his spark plugs on the wrong day. The Supreme Court of Arkansas ruled puzzlingly: “It does not follow that because a druggist sells soap on Sunday, a grocer has a constitutional right to do it, too.”
Sunday legislation was quite general in colonial times, Puritan Virginia having enacted such a law as early as 1629. In Connecticut at about the same time, colonists drew up a set of laws that made the Scriptures the supreme guide in civil as well as religious affairs; only approved church members were allowed in politics and in 1644 the general court decided that the “judicial laws of God as they were declared by Moses” should constitute a rule for all courts “till they be branched out into particulars hereafter.” The theocratic character of the government thus established is clearly revealed in the series of strict enactments and decisions which constituted the 45 “Blue Laws” listed by Reverend Samuel Peters in his General History of Connecticut, more than four fifths of which existed in some form throughout the New England colonies. They included the prohibition of trial by jury; married persons were required to live together or be imprisoned; a wife was considered good testimony against her husband; the penalty for adultery was death, and the same for conspiring against the jurisdiction; it was against the law for a woman to “kiss her child on the Sabbath or fasting day”; no person was permitted to “travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair or shave on the Sabbath day”; and there were heavy fines for “concealing or entertaining Quaker or other blasphemous heretics.”
Blue Laws of one sort or another are still enforced in most states. The Vermont Supreme Court has held that a person hunting on Sunday in violation of the law is liable in civil action for any hurt that he may have accidentally inflict upon his companion, even though he would not otherwise be legally held responsible. In some states, notably in New England, persons have been denied the right to damages for injuries sustained while traveling or working in violation of Sunday laws, on the theory that the offense was a contributing cause to the injury; in some states contracts made or to be performed on Sunday are expressly declared unenforceable, though they are otherwise valid. In Georgia it is against the law to swim on the Sabbath “within sight of a road which leads to church”; in one Iowa town, it is against the law to go swimming in public at any time, any day, anywhere.
The validity of such laws has often been questioned, on the rather reasonable ground that they infringe Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, but generally without success (for our courts have shown the influence of religious dogma fully as much as our legislators). In 1858 the California Supreme Court held a Sunday observance law unconstitutional on the ground that it sought “to enforce, as a religious institution, the observance of a day held sacred by the followers of one faith,” but three years later it reversed its position.
Humming snatches of It’s a Blue World and Never on Sunday, we confirmed in a heavy volume of our trusty Encyclopaedia Britannica (which we keep close at hand for just such emergencies) that since that time, the courts have upheld such laws with what the Britannica terms “substantial unanimity…at first on frankly religious grounds but later on the ground that to prescribe periodic days of rest from customary labour is a legitimate exercise of the legislative power to provide for the physical and moral welfare of the community.” As neat a bit of double-talk as ever we’ve seen (for which we’ll blame the courts and not our encyclopedia), and pardon us if we’re a mite skeptical about a second set of reasons that is conveniently produced to justify an old opinion, when the first set of reasons begins to wear thin. If these Sunday laws were originally established for religious reasons and initially upheld by the courts for “frankly religious” reasons, let’s not try to pawn off another set of reasons on us today. If we’re not willing to permit full religious freedom to all of our citizens — freedom of and from religion — let’s at least have the gumption to admit it to one another.
In 1961 the U.S. Supreme Court listened to attorneys from Massachusetts, Maryland and Pennsylvania who argued that Blue Laws violated the First and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. A split decision went against them, thus increasing the likelihood of more, rather than less, Blue legislation across the country in the future.
Since we usually stay abed most Sundays anyway, it’s difficult to get too personally upset over laws concerning who can and cannot work on the seventh day; if God felt obliged to rest up after six days of toil, a mere mortal would probably be wise to do the same. But on the other hand, none of us spends his week putting together the heavens and the earth, which must have been pretty tiring work. Perhaps a highway toll taker can do whatever he wants seven days out of seven. But what really bugs us is the uneasy feeling that if we are able to justify one kind of Blue Law, what’s to stop someone from slipping in a few others on us again when nobody’s looking? No kiss from Mom on the Sabbath and a bullet in the head for adultery! And suppose a “Quaker or other blasphemous heretics” showed up at the Playboy Club some night and we got caught entertaining them?
Darwin and Prohibition
Puritan religious doctrine has infected our laws to a far greater degree than most of us probably realize. And consistent with what one might expect, with religion rather than reason dictates legislation and its adjudication, progress often becomes the victim.
In 1925 the state of Tennessee passed a religion-inspired anti-evolution law making it “unlawful for any teacher in any of the universities, normals and all other public schools of the state, to teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach that instead man has descended from a lower order of animals,” which resulted in the world famous Scopes Trial later that year in which high school biology teacher John Thomas Scopes was charged with teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in his classes. The case caused a sensation, because Christian Fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan went to Dayton, Tennessee, to assist the local prosecutor, and the American Civil Liberties Union took an interest in the case, persuading Clarence S. Darrow, the most famous criminal lawyer of his generation, to accept the role of chief counsel for the defense, assisted by Dudley Field Malone, a liberal Catholic and one of the great courtroom orators of the time, and by Arthur Garfield Hays, the outstanding civil liberties attorney. The rulings of the judge prevented any testing of the constitutionality of the law and Scopes was found guilty on a technicality, but Darrow managed to get Bryan on the stand and subjected him to a devastating cross-examination on his Fundamentalist attitude regarding the conflict between science and the Bible that made Bryan the laughingstock of the nation; many believe that the experience hastened his death, which occurred five days after the close of the trial. The defense appealed the case to the state supreme court which, in 1927, upheld the constitutionality of the law, while clearing Scopes on another technicality.
Perhaps the most hurtsome legislation ever effected in America was the Puritan-inspired 18th Amendment that in 1919 made Prohibition the law of the land. The Anti-Saloon leagues, the W.C.T.U. and other Christian temperance groups had been working toward this end for several decades and a number of states and local communities were voted dry years before national prohibition of the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages took effect. Prohibition actually began as a Blue Law, when continuous agitation by the temperance societies resulted in a limited statewide prohibition by Indiana statute, in 1816, making the sale of liquor on Sunday illegal.
National Prohibition was a hotly debated moral issue, with strong and sincere feelings running high on both sides, but by World War I, when it came to a final vote, a considerable majority favored its passage and the absent soldier vote, if cast, would not have made any substantial difference at the polls.
The “Noble Experiment” undoubtedly had its benefits, but when weighed against the terrible negatives it produced, the deep social and economic consequences from which we have still not fully recovered as a nation, we have a dramatic lesson in the harm that most sincerely motivated people can do when they try to legislate the private lives and morals of their fellow citizens. In the failure to enforce the unenforceable laws of Prohibition, there was a general breaking down of law and order: A tremendous illicit liquor traffic developed, putting huge sums of money in the hands of well-organized criminal gangs; public officials were corrupted to protect the illegal flow of alcohol; the general administration of justice was hampered by the overflowing courts and prisons cluttered with Prohibition cases; secret dens of vice, much more difficult to control, replaced the open saloons of yesteryear; and previously respectable, law-abiding citizens flaunted law enforcement.
In the Borah-Butler debate in Boston in 1927, Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler argued: “The 18th Amendment must come out of the Constitution, because it does not belong there. It affronts and disfigures it. It contradicts every principle upon which the Constitution rests, and the difficulties, the embarrassments, the shocking scenes reported daily from every part of the land are the natural and necessary result of the inner contradiction that has been set up between the Constitution, as it was, and the 18th Amendment added to it in 1919….
“We talk of law enforcement. You cannot enforce conflicting laws — something must give way; and, when it is the 18th Amendment and the legislation based upon it on the one hand and the whole body of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the whole of political English and American history on the other, which do you suppose will have to give way? It must be this new and invading element in our public law.”
Repeal had become a national issue by the time of the presidential election of 1932 and national Prohibition came to an end in December of 1933. Its major scars are still evident, however — some 30 years later. The general disrespect which a great many Americans still have for their laws and for local law enforcement agents is the direct result of the lawlessness in which the ordinary citizen participated during Prohibition; and the well-organized criminal gangs that developed to supply the demand for illegal liquor used their organizations and the millions of dollars in profit they gained from that “Noble Experiment” to build an impregnable crime empire that law enforcement officers, at the federal, state and local levels, seem at a loss to cope with today.
Prohibition, in one form or another, still exists in many parts of these United States. Whatever benefit these communities — and some entire states — believe they are reaping as a result must be weighed against the very real damage to law, government and public morality that the daily flaunting of prohibition produces. The hypocrisy that accompanies such legislation is sometimes beyond belief, as governmental bodies execute and enforce laws while simultaneously evolving complicated systems for circumventing the laws’ intentions. And as we have already observed, when religion rather than reason dictates legislation, do not expect logic with your law: On Sunday, in the largest city in the land, it is perfectly permissible to drink in public in any of several thousand clubs or bars (after one p.m.), but you cannot purchase a packaged bottle of liquor in order to drink in the privacy of your own home.
In much of what we have written this month, it may have seemed that we have little regard for the religious side of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Life could be a very bleak and empty experience without faith and hope to fill the black void of the unknown.
What we oppose is any man’s attempt to force his faith upon others. Religion should be a personal matter between man and God; it has nothing to do with man’s relationship with government. They must be kept separate — totally separate — and apart. If they are not, man will no longer remain free.
When we first began writing this editorial statement of our beliefs and purposes, we had no intention of still being at it in the early spring, but there are buds pushing up through the sod and we’ve just seen our first robin redbreast. What better time to be writing about Puritanism, sex suppression, lawlessness, censorship, divorce, birth control and abortion?
We expect to cover all of these subjects — and more — in the next month or two, and it may appear to some readers that we are wandering rather far afield in our delineation of this magazine’s editorial credo, but we have been encouraged by the considerable response to the first parts of The Playboy Philosophy, to the extent that we have broadened the subject area to include many of the interrelated societal factors we feel have gone into the making of our modern American culture, some personal comment upon them, and an attempt to show how we feel this magazine is involved.
To that end, we have thus far discussed and tried to answer some of the criticism most commonly leveled at Playboy’s content and concept. We have traced the lineage of the Uncommon Man through American history — with the country’s related accent on individualism and initiative; we have considered the Depression-conceived concern for, and eventual elevation of, the common man — noting how the national emphasis shifted to an overemphasis on conformity and security. We have commented upon the arrival of the postwar Upbeat Generation and the beginning of what we feel may well become and American Renaissance; a comparison of capitalism and communism, with the relative strengths and weaknesses the two systems have displayed in countries throughout the world since the end of the war; the relationship between organized religion and democracy in the U.S.; the sexual revolution taking place in our society today; and last month, American Puritanism and the importance of the separation of church and state.
Yet to Come
If we appear to have left some loose ends dangling along the way, they will be tied together in subsequent issues, wherein we will explain Playboy’s sometimes misunderstood attitude toward women; an analysis of the shifting roles of the male and female in our ever-changing, ever more complex civilization; an expression of concern over the resultant drift in the United States toward an Asexual Society; a vivisection of Momism and the Womanization of America, charting the manner in which one of the sexes has successfully wrested control of our culture from the other; a review of the effect Womanization has had on our manners and morals, on business, advertising, books, newspapers, television, movies and magazines; a comparison of the sex contents of this and a number of other specific periodicals, in an attempt to establish who really is confused, who sick and who well on the subject of sex, in our schizophrenic social order; a consideration of the schism that currently exists regarding American beauty and why we believe the Vogue Woman is unfeminine, antisexual and competitive rather than a complementing counterpart to the American male; and finally, a summary of this publication’s views on the ideal interrelationship between modern Man and Woman, Man and Society, Man and Government, and Man and Religion, in which we challenge the cynics, the hypocrites, the aesthetes, the clowns and the critics with a choice selection of their own words on the subject of Playboy. We thus intend to end this editorial with something of a feast — perhaps more humbly described as a small repast: Calling upon whatever culinary skills we may possess, with thanks to our long association with Thomas Mario, we will serve up a tasty dish — prepared with spice and a dash of vinegar — a fine fowl, well suited to the gourmet appetites of our most deserving detractors: fricassee of crow. And we wish them bon apptit.
Religious Freedom Reconsidered
In the previous issue, we pointed out that no nation can be said to have true religious freedom unless it possesses not only freedom of, but also freedom from, religion. There is nothing sacrilegious in this viewpoint — it is a cardinal concept in our democracy and one that our religious and patriotic founding fathers took great care to spell out in both the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They recognized that a complete separation of church and state was the only certain way of assuring that this country’s religion and its government would remain free, one from the other. A free democratic society and organized religion need not be in conflict, but neither are they grounded on the same bedrock: Religion is founded on faith and a belief in its own absolutes; a democracy requires that men rely upon reason and the relative nature of truth — the acceptance of the notion that ultimate truth is unknown and that what we observe as truth today may give way to a better truth tomorrow. Kept separate and distinct, our own particular religion and our government can function in harmony — we can be both religious and good citizens at the same time; but if either power is allowed to intrude into areas rightfully the domain of the other, an erosion of our most fundamental rights has begun and will be, to that extent, less free.
Considering the emphasis that our founding fathers placed upon religious freedom when writing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the continuing lip service we give the concept today, there is real irony in the extent to which various religious pressures and prejudices have infiltrated our laws, our court decisions, the running of many of our cities and states, and innumerable secular aspects of our daily lives. This strange state of affairs is only understandable when we remember that most of our deeply rooted traditions come from Europe and that throughout European history, church and state have been intimately interinvolved. It matters not at all that history thus supplies centuries of documentation on the evil abuses that may result when religion and government are not kept separate — cultural traditions exist on a nearly subconscious level in a society and they cannot be extirpated by logic alone.
Though many of the first settlers came to America to escape religious persecution, they were soon practicing themselves what they had left Europe to avoid. Early American Puritanism required the observance of a rigid religious dogma that permeated every aspect of life. And the Puritans had little respect or tolerance for any beliefs other than their own: Dancing on the Sabbath meant a night in the stocks or a session on the ducking stool; heretics and witches (i.e., those who espoused unpopular beliefs or acted too peculiarly) were hung. Trial by jury was outlawed in Connecticut and several other New England colonies; only church elders could vote or hold office; civil law was drawn directly from the Puritan interpretation of Holy Scriptures.
The prejudice and prudery, bigotry and boobery of Puritanism did have one unintentionally beneficial effect, however: the extreme importance our founding fathers placed upon the separation of church and state. But while most Americans in the time of the Revolution fervently favored this newfound freedom, the roots of religious Puritanism thrived and spread underground. With two strokes — the Bill of Rights and the Constitution — these first American patriots cut down the twisted tree of Puritanism (and all other forms of overpowering religious oppression), but the roots remained alive in our cultural earth.
Thus, in these United States today, we speak of an ideal called religious freedom as though it were a reality, but an uncountable number of the rights and privileges we might reasonably expect in a truly free society have been subverted, distorted or taken away through the encroachment of religion and religious prejudice into almost every aspect of American life.
If you believe that you are relatively free of religiously inspired restraints (restraints established by other people’s religions, not simply your own), check your state statutes for the number of Sunday Blue Laws that force certain businesses to close their doors on the Sabbath, while allowing others to remain open; place legal restrictions on what you can and cannot do on Sunday; prohibit the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages at certain times and on certain days, and in some communities, at all times and on all days.
At the close of last month’s editorial, we expressed the belief that religion ought rightly to be a personal matter between man and God and should have nothing to do with man’s relationship with government. For when religion, rather than reason, dictates legislation, we cannot expect logic with our law.
But the so-called Sunday Blue Laws are only a small fraction of religion’s continuing infringement upon our most basic freedoms. We would like to explore now a number of other ways in which religion has become involved in the nonreligious areas of our society and consider some of the consequences.
A Lesson in Lawlessness
Religious influence in government can produce a breakdown in law and order through the enactment of laws that many of the people do not believe in and will not obey: Puritan-prompted Prohibition turned previously respectable, law-abiding citizens into lawbreakers; a tremendous illicit liquor traffic developed, putting millions of dollars into the hands of well-organized criminal gangs; public officials were corrupted to protect the illegal flow of alcohol; and the general administration of justice broke down. National Prohibition, forced upon an unwilling public by do-gooders and religious zealots, is widely recognized as a classic example of the harm that even the most sincerely motivated people can do when they attempt to legislate the private lives and personal morals of their fellow citizens.
More than 30 years after Prohibition’s repeal, some scars from the nation’s “Noble Experiment” still have not healed: Many Americans retain and unwittingly pass on to their offspring a general disrespect for their laws and contempt for local law enforcement officers as a direct result of the lawlessness in which the ordinary citizen participated during the Twenties; and the criminal gangs that developed to supply the demand for illegal liquor have utilized the illicit organizations and profits spawned by Prohibition to build giant crime cartels that law enforcement agencies are largely unable to cope with today. This is the Frankenstein monster that we wrought as a nation when we attempted to play God and create a more perfect man — not through education or moral persuasion, but by legal edict. Today we still suffer the mark of a mistake that lasted for little more than a decade and ended in 1932. And the saddest aspect of the “Noble Experiment” is not that we attempted it, or that it failed, but that many of us learned so little from its failure.
Divorce American Style
Marriage is a legal relationship, but the bonds of holy matrimony may also have deep religious significance. The marriage laws of church and state differ for many Americans, of course, but any conflict that may arise between them is a matter of individual concern, which is as it should be. The same is not true for divorce.
In all too many states, divorce legislation has been religiously inspired. As a result, there are almost as many laws establishing criteria for the dissolution of marriage as there are states in the Union.
In New York, the only legal ground for divorce is adultery. And since the real reasons for the breakup of most relationships are complex and varied, couples desiring a divorce must be willing to swear under oath to something that is not necessarily true. Or as comedian Dick Gregory has expressed it: “The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ But the State of New York says, ‘You must!'” And so respect for our laws receives yet another serious setback.
In other countries, where the concept of a separate church and state does not exist, the results can be far more devastating. The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize any justification for divorce, though it may sometimes offer the equivalent through an annulment, under certain rigidly circumscribed circumstances. In the U.S., a Catholic may receive a civil divorce decree, but he is still married in the eyes of the Church and is forbidden to marry anyone else. This places no improper restraint upon an American, because he has accepted the Catholic Church and its doctrines of his own free will and he can reject them any time he chooses.
In Catholic-controlled Italy, however, where religion dictates much of the law, the only way a marriage can be terminated — as broadly spoofed in the film Divorce – Italian Style — is through the death of one or both of the marriage partners. It doesn’t matter what religion an Italian may or may not want as his own, this religious doctrine is the law of the land. Thus there must be thousands of tragedies involving unknown couples for every well-publicized injustice like the one perpetrated against Carlo Ponti and his voluptuous wife, Italian movie star Sophia Loren. Although they had been married for five years, Ponti had been married before, and his Mexican divorce had no legal standing in Italy. The Italian government has therefore announced that Carlo and Sophia are living in sin in the eyes of both the Roman Church and State and they were recently threatened with legal prosecution for bigamy. The injustice in all of this is not caused by the Catholic dogma forbidding divorce, but by the fact that religious doctrine is the basis of Italian law, affecting Catholics and non-Catholics equally.
Religion and Education
Religion can hinder as well as help the educational progress of a society: Organized religion has played a major role in the development of education throughout history and is responsible for the creation of many of our major schools and universities here in America and throughout the world. But when organized religion moves outside its proper spheres of influence, it can have a suppressive effect upon education in both the classroom and through the control exercised over a society’s speech and press. Since most religions are based upon beliefs in certain absolutes, it is easy to understand why the strongly religious person might object to any idea taught in school or expressed in a book, magazine or newspaper that did not coincide with his own particular religious orientation. From his viewpoint, why permit the promulgation of a clearly fraudulent doctrine when the simple truth is so evident (to him).
But it is this very logic, built upon personal religious absolutes, that makes the curbing of any church influence upon our public schools, our speech and our press, so essential.
Last month we commented upon the famous “Monkey Trial” of the Twenties, in which a biology teacher named John Thomas Scopes was arrested in Tennessee for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution, in violation of a newly enacted state statute prohibiting anyone from espousing a “theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” The prosecution, led by religious fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan, attacked the notion that man was related to the monkey, whereupon famed criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow proceeded to make monkeys out of William Jennings Bryan and the prosecution. But the Tennessee court found the teacher guilty just the same, and in the appeal the State Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law, while finding the teacher not guilty on a technicality.
There may seem to be no such blatant legal restraints upon teaching today, but how many public high schools in America have little or no sex education because of religious influence expressed through either actual laws or less formal pressures? Protestant Puritanism has made the public discussion of sex taboo in America for generations, and all of Christian and Hebrew tradition includes a certain amount of antisexual folklore; in addition, many U.S. Catholics fear that any comprehensive program of sex education in the schools might soon include information on birth control — which it should, of course, and almost never does.
Another popular method of Puritan control over education is through the banning of books in school libraries and on teachers’ prescribed reading lists. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a group of parents demanded that a teacher in Edison High School be fired because she assigned J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye to her 11th-grade English class; in San Jose, California, obeying parental protests, Andrew Hill High School removed five novels from its library and from its recommended reading lists for seniors — The Catcher in the Rye, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, William Saroyan’s Human Comedy and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, prompting the San Jose News to editorialize, “Involved here is culture, genius, literature and American pride that is being snuffed out for no reason at all and by people who apparently have never read a hard-cover book since their adolescent years.” In Miami, Florida, the Dade County School Board approved the withdrawal of Brave New World and 1984, George Orwell’s frightening contemporary classic about a future society subjected to rigorously enforced thought control.
Free Speech and Free Love
It is still just as possible for a biology teacher to find himself vilified and ostracized for expressing an unpopular point of view in the Sixties as it was in Tennessee in the Twenties. In 1960, at our own alma mater, the University of Illinois, biology professor Leo Koch responded to a student editorial in the Daily Illini on ritualized necking and petting on campus with a letter that stated: “With modern contraceptives and medical advice readily available at the nearest drugstore, or at least a family physician, there is no valid reason why sexual intercourse should not be condoned among those sufficiently mature to engage in it without social consequences and without their own codes of morality and ethics.”
And then the professor included an all-too-prophetic paragraph that none of the major newspapers or wire services that reported on the incident cared to include in their coverage: “The…important hazard is that a public discussion of sex will offend the leaders of our religious institutions. These people feel that youngsters should remain ignorant of sex for fear that knowledge of it will lead to temptation and sin.”
As though to prove the accuracy of that statement, Reverend Ira Latimer, of the Bureau of Public Affairs, Institute of Economic Policy in Chicago and member of the University of Illinois Dad’s Association, sat down and wrote a letter to the parents of female students of the university. The letter included:
“Professor Leo F. Koch’s exhortation to sexual promiscuity — evidently timed to appear when a large number of high school students were visiting the campus for the annual basketball tournament — is an audacious attempt to subvert the religious and moral foundations of America. It calls for immediate action by the faculty of the university, the board of trustees, the governor, or, if all of these fail in their responsibility, by the people of the state.
“The standard operating procedure of the Communist conspiracy is to demoralize a nation as a necessary preliminary to taking over…. Professor Koch’s letter follows this formula point by point.
“…he [Koch] concludes [in his letter] that ‘the heavy load of blame should fall on the depraved society which reared them.’ This is also perfect Communist party-line technique — to call that which is good ‘bad’ and that which is bad ‘good.’
“…Animal Koch would reduce us to a sub-animal level…. All this, of course, is a calculated appeal to the appetites of young men who thoughtlessly suppose that a college campus would be a paradise if coeds were no more ‘inhibited’ than prostitutes. The bait for women is the suggestion that they are discriminated against by ‘a double standard of morality.’
“…The central target, of course, is Christianity, and Professor Koch openly deplores ‘the hypocritical and downright inhumane moral standards engendered by a Christian code of ethics which was already decrepit in the days of Queen Victoria….’
“Professor Koch’s…letter is proof that something is terribly wrong in the University of Illinois. This is the university whose trustees recently voted that students getting handouts from the Federal Treasury should not be asked to sign statements that they are not engaged in conspiracy against the United States. It would seem that a majority of the trustees believe that Communists have a right to be supported by the American taxpayers….
“I herewith offer to address any student organization or campus church on the subject of ‘Koch and Subversion.'”
With biology professor Leo Koch clearly established as a part of the Communist conspiracy (the next logical step is to begin labeling sex itself as subversive; with the old bugaboo sin having lost much of its original potency, it may not be too farfetched to suspect that sexual intercourse outside of marriage will soon be attacked as a Commie invention — or a sign of liberal, leftist, pinko leanings, at the very least), several hundred distraught Illinois parents demanded his dismissal. David D. Henry, president of the University of Illinois, hesitated hardly a moment: He promptly suspended his biology professor with the statement that Koch’s letter was “offensive and repugnant, contrary to accepted standards of morality.”
The Christian Century, a prominent Protestant magazine, was disappointed in the reason President Henry gave for the suspension, considered it “deficient” in that it was “humanistic” and failed to state that the religious taboos violated by Koch are based on “revelation.”
The nation’s newspapers had a field day with distorted headlines like: PROFESSOR TO BE FIRED FOR URGING FREE LOVE. And the Illinois campus witnessed a student demonstration that would have warmed the hearts of those who have criticized American youth for being too passive and unresponsive to public issues: President David D. Henry was hung in effigy — a well-dressed likeness complete with spectacles and a mustache — just outside the University YMCA, complete with a sign that read, “Hanged for Killing Academic Freedom.” (The general secretary of the Y said that the students who had hung the dummy there were “plotting against the YMCA.”)
More than 2000 students held a rally to protest the professor’s suspension. One poster held aloft by a student during the demonstration expressed the matter nicely: NOT “FREE LOVE” BUT FREE SPEECH. W. Thomas Morgan, former FBI agent, who is now the university’s chief security officer, said the demonstrations had been kept under close surveillance: University photographers took a number of pictures of the students closest to the speaker’s platform. (Apparently based on some sort of “guilt by proximity.”)
There were other, more literate protests. One student wrote to the Daily Illini: “President Henry felt that Dr. Koch’s views were a reflection on the university. I feel that the university’s action is a reflection on me. The cynicism implied in the act must not be allowed to speak for the students….”
A report to President Henry from the “University Committee on Academic Freedom” stated: “In this university…21.8% [of the students] are already married and the remainder are at a stage of development and maturity at which they can and do weigh and debate advice on relations between the sexes. It is doubtful if the reading of the Koch letter could have had any significant effect on their sexual behavior.”
The Illinois Division of the American Civil Liberties Union — a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, made up largely of lawyers who donate their time without charge and that also played a prominent part in the defense of biologist Scopes in the “Monkey Trial” of the Twenties — issued the statement: Koch’s dismissal will “leave the young with the impression that conventional morality cannot stand the scrutiny of public discussion.”
Dr. Leo Koch himself observed: “The controversy here is over the definition of Academic Freedom. My opponents are working for a definition limited by ‘academic responsibility.’ In their mind, this means not embarrassing the university administration by expressing views which are so controversial that outside pressure is exerted on them. In this view a professor has less freedom of speech than a ditchdigger.”
A few weeks later Professor Koch’s suspension was confirmed by the University Board of Trustees and he was officially fired. Such is sometimes the result when religion becomes too involved in education.
Censorship for Adults
American religious beliefs have placed unconstitutional curbs on our freedom of speech, press and other media of communication: Just as organized religion sometimes exerts an undue influence on teaching and the administration of our public schools, so it also affects the free exchange of ideas among the people themselves — whether spoken, printed or projected on a movie or television screen.
In part three of The Playboy Philosophy (February 1963), we commented on the sexual revolution presently taking place in the U.S. and the effect this is having upon the purityrannical censorship that has for so long been a part of our American culture. The sexual naivete of our nation little more than a generation ago is almost beyond belief: Important books were banned (not just in schools, but for the entire adult population), movies were precensored, the U.S. Post Office was the official arbiter of taste in periodicals; a national magazine was outlawed in a number of communities for publishing pictures of the birth of a baby; venereal disease, contraception and abortion were subjects taboo to the public press; a number of words common in our language were never allowed in popular books and magazines.
Times have changed and today America enjoys a freedom of expression unparalleled in its history. But we still have a long way to go, for beneath the surface of this freedom-loving nation still runs a strain of comstockery waiting to be exploited by the neurotic, the ignorant, the misguided and the wellintentioned.
Congresswoman Kathryn Granahan of Pennsylvania fits at least three of these aforementioned characterizations. As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Postal Operations, she allows neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night to stay her from her self-appointed task of hunting and exposing “smut and filth.” In her subcommittee hearings she has included, along with other investigatory chores, the exposure of “dirty” foreign movies. She sounded the hunting horn in a speech she gave in Washington, D.C. not long ago. “I am most gravely concerned at the influx of foreign films that evidence a sense of moral values so remote from ours as to be completely repugnant,” she said, adding that the “overemphasis and distortion of sex” in those movies might well be part of the Communist plot to sap U.S. moral strength. (Gosh darn, we were right — sex is subversive! Now there’s something Mother never told us.)
A more aware comment about sex in cinema came from producer-director Elia Kazan: “Art should help us digest and understand our own experience,” he said. “The issue is not one of making immoral movies. Our problem is to prevent moral values from being oversimplified. People see a film that has a phony happy ending, and they get a distorted view which hurts them later. They expect life to be what it isn’t.”
Comedian Lenny Bruce, perhaps the most perceptive and certainly the most provocative gentleman working on an American nightclub stage today, whom Steve Allen recently called “a true philosopher” on a recent TV panel show, seeks with his wit and verbal shock therapy to provoke people into seeing life very much as it really is. In the past year he has been arrested and jailed three times for his pains — in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. The charge has always been the same: obscenity; for Lenny’s act includes a dissertation on so-called “obscene” words and an analysis of why they are considered obscene.
It didn’t matter that a nightclub audience is traditionally composed almost exclusively of adults and that these same words appear in considerable abundance in dozens of popular books of fiction, available to anyone in inexpensive paperback editions at the nearest drugstore. Lenny’s San Francisco trial has already ended; he was acquitted. The cases in Los Angeles and Chicago are still pending as this issue of Playboy goes to press; in Chicago the liquor license of The Gate of Horn, the club in which Lenny appeared, is presently involved in a revocation proceeding because of the allegedly obscene act (the revocation proceeding is taking place before the trial to determine if Bruce’s act really was obscene).
The Chicago arrest also had some unfortunate religious overtones. Lenny Bruce explores the entire spectrum of society’s foibles and frailties in his act and it is perhaps inevitable that organized religion gets more than its share of abuse in the process. One of his lines, “Let’s get out of the churches and back to religion,” is typical.
Bruce has been arrested or threatened and driven out of other cities on a number of previous occasions, but this is the first time that the club in which he worked has had revocation proceedings brought against it.
Variety reported, after the first day of hearings on the liquor license revocation: “After nearly a full day of hearing prosecution witnesses, it is evident that, in essence, Bruce is being tried in absentia.
“Another impression is that the city is going to a great deal of trouble to prosecute Allan Ribback, the owner of the club, although there have been no previous allegations against the cafe and the charge involves no violence or drunken behavior…. [The Gate of Horn is Chicago’s most important cafe specializing in folk music.]
“Testimony so far indicates that the prosecutor is at least equally as concerned with Bruce’s indictment of organized religion as he is with the more obvious sexual content of the comic’s act. It’s possible that Bruce’s comments on the Catholic Church have hit sensitive nerves in Chicago’s Catholic-oriented administration and police department.”
A few days following the arrest, one of the arresting officers cornered club owner Ribback and said, “I want you to know that I’m a Catholic and the things Lenny Bruce said in here are offensive to my religion and to me. And I want you to know he’s not going to get away with it and you’re not going to get away with it either.”
Shortly after the Chicago arrest, Bruce received a letter from the Reverend Sidney Lanier, Vicar of St. Clement’s Church in New York, which said: “I came to see you the other night because I had read about you and was curious to see if you were really as penetrating a critic of our common hypocrisies as I had heard. I found that you are an honest man, sometimes a shockingly honest man, and I wrote you a note to say so. It is never popular to be so scathingly honest, whether it is from a nightclub stage or from a pulpit, and I was not surprised to hear you were having some ‘trouble.’ This letter is written to express my personal concern and to say what I saw and heard on Thursday night.
“First, I emphatically do not believe your act is obscene in intent. The method you use has a lot in common with most serious critics (the prophet or the artist, not the professional) of society. Pages of Jonathan Swift and Martin Luther are quite unprintable even now because they were forced to shatter the easy, lying language of the day into the basic, earthy, vulgar idiom of ordinary people in order to show up the emptiness and insanity of their times. (It has been said, humorously but with some truth, that a great deal of the Bible is not fit to be read in Church for the same reason.)
“Clearly your intent is not to excite sexual feelings or to demean, but to shock us awake to the realities of racial hatred and invested absurdities about sex and birth and death — to move toward sanity and compassion. It is clear that you are intensely angry at our hypocrisies (yours as well as mine) and at the highly subsidized mealy-mouthism that passes as wisdom.
“You may show this letter to anyone you wish if it can be of help. Please call me when you come back from Chicago. May God bless you.”
Some religious leaders really are leaders, in the best sense.
A Rose Is a Rose
Can a single word or phrase — apart from its overall meaning or intent — be considered obscene? Some people seemingly still think so, despite the Supreme Court ruling that obscenity must be judged within the context of the total work in which it appears.
Just how much our attitude on what’s in a name has changed over the past 15 years may be seen by considering the following: Life — the same magazine that was outlawed in a number of cities across the U.S. for publishing photographs of a baby’s birth in the late Thirties — editorialized against the use of four-letter words in the prize-winning novel From Here to Eternity, by James Jones, just ten years later. Life’s editorial was titled “From Here to Obscenity” and the editors objected to the strong language included in the speech and thoughts of the soldiers in the book. They didn’t suggest that the language was not authentic — they knew it was — but they expressed the notion that the same words may have a different effect when read in a novel and when spoken by soldiers in barracks and battle. They also pointed to The Red Badge of Courage, the powerful novel about men fighting in the Civil War, written by Stephen Crane, who had never been in battle himself, as proof that it was possible to write about war without the use of certain words they found objectionable. And in this, they are undoubtedly right, though it hardly appears to make any point. It might also be possible to write a great book without ever once using the letter “e” — but for what purpose? Their suggestion, if taken seriously, would turn the art of writing into a semantic parlor game. No writing can capture completely the full emotion of experience. But their proposal would defeat one of the major purposes of literature — to make the world a bit more real and comprehensible by exploring subjects and experiences with which the reader may very well not be personally familiar. Or, as distinguished literary critic, lecturer, teacher and author Leslie A. Fiedler expressed it in his Playboy article, The Literati of the Four-Letter Word (June 1961): “The unexamined life, Socrates once remarked, is not worth living; he might have gone on to note further that the unexpressed act is not fully lived. What we cannot say we cannot examine, and what we cannot examine we do not really experience. These are the simple truths which make clear why literature has meaning in our lives, and our lives total meaning only when they have become also literature.”
That a rose by any other name may have a decidedly offensive odor was made exceedingly clear in a CBS-TV interview with Mrs. Christine Gilliam, housewife and head of Atlanta’s five-member movie-censorship board, in explaining why she banned Never on Sunday in her city: “I might call your attention to the fact that some of the other films that have had a similar theme have not used the word whore,” she told the interviewer and several million television viewers. “We’ve called them tramps; we’ve called them ladies of easy virtue; we’ve called them callgirls; we’ve called them…girls of the night; but that is a word that we have not customarily allowed on our screens in Atlanta, because we consider it just a bit too rugged for family audiences.” (The good lady’s concern over what words were to be allowed on the screens of Atlanta apparently did not include TV screens.)
As the head of the Memphis censor board, also a housewife, commented a while back: “I have heard twice in pictures a word that I have never heard used before: ‘s-l-u-t.'”
The Kansas Board of Review is typical of the groups that are appointed watchdogs of public morality in movies and, despite all the unexpurgated films they see, these good citizens never seem to be driven to crime or debauchery: The Chairman of the Board is Mrs. Kitty McMahon, who attended junior college but did not graduate; other members are Mrs. C.E. McBride Jr., a high school graduate; and Mrs. Cecile Ryan, who attended Central College for Women in Lexington, Missouri. All three were appointed by the governor.
The following excerpts are quoted verbatim from the Kansas Board’s monthly reports: “Eliminate shouting of word ‘bitch’ (Tiger Bay); eliminate where Elizabeth Taylor says to her mother, ‘I’m the slut of all times’ (Butterfield 8); eliminate last part of dance scene of the first queen, showing the pelvic motions (Esther and the King); eliminate where Danny shouts to his mother, ‘What are you doing shacking up with him?’ (The Young Savages); eliminate dialog where wife says to husband, Harold, ‘Martin did not rape me’ (Last Woman on Earth); eliminate where pregnant woman says to other woman, ‘Bastards have only bastard children’…also eliminate rape scene (The Virgin Spring); eliminate where Dominique is in bed and turns over and exposes nude buttocks (The Truth); eliminate where guest says to girl ‘Hi, bitch,’ also where Magdalena says to Marcello, ‘I want to amuse myself like a whore,’ also where blonde says to man, ‘That bitch is in love with you,’ also where Emma tells Marcello, ‘Go back to your whore,’ also where blonde says, ‘I’ve always been a whore all my life and I’m not going to change now’ (La Dolce Vita).”
None of this concentrated activity on the part of the well-meaning ladies of Kansas is apt to bring movies any closer to what Kazan described as their more serious aim: “to help us digest and understand our own experience.”
Is it too much to suggest that no single word or phrase should be so objectionable, so repugnant to the normal adult that it cannot be spoken, printed or projected on a motion picture or television screen? (And good sense dictates, and the Supreme Court has confirmed, a complex contemporary society must be run on terms suited to the normal adult, not some perverted exception and not children, lest the society thus be reduced to the level of the pervert or the child.)
The very notion that a solitary word could be vile and harmful enough to warrant expurgating it from a book, a movie or a play appears preposterous on the face of it. These “filthy” and “obscene” words are produced from the same familiar 26 letters of our alphabet as those suitable for the most proper and polite society. How can inoffensive letters produce an obscene word when put together in a certain way? Even the very same letters are impotent unless arranged in precisely the proper order — clearly demonstrating that the taint is upon the word itself and not upon the component letters. (Reassurance for any of you who may have been inclined to suspect those little letters of any mischief on their own.)
Equally apparent, upon consideration, is the more remarkable fact that it is not the thought, the action or the object described by an obscene word that makes it obscene; for the idea, activity or entity can almost always be described by other “acceptable” words — “clean” words that mean precisely the same thing as the “dirty” ones. It is clear then that it is the word — and the word alone — that commits the offense.
An emotionally charged response to a word rather than to its meaning — to the symbol rather than the thing symbolized — is as primitive and illogical as totem worship or other forms of idolatry (which the Ten Commandments specifically forbids). The image of 20th Century Man — splitter of the atom, conqueror of space, healer of the world’s most dread diseases — groveling on his knees before the magic potency of a four-letter word may be just ludicrous enough to sway the least convinced of our readers. It may hopefully raise doubts about the logic underlying society’s commonly accepted attitude toward not only obscene words, but all so-called obscenity.
MortimerJ. Alder, director of the Institute for Philosophical Research, recently wrote, in response to a query on the pro and con of censorship in a democratic society: “Censors today object to certain words as well as to certain subject matters. They wish to ban the public use of common terms for sexual and excretory functions and organs. This leads to a certain difficulty, since many of the greatest writers in our tradition — including Aristophanes, Rabelais, Chaucer, Shakespeare and the translators of the King James version of the Bible — use some or all of the earthy terms. If we are to follow the verbal criterion of obscenity, then we must ban some of the greatest works in our tradition, or we must inconsistently permit in the classics of the past what we will not permit in contemporary works.
“Again, it is hard to determine the exact moral effect of ordinary terms, which, as Judge Woolsey remarked in his [favorable] decision on James Joyce’s Ulysses, are in fairly common usage. For one thing, their directness and simplicity may be more wholesome than the sniggering indirectness of artful erotica.”
Judge Thurman Arnold, past assistant attorney general of the U.S. Court of Appeals, offered an observation on the extent to which a symbol can itself become obscene, as a participant in the Playboy Panel on “Sex and Censorship in Literature and the Arts” (Playboy, July 1961): “In 1911 a book was widely sold named Three Weeks,” said the judge, “in which the obscene passages consisted only of pages of asterisks at appropriate places. The book was passed from hand to hand in every college. Certainly it is unhealthy to be stimulated by asterisks…. A strict standard of obscenity contributes to such unhealthy [possibilities].” Judge Arnold stated that when strong sexual connotations are given to symbols (such as words) it tends to “create attitudes toward sex which are akin to fetishism.”
The other afternoon, while drawing up an outline of subjects to cover in this month’s editorial, we received a telephone call from a New York agent (showbiz, not literary) and in the course of the conversation, we mentioned that we were working on The Playboy Philosophy for May. He said that a few evenings earlier he had read the current Philosophy aloud to his wife and they had spent most of the evening discussing it. If this editorial series can get very much of that sort of thing going around the country — prompting discussion and debate on the relative merits of the common and the uncommon man, individual initiative vs. security and conformity as motives in modern society, the deeper significance of religious freedom in America and the other subjects we’ve been expressing our own views on the last few issues — it will have been well worth the writing. We must confess that we feel closer to our readers while working on each new installment of The Playboy Philosophy than we have at any time since we began editing this journal nearly ten years ago and nothing we’ve previously done here at Playboy has given us any greater satisfaction or pleasure.
It’s an interesting experience — organizing and setting down the fundamental ideas and ideals that have influenced and motivated one over the years. You find that in the very process of spelling out what you believe in, new truths begin taking form, new perspectives and relationships that you had previously only been vaguely aware of start falling into place. It’s a very stimulating process.
We try to personally read all the mail that comes in on the Philosophy and there has been a considerable amount of it — more than on any previous article, series or feature we’ve ever published. The letters are all carefully considered and we try to take them into account as we draw up the subject outlines for future parts of this editorial.
We don’t expect very many of our readers to agree with all the points we make in The Playboy Philosophy, though most will probably agree with most of them — for it is the unusual rapport between editors and readers that has made Playboy such a remarkable publishing phenomenon. But the single most significant point we have tried to establish here is the importance of many varied and divergent opinions — it is through their free exchange and interplay that a democracy thrives.
In the March issue, we discussed the importance of religious freedom and the separation of church and state in any society that is to remain truly free; we traced the history of American Puritanism and, last month, we pointed out how it has managed to insert itself into many of our laws and traditions, so as to frustrate some of the guarantees of freedom that our founding fathers wrote into the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Religious puritanism is never more insidious than when it succeeds in undermining the free expression of words and ideas amongst us. In the April issue, we also pointed out that censorship can become so confused that single words — treated as symbols, separate and apart from the action, object or idea they may represent — are often considered “obscene” in our culture; although granting such power to mere symbols might be likened to the worship of idols — specifically forbidden by the Bible — and is, according to Judge Thurman Arnold, creating attitudes toward sex that are akin to fetishism.
Obscenity and the Law
The U.S. courts no longer accept the position that a single word or phrase can be legally obscene, so such censorship or suppression in America is actually extralegal or outside the law; the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a work of art or literature — and this includes any book, magazine, movie or play — must be judged in its entirety and no part of it may be considered alone. But while the courts have become increasingly liberal in their interpretation of what constitutes obscenity in recent years, they still persist in judging our art and literature on the premise that obscenity does indeed exist and that it is illegal and outside the protections guaranteed to our freedoms of speech and press. It is with this premise that we want to take issue.
Is there any idea, no matter how repellent it may seem to some, that we can hope to expunge from the mind of man or afford to disallow in his writing or speech? As we have already said — and said again — our democratic way of life is built upon ideas, and our nation’s inner strength is drawn from their free, unhampered exchange — not, as Congresswoman Kathryn Granahan would have us believe, from censoring those notions that do not particularly suit us at a particular time. History has proven, over and over again, that the most important ideas are often not recognized as such when they are first expressed.
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, stated in his second inaugural address: “The press, confined to truth, needs no other restraint…no other definite line can be drawn between the inestimable liberty of the press and demoralizing licentiousness.” And in 1799 James Madison, chief hand in the drafting of the Constitution of the United States, wrote that to make a “distinction between the freedom of and the licentiousness of the press” would subvert the First Amendment.
Madison stated further: “Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of everything and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press. It has accordingly been decided by the practice of the States, that it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigour of those yielding the proper fruits.”
The founding fathers of this great democracy were unalterably opposed to any exception in this nation’s guarantees of the freedoms of speech and press because of supposed immoral, licentious, obscene or otherwise objectionable ideas that might be expressed, for they were convinced that no man, or group of men, or any government had the right to curtail the opinions of any other man or their free expression.
Nothing in the intervening years has given us any reason to disagree with the wisdom of these first American patriots; in fact, a greater insight into the psychological factors that influence man’s behavior supplies additional reasons for agreeing with Jefferson and Madison that these most basic freedoms should not be abridged. Nevertheless, religious puritanism has subtly eroded both the spirit and letter of this doctrine so that today it is virtually lost to us.
Only with the sexual revolution of the last decade have we begun to win back some of this long-lost freedom. We would like to establish here why we, ourself, are opposed to any manner of censorship and why the label of “obscene” is no just cause for suppressing any man’s endeavor, no matter how significant or trivial.
The Problem of Definition
We do not believe that a satisfactory definition for obscenity can ever be established.
The Supreme Court of the United States attempted a definition in 1957 in a split decision (7 to 2) in the case of U.S. vs. Roth. The High Court ruled that a work is obscene when “to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest.” This is the definition currently used by the courts.
It had the virtue of seriously curtailing the kind of arbitrary censorship that had previously prevailed. It included several specific directives: A work must be judged as a whole, not piecemeal; the predominant theme must be prurient; the standard for judgment must be an average member of the community, not an emotionally retarded adult and not a child. It confirmed that a mere discussion or portrayal of sex was not enough to automatically stamp a work “obscene”; on the contrary, the Supreme Court clearly recognized that material dealing with sex was an essential part of the exposition of ideas protected by the Constitution and only those works devoid of the “slightest redeeming social importance” were considered to be outside the protective arms of the fundamental law; unorthodox ideas, controversial ideas, even ideas hateful to the prevailing climate of opinion have the full protection of the First Amendment. It also attempted to establish a distinction between erotic realism and pornography.
However, as much-censored author D.H. Lawrence observed: “What is pornography to one man is the laughter of genius to another.”
And how does one go about “applying contemporary community standards”? The community standards of a sophisticated urban area like San Francisco are certainly not the same as those of a small town in Massachusetts. The community standards in the heart of a major city may not be the same as those of its suburbs; and both may differ from those to be found in the outlying rural areas; or in any particular part of a city where one particular ethnic or religious group predominates. Whose particular community standards do we apply? Is it to be the will of the majority? Or is it the will of a well-educated and enlightened minority? And in any case, have we the right to deny the laughter of genius to one group on the ground that is pornography to another?
Justice William O. Douglas of the Supreme Court has observed: “The standard of what offends ‘the common conscience of the community’ conflicts, in my judgment, with the command of the First Amendment that ‘Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.’ Certainly that standard would not be an acceptable one if religion, economics, politics or philosophy were involved. How does it become a Constitutional standard when literature treating with sex is concerned?
“Any test that turns on what is offensive to the community’s standards is too loose, too capricious, too destructive of freedom of expression to be squared with the First Amendment. Under that test, juries can censor, suppress and punish what they don’t like, provided the matter relates to ‘sexual impurity’ or has a tendency to ‘excite lustful thoughts.’ This is community censorship in one of its worst forms. It creates a regime where, in the battle between the literati and the Philistines, the Philistines are certain to win.”
Moreover, the judicial assumption that pure pornography is without any “redeeming social importance” is open to serious question. There is presently a considerable school of scientific opinion amongst authorities on human behavior suggesting not simply that pornography is harmless, but that it may actually have some value as a sublimation and release for pent-up sexual frustrations and desires.
Any person who feels the censor’s vengeful wrath may find some comfort in the knowledge that he is in illustrious company, for many of the world’s most honored writers, artists, poets and philosophers — the giants and the geniuses down through the ages — have known the scorn of their contemporaries and seen their works expurgated, bowdlerized, banned, burned and otherwise disfigured and destroyed. The list of the censored is a veritable Who’s Who of philosophy, art and literature: Homer, Confucius, Dante, Galileo, Shakespeare, Bacon, Voltaire, Gibbon, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Goethe, Shelley, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Hawthorne, Hans Christian Andersen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Darwin, Whitman, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Gilbert and Sullivan, Zola, De Maupassant, Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Kipling, Jack London, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Eugene O’Neill, Faulkner, Hemingway and Walt Disney, to name but a few.
Since the beginning of recorded history there have been individuals determined to force their own standards upon their fellow men. And time inevitably proves that the “dangerous” work of art or literature of one generation is the classic of the next — that any contemporary condemnation of the spoken or the written word appears ridiculous to succeeding generations.
Even the Bible has faced a long history of censorship in many countries. When William Tyndale translated the Bible into English, his work was suppressed and in 1536 he was imprisoned, strangled and then burned at the stake along with his translations.
Judge Thurman Arnold, past assistant attorney general of the U.S. and celebrated associate justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals, who wrote the famous decision in the Esquire obscenity case in 1946, has commented on the frustration and unintentional humor sometimes involved in a court’s attempt to determine what is, and is not, obscene; as a participant in the Playboy Panel on “Sex and Censorship in Literature and the Arts” (Playboy, July 1961), Judge Arnold observed: “I remember that in the case of Sunshine Book Company vs. Summerfield — involving a nudist magazine — in the District Court, Judge Kirkland examined each nude in the magazine and tried to analyze which would cause prurient thoughts. He condemned some and passed others. The spectacle of a judge poring over the picture of some nude, trying to ascertain the extent to which she arouses prurient interest — and then attempting to write an opinion that explains the difference between that nude and some other nude — has elements of low comedy.” Judge Arnold once commented that the only way to avoid argument over what is obscene and what is art in cases of this kind is to hold that “no nudes is good nudes,” which he was unwilling to do.
Arnold pointed out that William James made a most telling — and amusing — comment on the desperate futility of “playing the game of definitions,” in trying to determine just what “hard-core pornography” is: James wrote, “Such discussions are tedious — not as hard subjects like physics or mathematics are tedious, but as throwing feathers endlessly hour after hour is tedious.”
Dr. Albert Ellis, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, authority on sex and marriage, author of The Folklore of Sex and co-author of the two-volume Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior, said, during the same Playboy Panel on “Sex and Censorship”: “I don’t believe that the word ‘obscene’ can ever be properly, conclusively defined.”
One of the great difficulties with censorship of any sort is its unwillingness to stay put. It has a tendency to spread — and to contaminate other things around it. Once we accept the basic premise that any man or group or government has the right to dictate what the rest of us may read and listen to, what movies, plays and television programs we may watch, we’ve surrendered the ability to control the excesses that are certain to follow. Once the creepy, crawly creature is let inside the house, there is no predicting where it may get to and whom it may infect. A list of banned books begins with something called White Thighs and winds up with The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye; a local movie censor begins by clipping all the nudes out of a “nudie” film (leaving almost nothing but the credits), graduates to snipping Brigitte Bardot’s bare fanny out of The Truth and winds up mutilating Ingmar Bergman’s Virgin Spring (or cutting “s-l-u-t” out of a soundtrack, as a Memphis censor explained she’d done, because it is “a word I have never heard used before”).
The charge of obscenity itself is sometimes used as a cover for other things to which the censor objects: Political, philosophical, social, medical, religious and racial ideas have all been damned at one time or another for being “obscene.” This aspect of speech, art and literature that experts like Ellis doubt will ever be “properly, conclusively defined,” but which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled outside the protection of the Constitution, can thus be used by freedom’s enemies to thwart and throttle almost any opinion they oppose.
We quoted newspaper reports last month on the Chicago case against comedian Lenny Bruce, indicating that while the formal charge was obscenity, “testimony so far indicates that the prosecutor is at least equally concerned with Bruce’s indictment of organized religion….”
Criminal charges of obscenity were brought against the comic and a license revocation proceeding was instituted against The Gate of Horn, the club in which he was performing at the time of the arrest. Within the last 12 months, Bruce has also been arrested on charges of giving obscene performances in San Francisco and Los Angeles; he had already been acquitted in a jury trial in San Francisco and the Los Angeles case was still pending at the time of the Chicago arrest and trial; in neither of the previous cases had any legal or administrative action been taken against the club in which he appeared.
The liquor license revocation proceeding was held before the trial to determine whether or not Bruce’s act really was obscene. Variety reported, “After nearly a full day of hearing prosecution witnesses, it is evident that, in essence, Bruce is being tried in absentia.
“Another impression is that the city is going to a great deal of trouble to prosecute Alan Ribback, the owner of the club, although there have been no previous allegations against the caf and the charge involves no violence or drunken behavior….”
The Gate of Horn, Chicago’s foremost caf specializing in folk music, had its liquor license suspended for 15 days as a result of the hearing and owner Alan Ribback was forced to sell controlling interest in the establishment, because he was financially unable to reopen it on his own.
The trial was as incredible a spectacle as the hearing, though not for precisely the same reasons. In our opinion, Lenny Bruce is one of the most brilliant, perceptive performers to appear on a nightclub stage in the last decade (a viewpoint we share with a diverse group of critics and commentators on the performing arts that includes Steve Allen, Kenneth Tynan, Irv Kupcinet, Nat Hentoff, Dan Sorkin, Paul Krassner and Ralph Gleason); Bruce is also compulsively careening down a road of personal self-destruction from which there seems to be no turning back, which only made the trial doubly pathetic. Lenny decided to act as his own defense attorney.
As luck would have it, Playboy was taping the performance the night of the arrest for a review we were planning on his act (favorable); we have the entire evening on four-track and it was introduced as evidence at the trial by Bruce. We weren’t at Gate that evening, but we have played the tape and, in our opinion, the judge should have handed down a verdict of not guilty. The lawyer who worked along with Bruce on the case made a motion to the effect, but it was denied.
The religious considerations in the case arose again during the trial, as Variety reported in a second news story: Legal authorities “have been puzzled by the arrest, since it is the general opinion of many caf observers that performances with similar sexual content have been overlooked at other Chi clubs. It’s thought that Bruce’s attacks on organized religion may have been a deciding factor in making the arrest, or so the line of prosecution questions would indicate to date.”
Variety further stated: “The religious aspect popped up inadvertently on the final day of the prosecution’s testimony when 30 girl students from a Catholic college, who dropped in on a tour of the courts, were asked to leave [by the court]. The girls were in their late teens and early twenties.”
The jury, applying their own particular concept of “community standards,” found Bruce guilty. Judge Daniel J. Ryan denied a defense plea for more time to prepare a motion for a new trial (needed because a new lawyer for the defense had just come into the case) and the comedian was sentenced to one year in jail and a fine of $1000, the maximum penalty allowable under the Chicago obscenity statute. This sentence was pronounced in the United States of America, in the year 1963, because a man exercised his Constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech before an adult audience who had voluntarily gone to hear him speak and paid for the privilege. The sentence was pronounced because certain others in the community did not like the things that Bruce was saying, and objected to his saying them, even though they themselves were free to not go and pay to hear him. You don’t have to be a Lenny Bruce fan to be appalled by this.
Since — the acts of this particular judge and jury notwithstanding — the Lenny Bruce performance was not actually obscene, the decision will most certainly be reversed on appeal to a higher court. But one concerned with the underlying question of human rights must recognize that those opposing Bruce’s freedom of speech will most probably be winners in any case — for few, if any, Chicago club owners will risk booking the comedian in the future, with the threat of a possible license revocation hanging over their heads.
Lenny was not in court on the final day of the trial; he had a court appearance scheduled in Los Angeles on two new arrests from the previous week. LA police had tagged him with another obscenity charge during his opening night performance in a club on the Sunset Strip, although his previous Hollywood case had not yet come to trial. A few days later the Los Angeles police arrested him in a cab for suspicion of possessing narcotics (the third LA arrest on this charge within a year). The narcotics charge could bring up to ten years imprisonment, if they can make it stick; authorities sentenced stripper Candy Barr to 15 down in Texas for possession of marijuana on a first offense — 15 years!
Lenny himself is to blame for much of his trouble, if it’s possible to blame a lost soul for being lost. But we keep getting images of Billie Holiday and remembering the kind of police harassment she went through during her last night here on earth. A few days before his Chicago trial, Bruce received a letter from the Reverend Sidney Lanier, Vicar of St. Clement’s Church in New York, who wrote, in part: “I came to see you [in a New York club performance] the other night because I had read about you and was curious to see if you were really as penetrating a critic of our common hypocrisies as I had heard. I found that you are an honest man, sometimes a shockingly honest man…. It is never popular to be so scathingly honest, whether it is from a nightclub stage or from a pulpit, and I was not surprised to hear you were having some ‘trouble.'”
Lenny’s “trouble” has included a dozen arrests in as many months — six of them in Los Angeles, his hometown; he has lost his Beverly Hills house and is deeply in debt; the number of nightclubs in which he can work has steadily decreased to a small handful; the money he can earn in a club has decreased proportionately. Most of his friends and business associates have deserted him — many driven away by his unpredictable manner and moods — but the Vicar of St. Clement’s Church in New York offered — out of profound conviction and with true Christian charity — to come to Chicago and be a witness at his trial. Hip and perceptive Chicago disc jockey Dan Sorkin (best DJ in the Midwest and remembered nationally as second banana-announcer on the Emmy-winning Bob Newhart television show) withstood tremendous local pressures and literally risked his Chicago career to testify at the trial in Lenny Bruce’s behalf. It was a matter of principle and a defense of free speech that many around and over Sorkin could not understand; he offered to resign and seriously contemplated leaving the city rather than succumb to the coercion that was applied in opposition to his testifying.
Will Lenny Bruce be silenced? Perhaps. And if he is, the world will be a little poorer for it. Who else but Bruce could conceive of avoiding the newspapers’ cameras after a Los Angeles court appearance by printing four-letter words all over his face with Mercurochrome?
Reverend Lanier wrote: “I emphatically do not believe that your act is obscene in intent. The method you use has a lot in common with those of most serious critics (the prophet or the artist, not the professional) of society. Pages of Jonathan Swift and Martin Luther are quite unprintable even now because they were forced to shatter the easy, lying language of the day into the basic, earthy, vulgar idiom of ordinary people in order to show up the emptiness and insanity of their times. (It has been said, humorously but with some truth, that a great deal of the Bible is not fit to be read in church for the same reason.)
“Clearly your intent is not to excite sexual feelings or to demean, but to shock us awake to the realities of racial hatred and invested absurdities about sex and birth and death — to move toward sanity and compassion. It is clear that you are intensely angry at our hypocrisies (yours as well as mine) and at the highly subsidized mealy-mouthism that passes as wisdom…. May God bless you.”
In 1951 both Chicago and New York banned the Italian film, The Miracle, starring Anna Magnani, on the grounds that it was “sacrilegious.” The film’s distributor fought the ban through the courts and the Supreme Court ruled that sacrilege was not a proper basis for banning a movie; whereupon the City of Chicago promptly banned the motion picture again — this time on the ground that it was “obscene.” Again the film distributor took the case through the courts and again the Chicago censors’ decision was overruled, but by the time the movie was finally cleared in the second Supreme Court decision, so much time had elapsed that there was no longer any meaningful market for the movie.
The Chicago censors’ attempt to cut several “objectionable” words out of Anatomy of a Murder was successfully thwarted through a court appeal by the movie’s producer, Otto Preminger; one of the “objectionable” words was “contraceptive,” a medical term that can only be objected to on certain religious grounds.
The Chicago Tribune, self-proclaimed “The World’s Greatest Newspaper,” announced to its readers a little over a year ago that, henceforth, because of the number of popular books that its book editor found offensive, its list of “Best Sellers” would no longer include the titles of those volumes that did not measure up to their concept of community standards. Anyone turning to the Tribune’s Book Department list of “Best Sellers,” because of an interest in learning which books are currently most popular with the public, must receive, therefore, a slightly distorted view of what America is reading. From expurgated books, we have moved to expurgated book lists.
In the South, the charge of “obscenity” may be applied to unpopular ideas about miscegenation or some other racial issue. In Memphis last December the French film, I Spit on Your Grave, involving a light-skinned Negro who witnesses the lynching of his brother in a Southern town and decides to go up North and pass for white, was approved by the city censor board only to be seized in mid-showing by the Memphis vice squad and the print confiscated. The theater manager said he had “never heard” of such a thing as “seizing a film” (which he did not own, but only rented). He stressed the fact that the movie had been viewed and approved by the Memphis censor board and said, “What is confusing to me is exactly what power a censor board possesses when its power can be usurped by another authority.”
Apparently even a city’s fire department can get into the censorship act if they’ve a mind to. In Columbus, Ohio, in the same month (December) as the Memphis arrest and confiscation, the city fire department held a “routine” inspection of the Parsons Follies Theater a few days after the theater’s manager had been arrested for giving an “immoral exhibition” (for showing the French film, Les Liaisons Dangereuses), found several violations of local fire regulations and closed the theater.
A few weeks ago we were asked by David Susskind to participate in a panel discussion in New York on “The Sexual Revolution,” along with Dr. Albert Ellis, Reverend Arthur Kinsolving, writer Maxine Davis, sociologist-columnist Max Lerner and Ralph Ginzburg, publisher of Eros, for Susskind’s syndicated television show, Open End. The discussion was a frank one, including a particularly direct criticism of our society’s sexual hypocrisy and an undisputed statement, by Dr. Ellis, that American Puritanism is responsible for much of our marital unhappiness and divorce. The show will never be aired. It was killed by the Metropolitan Broadcasting Company, which syndicates Open End in major cities across the country, because, a spokesman for the syndicator explained, “The show is in very questionable taste.” Open End producer-host Susskind said, however, he considered the two-hour panel discussion “an excellent show…unusually adult, with a wonderfully balanced panel.” Open End is scheduled for late night, adult viewing by the stations that carry it.
Not all TV sex discussion is suffering such censorship, however. At about the same time as the Open End incident, a group of experts held an unusually candid and honest discourse on adult sexual behavior, homosexuality and prostitution in a three-part series on the Norman Ross Off the Cuff show, on station WBKB, in which they concluded that all such activity came under the heading of personal morality and should not be legislated against by the government. Father James Jones expressed the opinion, during the panel discussion, that when private sexual practices become a public affair and are outlawed by the state, it tends to drive the activity underground and makes it more difficult for social, moral and religious leaders to effectively reach the people and influence their behavior.
Several successful television series of varying quality have been developed around lawyers and court procedure, adding considerably to the interest and understanding of the general public in U.S. jurisprudence. Far and away the best of these — indeed, one of the finest, adult and admirably articulate programs on all of TV — is the award-laden Saturday-evening hour of courtroom drama, The Defenders (Playboy, On the Scene, January 1963), which explores both the strengths and weaknesses of our judicial processes and regularly offers stories probing such societal problems as capital punishment, mercy killing and abortion. (And what is altogether unique about The Defenders is not simply a concern with controversial subject matter, but the fact that the show continually makes a strong case against commonly accepted attitudes on these subjects — arguing against capital punishment and in favor of mercy killing and abortion — thus appealing to the rational mind of man rather than to his prejudices.) The popularity of the program proves not only that a significant part of the public will respond to thought-provoking television fare, but is today willing to accept a show whose mature content consistently stresses the lag between our law and changing social needs and requirements of a modern, evolving morality. The show’s most frequent situation is one in which the individual is thwarted by the outmoded prescriptions of established authority — a theme that finds a receptive audience in a time when we are finally searching for new and better answers to the problems of society that have for so long been resolved on the basis of the prejudices and prudishness of antiquated traditions and taboos.
But despite such encouraging signs that suggest a better, more rational tomorrow, antisexual sentiment is still so strongly imbedded in our society that the label of “obscene” is one of the most effective means of damning a variety of otherwise unrelated unpopular viewpoints. In the same way, since the label of “Communist” is currently even more damning than “obscene,” persons intent upon forcing the rest of us to conform to their personal moral standards sometimes utilize the utterly fantastic, but nonetheless effective, technique of calling sex subversive and sexual ideas with which they do not concur a Communist plot! (As observed in last month’s editorial, Reverend Ira Latimer, in his scathing denunciation of University of Illinois Professor Leo Koch, and Congresswoman Kathryn Granahan, in her attack on the “smut and filth” in today’s movies, both saw Red in any more-liberal view of sex than their own and said so. In actual fact, of course, their attempt to smother differing viewpoints is standard operating procedure for the Communists.) A liberal attitude toward sex is not subversive, but the attempt to coercively control such attitudes surely is. The Communists — like any other totalitarian group or government — use censorship to establish a single standard or approved point of view.
It should be mentioned also that the Communist State is, at its heart, antisexual. Most dictatorships are. Sexual freedom only grows naturally in a free society; totalitarianism is more apt to beget sexual exploitation, prostitution and perversion. We commented in the third part of this editorial (Playboy, February 1963) that the Chinese Communists had been conducting a campaign against “disapproved” publications (“These books and pictures seriously harm those workers who by constantly looking at them can easily become degenerate in their thinking,” cautioned the Peking Worker’s Daily) and a Post of the Catholic War Veterans in Hartford, Connecticut, unthinkingly congratulated and emulated the Communists in a letter to book dealers in their community aiming to suppress, through the threat of boycott, certain publications they considered undesirable: “We have to hand it to the Communists…who have launched a nationwide campaign against pornographic trash,” wrote the well-meaning American veterans to their fellow citizens. “Should not this example provoke a similar literary cleanup in our land where the morality is gauged by service to God and not to an atheistic state?” The letter was accompanied by the NODL list of “disapproved” literature.
The late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated in a speech delivered on May 8, 1939: “The arts cannot thrive except where men are free to be themselves and to be in charge of the discipline of their own energies and ardors. The conditions for democracy and for art are one and the same. What we call liberty in politics results in freedom of the arts.”
Judge Thurman Arnold wrote in the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals that quashed an attempt on the part of the U.S. Post Office to rescind the Second Class mailing permit of Esquire magazine in 1946: “A requirement that literature or art conform to some norm prescribed by an official smacks of an ideology foreign to our system.”
President John F. Kennedy warned about the dangers of censorship in a nationally televised news conference in February of 1961: “The lock on the door of the legislature, the parliament, or the assembly hall by order of the King, the Commissar or the Fhrer,” he said, “has historically been followed or preceded by a lock on the door of the printer’s, the publisher’s or the bookseller’s.” President Kennedy made it clear that he was skeptical regarding the value of censorship and that the responsibility of choice should rightly rest with the individual and the family, not with external groups, including the government.
But less than two years later, Kennedy’s administration was itself under criticism for government “manipulation of the news” relative to the Cuban crisis, and control over federal news sources is being justified by government spokesmen on the basis that “news can be an effective weapon in winning the Cold War.” How easily censorship spreads from area to area, and how easily it is rationalized, once we condone and permit the first exception to our total freedom of speech and press.
Critics of the administration’s action suggest that such censorship is more apt to be used to cover up government mistakes than for any strategic advantage in the Cold War. And most of the newspapers of the nation have editorialized against the so-called “manipulation” on the ground that the people in a democracy have a Constitutionally guaranteed right to know.
It can be effectively argued that a free society’s greatest strength is its freedom and we will not effectively challenge our totalitarian adversaries and eventually win out over them by curbing the very rights that set us apart from all dictatorships.
Whose Foot Is to be the Measure?
Another perplexing problem with censorship of any kind is determining just who is qualified to do the censoring. In 1814 Thomas Jefferson stated that he was “mortified” to find that the sale of a book could become a subject of inquiry in the United States of America. Rhetorically, he asked: “Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold and what we may buy?…. Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched?”
Those most interested in promoting censorship are usually least qualified to act as censors and those most qualified are most strongly opposed to the very idea of censorship in a free society. Even if the “ideal censor” were to be found (and the very words are, to us, incompatible) — a Solomon who truly tried to adjust his decisions, not to his own likes and dislikes, but to the Supreme Court’s concept of a community standard — we have already seen that no single standard can ever be said to exist for the many and varied educational, social, ethnic and religious parts of a community and certainly not for the thousands of separate communities all across this broad country of ours. And we have previously quoted Justice Douglas of the Supreme Court who has stated: “Any test that turns on what is offensive to the community’s standards is too loose, too capricious, too destructive of freedom of expression to be squared with the First Amendment.”
If that most improbable Solomon of Censorship does exist, few communities have made any concerted attempt to find him. Instead, we are asked to shape our foot to the size of an arbitrarily selected officer of the police department or a censorship board composed of housewives with spotty educational and cultural backgrounds. Attorneys for the award-winning French film The Game of Love, a faithful adaptation of a classic novel by Colette, clearly demonstrated the questionable qualifications of a great many censors, when they appealed to the Illinois courts the City of Chicago’s refusal to grant the motion picture a permit for exhibition.
Having entered into evidence the facts that the film had been awarded the Diploma of Merit at the Edinburgh Film Festival and the Grand Prix du Cinma Franais (Grand Prize of the French Motion Picture Industry) and that the American premiere of the film had been sponsored by the Fresh Air Fund of the New York Herald-Tribune, the attorneys brought out through testimony of members of the Police Censor Unit that there were no rules of procedure under which the Censor Unit operated and that they sought no outside opinions on movies being considered — neither the distributor’s, nor drama critics’, nor movie reviewers’. Lt. Ignatius J. Sheehan, head of the Censor Unit, testified that he did not read many books, did not attend many plays, did not attend art exhibits, did not read the book-review sections and had never read any of Colette’s novels. He knew nothing about the awards that the motion picture had received nor anything about the honors which had been given Madame Colette during her lifetime. He stated that he could not define a classic or name any classic. He stated that he took the entertainment value of a motion picture into consideration in determining whether a picture would be accepted or rejected and he did not find the film entertaining. Lt. Sheehan testified that one of the things indecent was that a group of girls in the movie presumably saw the private parts of an adolescent boy who came out of the water after swimming nude. He stated that he thought that the young girl in the picture was “sex minded” and that this was abnormal in a girl 15 years old.
A Mrs. O’Hallaren testified that she was a movie censor for the City of Chicago, for which she receives $304 a month and that she views movies eight hours a day, five days a week. She stated that she was a high school graduate and that she read movie reviews after she had passed upon a film, “but I don’t read too much before. I don’t go for that, because I like to see the movie my way and enjoy it and censor it, and then I am going to do it from my thinking. Then I am going to check to see how close I came.” She testified that she had never read any of Colette’s works and did not know too much about her. She stated that she did not think the motion picture The Game of Love had any entertainment value and that she thinks that movies should provide entertainment. She stated that the absence of entertainment value could be one of the reasons for rejecting a picture. She stated that it was unusual for a girl of 15 to have sexual desires. She stated that she thought the movie was offensive to the standards of decency and that it was unfit, immoral and obscene. She defined a classic as “a work accepted by the standards of excellency,” stated that it was accepted by the people generally and that Shakespeare’s writings were classics because she had “never heard anyone really talk against Shakespeare.” She testified that “there are a lot of things true to life that we cannot put on the screen.”
Mrs. Joyce, another of the movie censors, testified that she was a high school graduate, that her tastes did not lean to classics, and expressed the opinion that most classics were written in the 18th century. She stated that she would be “surprised and amazed” to find that Colette’s novels circulated freely in the Chicago Public Library and that if any books like the movie were circulating, such books ought to be looked over before they get into the Public Library. Mrs. Joyce testified that she rejected the picture because “it was immoral, because it was against my parental rearing. Anyway, it was immoral, corrupt, indecent, against my religious principles, unclean, sinful and corrupt.”
To put control of the communication of ideas within a community in the hands of the police is to open the door to the establishment of a police state and yet this is precisely the governmental authority endowed with the power of censorship in most American cities today. Are the housewives who were dictating the level of taste and sophistication in cinema for all the citizens of Chicago, second largest city in the United States, qualified for their job?
Who really is? The late Judge Jerome N. Frank of the U.S. Court of Appeals wrote in his opinion in U.S. vs. Roth: “To vest a few fallible men…with vast powers of literary or artistic censorship, to convert them into what J.S. Mill called a ‘moral police,’ is to make them despotic arbiters of liberty products. If one day they ban mediocre books as obscene, another day they may do likewise to a work of genius. Originality, not too plentiful, should be cherished, not stifled.”
The job of censorship often goes, by default, to those in the community who have nothing better to do with their time — or worse — to someone who has a preternatural interest in censorship.
Dr. Benjamin Karpman, chief psychotherapist at St. Elizabeth’s Federal Hospital in Washington, D.C., has stated: “Crusading against obscenity has an unconscious interest at its base.”
Judge Thurman Arnold responded to this statement, during the Playboy Panel on “Sex and Censorship” with the comment: “Apparently to be a good censor one should be possessed of a real prurient interest. There is a genuine comedy in the contradictions that roam throughout the area of pornography. At the same time that men insist on suppressing obscene literature and punishing those who write it, they enthusiastically go on collecting it and preserving it in libraries of priceless value.”
Judge Arnold might have gone on to observe that almost every major library of reputation in the world possesses a goodly number of so-called obscene books and every major art museum some “pornographic” paintings (many done by the most famous artists of history); the most valuable collection of erotica in the world is housed in the Vatican in Rome.
Dr. Albert Ellis responded to Dr. Karpman’s statement by saying, “There are people, like the famous John Summer and Anthony Comstock who, in all probability, do have an unconscious or semiconscious prurient interest in pornography, and they sublimate this by making their life’s work the legal suppression…of pornography. But there’s no reason to believe that every single individual — every clergyman, for example — who’s against pornography and violently campaigns against it, has any great sexual interest in it. Many censors have a nonsexual interest in curtailing other people’s liberty. And I’d say that most of them are very hostile and disturbed individuals, but not necessarily sexually disturbed.”
Maurice Girodias, editor-publisher of Olympia Press in Paris, who pioneered in the publication of works by Henry Miller and other controversial writers and was the first to publish Nabokov’s Lolita, said, during the same Playboy Panel: “Nobody has ever offered a coherent explanation of censorship, and yet one is supposed to submit to it as if it were a part of a God-given code of conduct. Why? Censorship is obviously inspired by individual feelings of modesty, of decency…. But these feelings are rooted in what I would call a sexual inferiority complex: a fear of sexual inadequacy, of failure; or the realization of a physical disgrace, or a lack of experience. People suffering from such a complex want to bring down everybody to their level…. This complex has held sway over us for [generations]; it has taken the social form of censorship — moral and mental censorship. In short, describing sex is a crime in the eyes of those who are ashamed of their own sex, and who wish to burden others with their sense of sin.”
Another member of the panel, Ralph Ginzburg, editor-publisher of the quarterly Eros and author of the book An Unhurried View of Erotica, commented that Arnold Gingrich, publisher of Esquire, believes that we are entering a new era of puritanism and favors this direction. “Actually,” said Ginzburg, “there is no question but that puritanism is fading…. [Gingrich] has stated that the world is about to embark on a great new voyage of morality, by which he apparently means puritanism. He feels that freedom in literature and the arts is going to produce a counteraction, that people are going to get fed up with honesty regarding sex and throw it out in favor of a sort of mid-Victorian hypocrisy — though he doesn’t say it in those words, of course. But if Gingrich thinks that the public is becoming bored by sex, or upset about its prevalence, I think he is projecting onto the public something which may be the result of his own increasing age.”
Which reminds us of the impudent verse by James Ball Naylor:
King David and King Solomon Led merry, merry lives With their many, many lady friends And many, many wives; But when old age crept over them — With many, many qualms, King Solomon wrote the Proverbs And King David wrote the Psalms.
Whatever the multiple motivations that prod the prude and the censor, it should be clear that much more is involved than simply the considered protection of the public from ideas that might prove harmful. Moreover, our democracy is founded on the premise that people have a God-given right to knowledge — a right to know. And no human being has the right to tamper with the free flow of ideas among his fellows.
The attitude that some ideas are best kept from the citizenry advances a concept of totalitarian paternalism that is contrary to the most basic ideals of our free society. It is akin to the colonialist concept that a new nation may not be ready to rule itself. The only way in which the people of the country can ever become mature enough for self-rule is by setting them free to practice self-rule. Similarly, the only way in which a society can mature sexually, socially and philosophically is by allowing it naturally free and unfettered sexual, social and philosophical growth. By treating our own citizens like so many overprotected children, we have produced our present, too-often-childlike, immature, hypocritical social order.
The Evil Effect of Obscenity
Having considered the harmful effects that censorship of any kind can have on a society, it is reasonable to assume that the obscenity it is intended to protect us from must be even more harmful.
That would be the only reasonable justification for allowing the censor to exist at all. It may be surprising to some to learn, therefore, that there is no real evidence to support the supposition that obscenity is harmful at all. In fact, there is a serious and not inconsiderable school of professional scientific opinion that suggests that obscenity may actually be beneficial to society.
Dr. Benjamin Karpman, the chief psychotherapist at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, whom we quoted earlier, has stated: “Contrary to popular misconception, people who read salacious literature are less likely to become sexual offenders than those who do not, for the reason that such reading often neutralizes what aberrant sexual interests they may have.”
Not everyone agrees on the subject, of course, though most of the disagreement comes from outside the scientific community. But with or without scientific credentials, those opposed to obscene material are usually far more vociferous in expressing their views than are the proponents of a same sex policy as regards both behavior and literature.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover has stated: “We know that in an overwhelmingly large number of cases, sex crime is associated with pornography. We know that sex criminals read it, are clearly influenced by it. I believe that if we can eliminate the distribution of such items among impressionable children, we shall greatly reduce our frightening crime rate.”
This is a certainly a strong indictment coming, as it does, from one of the chief law enforcement officers in the country.
What facts does J. Edgar have to substantiate his concern over pornography as being what he has termed “a major cause of sex violence”? Well, it’s difficult to say, because no truly comprehensive and reliable study has ever been made on the relationship between sex crime and erotic or obscene matter; and the primary reason for relatively little research in the area is that those scientific studies that have been undertaken are almost unanimous in their conclusion that no cause-and-effect relationship exists between pornography and sex crime. Without any evidence of a causal relationship, there is no scientific motive for pursuing what is apparently a fruitless path to its predictable dead end.
Dr. Albert Ellis considers the conclusions drawn in Hoover’s statement, and others like it, “meaningless.” That is, as Ellis expresses it, the correlation between pornography and the sex criminal is no higher than between pornography and the average male; if anything, it is probably slightly lower, since the sex criminal and the juvenile delinquent tend to read less than the normal male of the same age and background. “Hoover’s allegation is meaningless,” says Dr. Ellis, “for the simple reason that it would be difficult to find many nondelinquents or nonsex criminals in our society who did not have a considerable acquaintance with pornography. If this is true, then pornography is ‘associated’ with the higher arts, with religion, with government, with practically everything…. We could conclude, from this ‘logic,’ that their acquaintance with pornography caused them to write great books or compose great music.”
Drs. Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen, noted psychiatric team specializing in family therapy and group guidance and the authors of Pornography and the Law, state in that book, in the chapter on “Psychological Effects of Erotic Literature”: “We would point out that for academic psychologists to speak dogmatically about the psychological effects of reading ‘obscene’ books would, in the present state of our knowledge, be as unbecoming as venturing guesses about the nature of the Oedipus complex in outer space. The truth of the matter is that there are not sufficient conclusive research data available to answer the question directly and with the same assurance as one could, for example, state that unhealthy family life is one of the contributing causes of juvenile delinquency.
“It is amazing, nevertheless, how many people have felt called upon to voice the most authoritative opinions about the effects of ‘obscene’ writings, including law-enforcement officers, educators, clergymen, housewives, women’s clubs, men’s fraternal organizations — in short, all those who are least qualified to give an authoritative opinion on a subject of such confusing dimensions and such width of scope, but who, because of their own deep emotional involvement, have felt no hesitation in expounding ‘ex cathedra’ and with omniscient finality on the matter.”
Noting that it is the intention of a particular work taken as a whole, rather than any particular part of it, that is used as the criterion for judging obscenity, but that “there is no legally workable definition of obscenity,” the Drs. Kronhausen attempt to supply the needed “workable definition,” by making a distinction between “obscenity” or “hard-core pornography,” where the only or major purpose of the work is sexual stimulation, and “erotic realism,” where any sexual stimulation inherent in the work is incidental to its main purpose, “the honest portrayal of man’s sexual nature which no sane society can afford to suppress.”
The Drs. Kronhausen confirm that what is termed “hard-core obscenity” or “pornography” does, in their opinion, sexually stimulate the majority of the people who come in contact with it.
“We also affirm that works of erotic realism, such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, may have similar psychological effects as to those passages which are descriptive of sexual activities, or even with regard to realistic portrayals of physical beauty. But in that respect, erotic realism is no different from any other psychological stimulus of an erotic nature, e.g., perfume, certain types of music, sexually provoking advertising, fashions in dress, the use of cosmetics to enhance attractiveness, or any other of the many psychological aphrodisiacs with which our culture is so familiar, and on which it is dependent.”
The Kronhausens state a bit further on in the chapter: “Every day, the newspapers carry some release from pro-censorship quarters, blithely linking ‘obscene’ literature with the perpetration of the most ghastly crimes, making everything erotically provocative responsible for every social evil from juvenile delinquency and the disintegration of the American family to the increasing rate of mental breakdown and communism….
“Let us, however, not fall into the same trap. The basis of one’s attitude toward ‘effects’ lies in one’s attitude towards sexuality. If sex in and by itself is considered shameful, undesirable, dangerous, unethical or damaging to the individual and to society, then the effect of ‘obscene’ as well as of erotically realistic books and art is definitely to be viewed with the utmost suspicion and alarm, along with, presumably, all other sexual stimulants of any kind.
“But from a mental health point of view, it is established that suchnegative sex attitudes are not only regrettable, but can, indeed, be dangerous. As previously stated, all the clinical evidence indicates that guilt-based sexual inhibitions, restrictions and repressions result in perversions of the sexual impulse, general intellectual dulling, sadomasochistic inclinations, unreasonable (paranoid) suspiciousness and a long list of neurotic and psychotic defense reactions with unmistakable sexual content or overtones.”
Having established their belief in man’s God-given right to the free use of his own body, the Drs. Kronhausen continue: “If, therefore, erotic literature or art tend to lead to sexual acts, we would consider this a phenomenon that much more likely than not would enhance mental and human happiness, provided that it met the conditions of not being forcefully or fraudulently imposed on another person.
“If the pro-censorship leaguers believe that an erotic stimulus may lead to physical violence, this strangely paradoxical belief demands some further explanation. It would be totally absurd, were it not for the unspoken corollary that the normal sexual outlets of the individual are to be blocked and frustrated to the extent that he (or she) will then have to turn to sadism, rape and murder as a substitute for the natural sexual activities which the reading may have stimulated. For the welfare of society then, no less than for individual mental health, it is incomprehensible why one would not want to accept the normal sex drive rather than to try and remove all temptation toward it, even if that were possible.
“But anti-sexualists cannot contemplate with equanimity the free acceptance of man’s sexual role, nor any literature which tends to inform, educate or increase interest in that role. The best proof of this is that literature of an erotic nature is the constant and foremost target of self-appointed censors who connect this type of reading to crime and acted-out violence, but who virtually ignore the vast body of books dealing with violence in the most gruesome detail….”
It has long seemed quite incredible — indeed, incomprehensible — to us that detailed descriptions of murder, which we consider a crime, are acceptable in our art and literature, while detailed descriptions of sex, which is not a crime, are prohibited. It is as though our society put hate above love — favored death over life.
IN EXPRESSING OUR VIEWS about the importance of the individual and his freedom in a free America, we have pointed out how essential a total separation of church and state is to our concept of democracy. We have also tried to show how religiously inspired puritanism has been allowed to subtly undermine certain of our most precious freedoms. Nowhere is this more insidiously dangerous than in the continuing erosion of our Constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech and press, for it is these freedoms that assure the protection of all our other freedoms. It is for this reason that we are personally opposed to censorship in any form.
The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights assure these freedoms and our legislatures, courts and officials of government continue to pay lip service to their protection, but in the brief lifetime of this nation, exceptions have been introduced — small cracks in the wall that encircles and protects our democracy’s ideals — cracks that will surely spread, and thus weaken and eventually destroy the wall, if they are not mended.
The right of the individual to speak and write what is on his mind — to express himself freely and without fear of any action against him by his government — does not allow for any exceptions. “It is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, “for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order.” Our speech and our press cannot be half free or they are not truly free at all.
We have quoted Jefferson, James Madison, Justice William O. Douglas, Judge Thurman Arnold, and Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy on the importance of free and unhampered speech and press to our democratic way of life. We have shown how the U.S. Supreme Court has continually upheld these freedoms, but we have also pointed out an exception that the highest Court — itself composed of fallible men, influenced by our puritan traditions — has allowed to coexist with these Constitutional guarantees, thus making us truly only half free.
The exception is sex and the courts have ruled that “obscenity” is outside the protections of the First Amendment. We have argued, however, that so-called “obscenity” cannot and must not be considered outside the protections of our law or the law itself will soon break down and the broader protections of speech and press inevitably disappear. We argued that “obscenity” can never be satisfactorily defined and that the Supreme Court’s definition, while curtailing the most wanton, wholesale censorship, is nonetheless, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Douglas, “too loose, too capricious, too destructive of freedom of expression to be squared with the First Amendment.” Justice Douglas stated further that the Supreme Court’s standard for obscenity as what offends “the common conscience of the community” would certainly “not be an acceptable one if religion, economics, politics or philosophy were involved. How,” asked the Supreme Court Justice, “does it become a Constitutional standard when literature treating with sex is concerned?”
It clearly should not, for we have shown that no true community standard or “common conscience of the community” exists. As Justice Douglas has stated, “Under that test, juries can censor, suppress and punish what they do not like…. This is community censorship in one of its worst forms. It creates a regime where, in the battle between the literati and the Philistines, the Philistines are certain to win.”
What is more, even if a satisfactory community standard ever could be established, that is no argument for suppressing other minority opinions. For the High Court has ruled that the Constitution rightfully protects even the most unpopular and distasteful ideas and history has shown us that some of our greatest literature and art met with public disfavor when it was first produced and was banned and censored as “obscene” in other times and places.
We have previously established that our founding fathers did not intend “obscenity” to be outside the protections of the Constitution. Jefferson stated, “The press, confined to truth, needs no other restraint…no other definite line can be drawn between the inestimable liberty of the press and demoralizing licentiousness”; Madison wrote that to make a “distinction between the freedom of and the licentiousness of the press” would subvert the First Amendment.
Last month we attempted to show not only the impossibility of ever adequately defining what is “obscene,” but also demonstrated how the charge of “obscenity,” once established as being outside the protections of the Constitution, can spread to include philosophical, political, social, medical, religious and racial ideas of which the censor does not approve.
Lastly, we pointed out that the very premise upon which the censorship of “obscenity” is based — that “obscene” and “pornographic” literature and art include acts of sexual violence and crime — is without foundation; there is, in fact, a serious school of scientific opinion that believes that “obscenity” actually makes a valuable contribution to the mental health of a society, since it may act as an outlet for sexually repressed desires that might otherwise take the form of overt sexual offenses in the emotionally unstable or maladjusted. Drs. Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen subscribe to this belief, as does noted sex authority Dr. Albert Ellis. A report by a committee of Brown University psychologists (Drs. Nissim Levy, Lewis Lipsitt and Judy F. Rosenblith) concluded, after reviewing all available U.S. research on the subject: “There is no reliable evidence that reading or other fantasy activities lead to antisocial behavior.” Dr. Benjamin Karpman, chief psychotherapist at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., stated in a report before the American Medical Association, that “contrary to popular misconception, people who read salacious literature are less likely to become sexual offenders than those who do not, for the reason that such reading often neutralizes what aberrant sexual interests they may have.”
The Drs. Kronhausen wrote in their book, Pornography and the Law: “Erotic books may fulfill several eminently useful and therapeutic functions. We have already elaborated on the principle of catharsis through vicarious participation by reading. It always strikes us as strange that this ancient idea should be considered by some to be so novel and highly controversial. And as far as we know, the concept is at least as old as Aristotle, who recommended that Athenians go and watch the tragedies in the theater to avoid succumbing to antisocial impulses. We believe that this may apply equally to the antisocial sex impulses which are often given free rein in so-called ‘hard-core obscenity’….”
Supreme Court Justice Brennan has written, in a decision in an obscenity case: “Implicit in the history of the First Amendment is the rejection of obscenity as utterly without redeeming social importance,” then, based upon the professional scientific opinions cited herein, it can be argued that — since all erotic literature and art may have some therapeutic value as a release for sexual tensions — no work can ever be judged “legally obscene,” because — by this definition — no such thing as “legal obscenity” can ever exist.
Justice Black and the Constitution
In a recent interview, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black expressed his personal views on our American ideal of absolute freedoms of speech and press. The occasion of the interview was a banquet in New York City honoring Justice Black on his completion of 25 years of service on the United States Supreme Court. The interview was conducted by Professor Edmond Cahn, of the New York University School of Law, who stated in his introduction: “Hugo Black [is] one of the few authentically great judges in the history of the American bench…. He is great because he belongs to a select company of heroes who, at various crises in the destiny of our land, have created, nurtured and preserved the essence of the American ideal.
“…The torch of [such a man’s] spirit leads first a few, then the vast majority of his countrymen…toward freedom, equality and social justice.
“This is what happened at the very birth of our country…. It was the same kind of inspiration that gave us our national Bill of Rights. The original Constitution, drafted at the Philadelphia Convention, contained no bill of rights. The Federalists contended that though bills of rights might be necessary against emperors and kings, they were needless in a republican form of government. They argued that the people ought to repose trust in popularly chosen representatives. But Thomas Jefferson indignantly referred them to the words of the Declaration of Independence, which announced that governments derived their just powers from the consent of the governed: words to be taken literally, absolutely and without exception. He declared, ‘A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth.’ His demand succeeded, and the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution. The Bill of Rights protects us today because Jefferson stood firm on the inspired text.
“Then there is the next momentous episode, the series of court decisions in which Chief Justice John Marshall held that acts of legislation that violated the Constitution of the United States were null and void. What was the clause on which Marshall relied in asserting this awesome power for the Supreme Court? It was the provision, to which all Americans had pledged themselves, that the Constitution of the United States must be ‘the supreme law of the land.’
“President Lincoln also drew guidance and inspiration from a single basic text. He opposed the institution of slavery because, as he said, the country was dedicated to the proposition that ‘all men are created equal.’ Our own epoch has again demonstrated the explosive validity of that proposition.
“What does one see happening in each of these historic instances? The majority of the people, at least at the beginning, are wont to say that though the basic text may embody a fine ideal, it cannot work in practical application. They say it is utopian, visionary, unrealistic. They remark condescendingly that any experienced person would know better than to take it literally or absolutely. Accepting the words at face value would be naive, if not simple-minded. In 1776 Worldly Wisemen of this kind said that while the colonists might be entitled to the rights of Englishmen, they ought to put their trust in the King and Parliament and submit to a few convenient adjustments in the interest of imperial security. In 1788 they said that while a bill of rights might be desirable in theory, the people must learn to show confidence in their rulers. Why not leave it all to a majority, whether in Congress or in the Supreme Court? In every generation, the lesser minds, the half-hearted, the timorous, the trimmers talked this way, and so they always will. Ours would be a poor, undernourished, scorbutic freedom indeed if the great men of our history had not shown determination and valor, declaring, ‘Here are the principles to which we are dedicated. Let us hold ourselves erect and walk in their light.’
“It is to this rare company of inspired leaders that Hugo Black belongs. He has been inflamed by the political and ethical ideals that Jefferson, Madison and other libertarians of the 18th century prized the highest…. He draws his inspiration from the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which forbids the government to abridge our freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion and freedom of association…. [These freedoms] are, to him, the meaning and inner purpose of the American saga.
“Justice Black’s major premise and point of departure is the text of the Constituton, which he emphasizes in all his decisions. He believes that the main purpose of the Founders, in drafting and adopting a written constitution, was to preserve their civil liberties and keep them intact. On their own behalf and on ours, they were not satisfied with a fragment or fraction of the basic freedoms; they wanted us to have the whole of them.
“Some people display a curious set of values. If government employees were to come into their homes and start slicing off parts of the chairs, the tables and the television set, they would have no doubt that what was happening was absolutely wrong. Not relatively or debatably, but absolutely wrong. But when the same government slices their civil liberties, slashes their basic freedoms or saws away at their elementary rights, these people can only comment that the case is too complicated for a doctrinaire judgment, that much can be said on both sides of the matter, and that in times like these the experts on sedition, subversion and national security know what they are doing. (Sometimes I wonder whether it is quite fair to assume that experts know what they are doing; perhaps it would be more charitable to assume that they do not know.)
“Justice Black’s uncompromising zeal for freedom of speech, press, religion and association might not have seemed so urgently necessary in previous periods of our history. In Lincoln’s day, men naturally felt more excited about food, employment and social welfare. But today, when democracy stands here and on every continent presenting its case at the bar of destiny our supreme need is to share Hugo Black’s devotion to the First Amendment and his intrepid defense of the people’s rights.
“The American covenant was solemnly inscribed on the hearts of our ancestors and on the doorposts of our political history. It is a covenant of freedom, justice and human dignity. Through keeping it in a quarter-century of judicial decisions he has proved himself a great jurist. Through keeping it in all the transactions of our public life, we can prove ourselves a great and enlightened nation.”
After this most impressive introduction, Professor Cahn recalled a lecture that Justice Black had delivered two years before in which he had stated, “It is my belief that there are ‘absolutes’ in our Bill of Rights, and that they were put there on purpose by men who knew what words meant and meant their prohibitions to be ‘absolutes.'”
Cahn began the interview by asking the Supreme Court Justice to explain what he had meant by this, to which Justice Black replied, “I believe the words do mean what they say. I have no reason to challenge the intelligence, integrity or honesty of the men who wrote the First Amendment.* Among those I call the great men of the world are Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and various others who participated in formulating the ideas behind the First Amendment for this country and in writing it.
[*The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.]
“…The beginning of the First Amendment is that ‘Congress shall make no law.’ I understand that it is rather old-fashioned and shows a slight naivete to say that ‘no law’ means no law. It is one of the most amazing things about the ingeniousness of the times that strong arguments are made, which almost convince me, that it is very foolish of me to think that ‘no law’ means no law. But what it says is ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,’ and so on.
“I have to be honest about it. I confess not only that I think the Amendment means what it says but also that I may be slightly influenced by the fact that I do not think that Congress should make any law with respect to these subjects.
“Then we move on, and it says, ‘or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ I have not always exercised myself in regard to religion as much as I should, or perhaps as much as all of you have. Nevertheless, I want to be able to do it when I want to do it. I do not want anybody who is my servant, who is my agent, elected by me and others like me, to tell me that I can or cannot do it.
“…Then I move on to the words ‘abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.’ It says Congress shall make no law doing that. What it means — according to a current philosophy that I do not share — is that Congress shall be able to make just such a law unless we judges object too strongly. One of the statements of that philosophy is that if it shocks us too much, then they cannot do it. But when I get down to the really basic reason why I believe that ‘no law’ means no law, I presume it could come to this, that I took an obligation to support and defend the Constitution as I understand it. And being a rather backward country fellow, I understand it to mean what the words say. Gesticulations apart, I know of no way in the world to communicate ideas except by words. And if I were to talk at great length on the subject, I would still be saying — although I understand that some people say that I just say it and do not believe it — that I believe when our founding fathers, with their wisdom and patriotism, wrote this Amendment, they knew what they were talking about. They knew what history was behind them and they wanted to ordain in this country that Congress, elected by the people, should not tell the people what religion they should have or what they should believe or say or publish, and that is about it. It says ‘no law,’ and that is what I believe it means.”
Professor Cahn then mentioned that some of Justice Black’s colleagues believe it is better to interpret the Bill of Rights so as to permit Congress to take what it considers “reasonable steps” to preserve the security of the nation even at some sacrifice of freedom of speech and press and association, and he asked the Judge’s view of this.
Justice Black replied: “I fully agree with them that the country should protect itself. It should do whatever is necessary to preserve itself. But the question is: preserve what? And how?
“…I want it to be preserved as the kind of government it was intended to be. I would not desire to live in any other place where my thoughts were under the suspicion of government and where my words could be censored by government, and where worship, whatever it was or wasn’t, had to be determined by an officer of the government. That is not the kind of government I want preserved.
“I agree with those who wrote our Constitution, that too much power in the hands of officials is a dangerous thing. What was government created for except to serve the people? Why was a Constitution written for the first time in this country except to limit the power of government and those who were selected to exercise it at the moment?
“My answer to the statement that this government should preserve itself is yes. The method I would adopt is different, however, from that of some other people. I think it can be preserved only by leaving people with the utmost freedom to think and to hope and to talk and to dream if they want to dream. I do not think this government must look to force, stifling the minds and aspirations of the people. Yes, I believe in self-preservation, but I would preserve it as the founders said, by leaving people free. I think here, as in another time, it cannot live half slave and half free.”
In response to a question about allowing full and sometimes sensational newspaper reports about a crime and the possible effect this might have upon a fair trial, Justice Black replied, “I do not myself think that it is necessary to stifle the press in order to reach fair verdicts…. I want both fair trials and freedom of the press. I grant that you cannot get everything you want perfectly, and you never will. But you won’t do any good in this country, which aspires to freedom, by saying just give the courts a little more power, just a little more power to suppress the people and the press, and things will be all right.”
Professor Cahn asked, “Is there any kind of obscene material, whether defined as hard-core pornography or otherwise, the distribution and sale of which can be constitutionally restricted in any manner whatever, in your opinion?”
To which Justice Black replied, “My view is, without deviation, without exception, without any ifs, buts or whereases, that freedom of speech means that you shall not do something to people either for the views they have or the views they express or the words they speak or write.
“…It is the law [because the courts have held that it is the law] that there can be an arrest made for obscenity. It was the law in Rome that they could arrest people for obscenity after Augustus became Caesar. Tacitus says that then it became obscene to criticize the Emperor. It is not any trouble to establish a classification so that whatever it is that you do not want is within that classification. So far as I am concerned, I do not believe there is any halfway ground for protecting freedom of speech and press. If you say it is half free, you can rest assured that it will not remain as much as half free. Madison explained that in his great Remonstrance when he said in effect, ‘If you make laws to force people to speak the words of Christianity, it won’t be long until the same power will narrow the sole religion to the most powerful sect in it.’ I realize that there are dangers in freedom of speech, but I do not believe there are any halfway marks.”
In conclusion Judge Black said, “The Bill of Rights to me constitutes the difference between this country and many others. I will not attempt to say most others or nearly all others or all others. But I will say it constitutes the difference to me between a free country and a country that is not free.
“…[The Bill of Rights] is intended to see that a man cannot be jerked by the back of the neck by any government official; he cannot have his home invaded; he cannot be picked up legally and carried away because his views are not satisfactory to the majority, even if they are terrible views, however bad they may be. Our system of justice is based on the assumption that men can best work out their own opinions, and that they [the opinions] are not under the control of government. Of course, this is particularly true in the field of religion, because a man’s religion is between himself and his Creator, not between himself and his government.
“I am not going to say any more except this: I was asked a question about preserving this country. I confess I am a complete chauvinist. I think it is the greatest country in the world. I think it is the greatest because it has a Bill of Rights. I think it could be the worst if it did not have one. It does not take a nation long to degenerate. We saw, only a short time ago, a neighboring country where people were walking the streets in reasonable peace one day and within a month we saw them marched to the back of a wall to meet a firing squad without a trial.
“I am a chauvinist because this country offers the greatest opportunities of any country in the world to people of every kind, every race, of every origin, of every religion — without regard to wealth, without regard to poverty. It offers an opportunity to the child born today to be reared among his people by his people, to worship his God, whatever his God may be, or to refuse to worship anybody’s God if that is his wish. It is a free country; it will remain free only, however, if we recognize that the boundaries of freedom are not so flexible; they are not made of mush. They say ‘Thou shalt not,’ and I think that is what they mean.
“…I am for the First Amendment from the first word to the last. I believe it means what it says, and it says to me, ‘Government shall keep its hands off religion. Government shall not attempt to control the ideas a man has. Government shall not abridge freedom of the press or speech. It shall let anybody talk in this country.’ I have never been shaken in the faith that American people are the kind of people and have the kind of loyalty to their government that we need not fear the talk of Communists or of anybody else. Let them talk! In the American way, we will answer them.”
As Time observed a few weeks ago, in reporting on three cases in which the Supreme Court overturned or amended its own previous decisions: “Ideally, the flow of U.S. law should run straight and true. In fact, it has countless twists and turns [and] often reverses its course….” It is our feeling that in its decisions of the last few years, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Supreme Court has moved the course of U.S. law closer to the original intent of our Constitution than at any previous time in history. While approving the High Court’s intent in putting an end to segregation in 1954, Life magazine, nonetheless, expressed the opinion in an editorial that the decision was based more upon sociology than law. Life was not the only one to voice this view, but — in truth — just the opposite was the case. In reversing an earlier Supreme Court decision that had upheld the principle of “separate but equal,” the present Court re-established the guarantees and protections of the Constitution for a number of our citizens who for too long had been forced to live without them.
The High Court did the same in the three cases Time reported: “A VOTE FOR ALL. On four previous occasions…the Court had in effect declined to upset Georgia’s county-unit voting system. Under that system, politicians with rural backing have been able to hold state power even though they failed in winning a popular majority…. The Federal District Court judges ruled against it. The Supreme Court decision erased the system once and for all. In its opinion, the Court held that ‘the concept of political equality can mean only one thing — one person, one vote.’
“APPEAL FOR ALL. Amending its long-held principle that state prisoners may not turn to federal courts until all avenues of state appeal have been exhausted, the Court ruled that convicted murderer Charles Noia could be released from a New York State prison on a federal writ of habeas corpus. Two other men, convicted with Noia in 1942 for the same murder, appealed to the state that they had made confessions under coercion. They were released. But Noia waited until after the state time limit for such an appeal; a lower federal court therefore refused to entertain his petition. The Supreme Court ruled that its doctrine of ‘exhausting state remedies’ did not mean keeping a man in jail because of that sort of procedural fault.
“COUNSEL FOR ALL. By a unanimous vote, the Court ruled that the states, under the 14th Amendment, must provide free legal counsel to any person charged with a crime and unable to pay for his own lawyer. It thereby reversed its 1942 decision in Betts vs. Brady, in which it held that such aid is required only if the defendant is charged with a crime punishable by death.” The majority opinion stated: “In our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to be an obvious truth.”
The Supreme Court justice who wrote the majority opinion in the last case was Hugo Black, who was one of the three dissenters in the 1942 case.
In the same way, we hope that Justice Black’s minority opinion on the Constitutional guarantees of absolute freedom of religion, speech, press and association may become the opinion of the majority while Black is still serving his country and his fellow man as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. It would be a fitting tribute if this American — whom Professor Edmond Cahn called a “torch” of “freedom, equality and social justice” — were the one to write the then majority opinion for the Court, re-establishing the full and absolute protections of the First Amendment.
Protecting the Young
The argument most often advanced for the suppression of certain ideas and images — especially sexual ones — is the protection of our youth.
It is not necessary to reduce the adult population of our nation to the level of children in order to protect the young, however.
The Supreme Court has ruled that it is illegal to censor literature on the basis that it may harm minors. In finding unconstitutional that section of the Michigan Penal Code which prohibited circulation of publications that might tend “to incite minors to violent or depraved or immoral acts,” Justice Felix Frankfurter spoke for the unanimous Court when he said: “The State insists that, by thus quarantining the general reading public against books not too rugged for grown men and women in order to shield juvenile innocence, it is exercising its power to promote the general welfare. Surely, this is to burn the house to roast the pig…. We have before us legislation not reasonably restricted to the evil with which it is said to deal…. The incidence of this enactment is to reduce the adult population of Michigan to reading only what is fit for children. It thereby curtails one of those liberties…that history has attested as the indispensable conditions for the maintenance and progress of a free society.”
Matters of religion and personal morality should rightly be the concern of the individual and his family, with one generation passing its own traditions on to the next, to be accepted, rejected or modified and passed, in turn, to the generation that follows. But if the champions of censorship are sincerely concerned with the moral upbringing of our country’s children — to the point that they are willing to override this American tradition — it should be pointed out that there are ways of accomplishing this end without curtailing the freedom of the adult population, ways that remain largely unexplored. The United States is, for example, one of the few major countries in the world that does not use some method of classification for its movies. England breaks down all motion pictures into three categories: A — adult films, which children under 16 may see only if accompanied by a parent or a bona fide guardian; U — approved for adults and children alike; and X — films to which no one under 16 is admitted under any circumstances.
Books and magazines could be classified in the same way and a serious penalty invoked if a dealer sold an adult book or magazine to someone underage.
For television and radio, all programs before a certain hour could be produced for family consumption; but after the designated time, all restrictions would be lifted and the stations would be free to program uncensored shows for adults.
The fact that those who cry out for censorship in the name of our youth do not promote these more reasonable alternatives prompts us to suspect that invoking child welfare may be — as often as not
– a subterfuge and what the would-be censors are really after is thought-control over our adult population.
The classification of all methods of mass communication into what is suitable for children, and what is not, is certainly no ideal solution. But it is preferable not only to official censorship, but also far better than any related kind of control introduced by the media themselves. The self-imposed restrictions of an individual writer, director, producer, editor or publisher are desirable, to be sure — and the acceptance of freedom from undue outside supervision leads naturally to the development of a more responsible and mature self-discipline the majority of the time; but industry-wide controls are not the same as individually imposed restrictions and we need look no further than Hollywood’s recent experiment in so-called “self-censorship” to see how thoroughly an entire industry can throttle its own freedom and creativity.
“Self-censorship” is usually imposed by a medium of communication to avoid outside pressures or the threat of actual outside censorship. It is rarely introduced to improve the medium or its product and, naturally enough, the medium and product are rarely improved. Such was the case in the Twenties, when the Hollywood filmmakers — fearing that growing national criticism of movie morals might prompt some form of government control — joined to establish what is now the Motion Picture Association of America and hired Will Hays, then Postmaster General, at an annual salary of $100,000 to become czar of the industry with power not only to regulate picture-making, but also to act as a sort of moral guardian over the private lives of the stars themselves.
Hays did his job only too well. A rigid Production Code was introduced in 1934 that gave seals of approval only to films that adhered to the most simon-pure standards. By defining morality as a lack of sex and swear words, Hays kept the movies out of controversy and, for the most part, totally removed from the real stuff of life. Suggestiveness replaced honest sexuality. The only bows to realism were violent crime films glorifying such cinematic gangsters as Scarface and Little Caesar. Not until Howard Hughes released The Outlaw in 1946, successfully introducing his new double-feature discovery Jane Russell without benefit of a Code seal, did any major film producer consider issuing a motion picture sans Association approval. Otto Preminger carried the fight for freedom further by releasing The Moon Is Blue (1953) and The Man With the Golden Arm (1957), both excellent films, without seals. The emergence of the independent Hollywood producer, who was outside major studio control, coupled with the increasing popularity of foreign films in America, supplied the coup de grce to the old, unrealistic and inflexible Production Code. In 1961 the Production Code Review Board reversed its previous verdict on both of Preminger’s pictures and granted them each a seal.
The Supreme Court has had this to say about the effect upon freedom of not only censorship, but the very existence of the threat of censorship, which so hobbled Hollywood for a generation: “It is not merely the sporadic abuse of power by the censor but the pervasive threat inherent in its very existence that constitutes the danger to freedom of discussion.”
It should be mentioned that in most of Europe it is not sex that primarily concerns those who classify the movies as suitable for children or only for adults, but scenes of crime, violence and brutality — the sort that enjoyed the widest distribution in the U.S. when sex was being most severely suppressed by the Hays Office during the Thirties. The point of view that depicting acts of amour on the screen is more harmful than acts of terror, violence and hate is peculiar to our own Puritan America. It is perfectly permissible to show one man destroying the life of another, but the creation of life is the prime target of the censor — whether it is the act of coition, banned everywhere, or the birth of a baby bison, which New York censors cut from a Walt Disney nature film.
This is the level of the sociological, theological and philosophical thinking that we bring to the Atomic Age and the terrifying task of coping with the destructive forces that our technological advances have produced. Nothing is more frightening to contemplate than the gap that exists between man’s social and scientific progress as we move into the second half of the 20th century. We are attempting to deal with the realities of the most complex of modern societies with a cultural sophistication rooted in superstitions some of which are more than 2000 years old.
Because the modern world does require such real sophistication and maturity, we do not personally favor any technique for raising our young that fails to fully equip them for adult life — so a classifying of our mass communication into categories for “adult” and “underage” consumption is suggested only as a far better answer than any continuation of the present tendency to bring even our adult society down to the level of the child. The suggestion is made, also, to emphasize that more reasonable alternatives than totalitarian thought-control do exist — if we insist upon this “protection” for our offspring — so as to reveal to the cold light of logic the true motives of many who cry out for censorship over all, to save from “harm” (knowledge) the young and immature.
Let’s now consider the virtues of censorship for children. Before seriously advocating a desexualized, sanitized, cellophane-wrapped society for our youngsters, we should seriously weigh the opinions of child psychologists and experts in juvenile behavior. They seem unanimous in their belief that an overly protected child will find it more difficult adjusting to an adult society after he is grown. A youngster who is reared in an environment sufficiently removed from the real world may never fully mature and become capable of accepting the responsibilities of adult life.
On the other hand, what are the dangers inherent in a young and impressionable mind being allowed to mature naturally as a part of an adult society? Will frankly adult books, magazines, television and motion pictures tend to lead a child into patterns of antisocial and delinquent behavior? There is no evidence to suggest that this is so.
Drs. Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, leading specialists in the field of child behavior, published in 1950 the results of ten years’ research into the causes of juvenile delinquency of 1000 boys in the Boston area. In the 399 pages of what has been termed a “classical study,” the subjects of pornography, or of the reading or viewing of erotic materials of any kind, are never even mentioned as contributory or causative factors in delinquency.
In the same vein, a prominent children’s court judge, George S. Smyth, of New York, informed an inquiring state commission that of 878 causative factors which troubled children, reading was not on his list, but that difficulty in reading was.
The Brown University Psychologists Report, commenting on a series of statements linking delinquent behavior to obscenity, called attention to a series of similar scientific studies and statements disputing any correlation between obscene material and the antisocial activity of children, including a recent comprehensive report on 90 cases of delinquency by Mitchell in the Australian Journal of Psychology. The study reported such complex conditions as personal tension, defective discipline, insecurity, lack of home guidance and emotional instability as the prime contributors to delinquency and the Drs. Kronhausen point out that “all of these factors refer to deep-seated emotional problems and disturbances in interpersonal relations, in comparison to which the reading of [sexual materials] or even ‘hard-core obscenity’ appears a rather trifling surface concern.”
Another report, based on research in the United States, presented at roundtable conferences headed by Dr. Benjamin Karpman at two annual meetings of the American Orthopsychiatric Association, concluded that there are three major causes of delinquency: (1) organic brain damage; (2) faulty relations in the family unit; and (3) social dislocation. Once again there was no mention of the viewing or reading of salacious or obscene materials and Dr. Karpman has expressed the belief that, contrary to popular misconception, contact with obscenity tends to curb antisocial behavior rather than foster it, by offering an outlet for abnormal sexual interests.
Dr. Wendell Sherman of the University of Chicago has stated: “I have never seen one instance of a child whose behavior disturbance originated in the reading of books, nor even a case of a delinquent whose behavior was exaggerated by such reading. A child may ascribe his behavior to a book he has read or a movie he has seen. But such explanations cannot be considered scientific evidence of causation.”
Edwin J. Lucas, director of the Society for the Prevention of Crime, has stated: “I am unaware of the existence of any scientifically established causal relationship between the reading of books and delinquency. It is my feeling that efforts to link the two are an extension of the archaic impulse by which, through the ages, witchcraft, evil spirits and other superstitious beliefs have in turn been blamed for antisocial behavior.”
Dr. Robert Lindner, noted psychoanalyst an author (The Fifty-Minute Hour, Rebel Without a Cause), specialist in the treatment of juvenile offenders, has said: “I am utterly opposed to censorship of the written word, regardless of the source of such censorship or the type of material it is directed against. As a psychoanalyst who has had more than a decade of experience with the emotionally disturbed, and especially with delinquents, I am convinced of the absurdity of the idea that any form of reading matter…can either provoke delinquent or criminal behavior or instruct toward such ends…. I am convinced that were allso-called objectionable books and like material to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow this would in no way affect the statistics of crime, delinquency, amoral and antisocial behavior, or personal illness and distress. The same frustrating and denying society would still exist, and both children and adults would express themselves mutinously against it. These problems will be solved only when we have the courage to face the fundamental social issues and personal perplexities that cause such behavior.”
Drs. Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen have written, on the subject of “Psychological Effects of Erotic Literature”: “It is our view that instead of the comics, ‘lewd’ magazines or even hard-core pornography causing sex murders, or other criminal acts, it is far more likely that these ‘unholy’ instruments may be more often than not a safety valve for the sexual deviate and potential sex offender. This is not only our own view, but that of many other experienced clinicians, especially among those who have worked with more severely disturbed patients and delinquents.”
In The Playboy Panel on “Sex and Censorship in Literature and the Arts” (Playboy, July 1961), we commented that one of the evils of pornography, according to James Jackson Kilpatrick, in his book The Smut Peddlers, is that “when a youth accepts the idea of sex without love he is stained inside.”
To which Judge Thurman Arnold replied: “Sounds like gobbledygook to me. I don’t know what he’s talking about.” Film producer Otto Preminger said, “It is an old-fashioned point of view, in my opinion. We know very well that sex without love exists — only hypocritical people can say that nobody has sex without love or that nobody should have sex without love.” Author-publisher Ralph Ginzburg observed, “Is Mr. Kilpatrick trying to suppress sex without love? Is that what he is trying to do indirectly by getting at pornography? Well, I think he’s got a great big job ahead of him, even after he gets rid of all the pornography.”
Maurice Girodias, editor-publisher of Olympia Press, of Paris, said, “Protecting children against moral corruption has always been the last-resort argument of the champion of censorship. It is the weakest and the most idiotic justification invoked to suppress books written for adult readers. Mr. Kilpatrick’s remark is too elliptical not to be misleading. Sex is the primary agent of love between males and females. Should we hide the fact from young people? Should we teach them that sex is corrupting in some cases, and not in others? Then I leave to Mr. Kilpatrick the task of explaining to our young friends what is sex and what is love, when sex is just sex and when sex is sex with love. Such guidance will probably make the whole continent frigid, but that shouldn’t bother Mr. Kilpatrick.
“Seriously, if we want to restore mental sanity to our world, we must first of all save the young from the lies and hypocrisy inherited from the generations of Puritans. Modern man must find his path in a world which has become infinitely dangerous and dense. Our society will only survive if it starts producing individuals endowed with full freedom of judgment; we do not need an elite of specialized thinkers, but positive and personal thinking at every level. Those children that Mr. Kilpatrick is so concerned about are not corrupted by bad books. I don’t think they are interested in books, or pornography, which is a game for adults. If they feel they were born in a dry, cold and hopeless world, this can not be corrected by more censorship.”
The Sexual Nature of Man
Those who favor censorship are often motivated by what they believe to be the best principles. We have government agencies to ban harmful foods and medicines — why not do the same thing with “harmful” art and literature, they reason. What they fail to recognize is that a bad food or drug is a matter of indisputable fact, but a “bad” book or movie is a matter of taste and opinion, and nothing more. And in our free society, we are fundamentally opposed to the suppression of ideas with which we do not agree, or the forcing of our own ideas onto others. The fact that the bulk of scientific and enlightened opinion favors the dissemination of frankly sexual and erotic material for the mental health and well-being of our society is beside the point, for no one is forced to buy or read the book that does not please him, or attend the movie or watch the television program that offends his personal sensibilities. We are left the freedom of choice, as we should be in a free society, without the specter of censorship hanging over us.
Those who fear and oppose the erotic in our literature and art do so because of personal repressions and feelings of frustration, inadequacy or guilt regarding sex. They are unwilling to accept the basic sexual nature of man. Literature and art are a mirror in which man sees his own reflection. Only a man who carries the obscenity within him will see the obscenity in a book, a painting or a photograph. If you find the obscene in a work of art or literature, or in life itself, you have manufactured the idea of obscenity yourself. And you have no one to blame but yourself for having made it obscene. If it is true that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” one must accept its logical corollary, that ugliness is, too.
What the antisexual amongst us do not recognize is that they themselves are the major perpetuators of pornography. Most deliberate pornography has little enough artistic merit to commend it. It persists in a society where prudishness and hypocrisy are the rule. Editor-Publisher Girodias was quoted in The New York Times Book Review as saying: “The publication of pornography is a defensible, even a socially useful undertaking.” We asked him, in The Playboy Panel, to explain what he meant by this.
Girodias answered by reading something he had written in a letter published in the London Times Book Supplement a short time before: “What is known as pornography is a simple and elementary reaction against an age-old habit of mental suppression, of deliberately conditioned ignorance of ‘the facts of life.’ True, pornography is very crude and excessive form of protest — but the very intensity of the protest proves that it is not gratuitous, and that there is a deep and general need for free expression which is still far from being gratified. In other words, contrary to current belief, pornography is simply a consequence of censorship. Suppress censorship and pornography will disappear.”
The very attempt to ban a book will create an interest in it that the book may not deserve; the would-be censor may thus do more to promote the sale of salacious material than curb it. If the censor could be counted upon to only publicly damn worthwhile books, his existence might almost be justified for creating considerable public curiosity in good literature that would not otherwise be so widely read (no one can doubt that Vladimir Nabokov’s delightful Lolita found her way into hundreds-of-thousands of additional American homes, because of the hue and cry created over her by the blue noses). But, unfortunately, the censor has never been particularly noted for his ability to discern between the erotic wheat and the salacious chaff — partly, we suspect, because the distinction is of no real importance to him. He may come up with a work of real literary merit one month and a piece of trash the next — and give them both the same publicity. No, the censor really can’t be counted upon as a dependable guide to our reading habits. He would have us reading many of the right books, but for the wrong reasons; as well as many of the wrong books, for the right reasons.
The antisexual in our society so fail to understand the true sexual nature of man that they try to suppress what is insuppressible. In so doing, they hurt society in three distinct ways.
The censor curtails our freedom. As we have seen, censorship attempts to thwart our God-given and Constitutionally guaranteed rights to freely use our own minds and bodies, so long as we do not impair the similar rights of others: the right to speak and write our own ideas — whatever those ideas happen to be — and to accept (or reject) the ideas expressed by others, equally free; the right to worship our own God, in our own way — or to no God at all, if it suits us; the right to associate with whomever we choose, whenever we choose — without fear or prejudice of others.
The censor attempts to control our thoughts. By limiting our speech and press, by disapproving certain words and ideas, the censor in fact tries to practice thought control.
In his book 1984, George Orwell demonstrated how it is possible to actually control thought through the censorship of words. In Orwell’s society of the future, the political party in power is called Ingsoc (for English Socialism), with Big Brother as its leader (“Big Brother is watching you!”). The Ingsoc had created a new language, called Newspeak, to serve its political ends: Orwell had the following to say about Newspeak: “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and the Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words…. To give a single example. The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such a statement as ‘This dog is free from lice’ or ‘This field is free from weeds.’ It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free,’ since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and where therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.”
Orwell described how this censorship of language could affect the concept of sex for a person living in this future society: “His sexual life, for example, was entirely regulated by the two Newspeak words sexcrime (sexual immorality) and goodsex (chastity). Sexcrime covered sexual misdeeds whatever. It covered fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and other perversions, and, in addition, normal intercourse practiced for its own sake. There was no need to enumerate them separately, since they were all equally culpable, and, in principle, all punishable by death. In the C vocabulary, which consisted of scientific and technical words, it might be necessary to give specialized names to certain sexual aberrations, but the ordinary citizen had no need of them. He knew what was meant by goodsex — that is to say, normal intercourse between man and wife, for the sole purpose of begetting, and without physical pleasure on the part of the woman; all else was “sexcrime.”
Orwell’s 1984 is a work of fiction — a tale of horror that prophetically envisions the end results of totalitarianism. It seems far removed from present-day America, but it is actually closer in some respects than most of us may realize. Consider how limited are the socially acceptable words for sex. In addition to medical and technical terms, there are literally dozens of common English words to describe the sexual parts of the human body and every form of sexual activity, but all of them are considered objectionable or obscene. It is virtually impossible to describe a pleasurable sexual experience in personal conversation without having to resort to unromantic medical terms or, alternatively, to words with such obscene connotations that they permeate the telling with a prurience that may not have been present in the act itself.
And don’t we have the equivalent of Newspeak’s goodsex and sexcrime in the U.S. today? Isn’t “normal” intercourse within marriage the only sexual activity society considers acceptable and right; isn’t any other sexual activity between a man and wife, as well as all sex between those not married, considered immoral and wrong? Many states have actually made any other sexual activity, between those married or unmarried, illegal. And when the state legislators wrote the laws concerning sexual activity other than “normal” intercourse, one might almost assume they were limited in their language to some colorful version of Newspeak, so incapable were they of bringing themselves to specifically name or describe the activity they wished to ban. Consider this statute from the Criminal Code of the State of Rhode Island, Chapter 10, Section 11-10-1: “Abominable and detestable crime against nature. — Every person who shall be convicted of the abominable and detestable crime against nature, either with mankind or with any beast, shall be imprisoned not exceeding twenty (20) years nor less than seven (7) years.”
A number of the states have similar statutes prohibiting any “crime against nature,” but the term is almost never defined, and those states that have attempted a definition do not always agree with one another. A few look for a reasonable definition within the phrase itself, a “crime against nature, with mankind or animal” might seem to refer, in the first instance, to going out with a neighbor and cutting down a Christmas tree in the state park or, in the second, shooting deer out of season, but we have reason to believe that isn’t what the lawmakers had in mind. The colorful nature of the adjectives “abominable and detestable” leads us to suspect that what they were referring to probably has something to do with sex, since only sex comes in for such vague and emotion-tinged language in our laws. Whether Arizona’s “infamous” crime against nature is the same as Rhode Island’s “abominable and detestable” crime, we’re not sure, but in any case, it would probably be wise to do your Christmas-tree chopping somewhere else.
Abominable, detestable, or just plain infamous, a “crime against nature” is usually a catchall to include any sexual activity other than intercourse of which the legislators, the courts and the law enforcement officers do not approve. And what is often not recognized, even by many of those practicing law, is that none of these statutes make any distinction between the married and unmarried.
We have commented before that our archaic religious teachings have pitted man’s body and spirit against one another, whereas common sense would suggest that God intended the body, mind and spirit of man to be in harmony.
But the world of words reveals most clearly how, even without Newspeak, we have been taught that the spiritual, religious, Godly side of man is in opposition to sex, the body and material accomplishments and pleasures. Consider these definitions in the Second Edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary:
Spiritual is defined as pertaining to, or consisting of, the spirit; not material; of, or pertaining to, the moral feelings or states of the soul; pure, holy, divine; of or pertaining to sacred things of the church, or religious affairs; the opposite of spiritual is, according to Webster’s, carnal.
Carnal is defined as fleshly, bodily, sensual, sexual, animal, flesh-devouring, bloodthirsty, unregenerate, worldly, material, temporal, secular; the antonym of carnal is listed as spiritual. The opposite of intelligent is stupid; the mind of man is seen only in qualitative opposition to itself. How curious then that the opposite of spiritual should be carnal; with the spirit and body of man opposing one another.
The definitions of these words are in our dictionaries, because centuries of common usage have put them there. What strange sort of religion have we evolved that places the Godly part of man in opposition to the whole of his physical being? In simple theological truth, are not heaven and hell opposites, rather than heaven and earth? Is it not the devil who is opposed to God, rather than man’s mortal flesh? The devil can exist as easily in the mind of man as in his body; and there are times when he takes control of the spiritual side of man, as well. How else can the religious among us explain the Inquisition and the countless horrors perpetrated by organized religion down through history?
But built into our very language are these man-made conflicts which torture and torment us and destroy the natural God-intended unity of mind, body and spirit. The whole man is not confronted with a choice among the three — or between any two of them. Perhaps in this lies the wellspring of his humanity.
3. The censor impairs our mental health and well-being. By suppressing the frankly sexual speech and writing that embarrasses and disturbs him, the censor unwittingly eliminates an emotional outlet that, most authorities agree, is healthful for society.
What is more, the censor so little understands the nature of the thing he is about that he usually attacks first the more positive aspects of our sexual literature and art. The book, magazine or movie that equates sex with sin and suffering is less apt to bring down the censor’s wrath than one that makes sex seem pleasurable or appealing, for the former can be said to have a “moral.” That the seeming “moral” is in actuality an abnormal and quite unhealthy association between sexual activity and ugliness, grief and guilt seems to matter not a bit to the censor. He is thus quite successful in projecting his own negative attitudes toward sex onto the rest of society.
The sexual content of the stories and articles in the family and women’s magazines over the past 30 years has invariably been of this negative variety, as was pointed out with such hilarious effectiveness in the now near-classic Playboy article, The Pious Pornographers, by Ivor Williams (October 1957).
And we are all familiar with the “Stella Dallas” syndrome with which Hollywood suffered throughout most of the Thirties and Forties, when Will Hays’ Production Code required all cinematic sexual intemperance to end in disaster: If the heroine allowed herself a night of sexual dalliance with the hero in the first reel, the moviegoing public knew that not only would the next scene be a teary-eyed discovery that she was pregnant (or better still, a cut directly to a scene in the maternity ward), but the rest of the picture would be one long series of heartbreaks and suffering, in which the hero conveniently became unavailable (death in the war or betrothal to another were usually preferred), the heroine was forced to give up the child (“It’s for the baby’s own good — you’ve got to think of him [her] now….”) and the heroine became destitute, an alcoholic, threw herself under a train or died of pneumonia (from walking in the rain without any coat, hat or galoshes) — or a clever combination of all four.
It is not difficult to understand why the censor attacks sex that is depicted as happy and healthy and leaves sex that is sick, suffering and sin-ridden pretty much to itself. Why the censor is more apt to attack heterosexual sex than homosexual or other deviate sex might require a deeper probing of the censorial psyche, however. Perhaps it is simply that the average censor is too naive about the subject he has chosen as his specialty to recognize the often more subtle projections of sexual perversion in the public print.
Whatever the reason, the censor goes his merry way blithely banning magazines that contain photographs of female nudes, while overlooking a number of the “health and strength,” “body-building” and “muscle” magazines that are tailored to the tastes of the homosexual. The censor expunges a movie’s scenes of sexual love-play between a boy and a girl, but passes by the scenes of violence with sadomasochistic overtones. For many years before Robert Harrison made his bundle with Confidential, through the public exposure of the private lives of celebrities, he published a series of so-called “girlie” magazines that conscientiously catered to fetishists (offering sexual stimulation to the pervert with photography of models thoughtfully posed in unusually high heels, boots, lace undergarments, long hair, rubber rainwear), sadists and masochists (with spanking, whips and scenes of torture and gore), transvestites, lesbians and male homosexuals (with pictures of women dressed as men and vice versa) and other deviates — all with relative impunity, because his female models were never without their bras and panties. If they had been nude, you see, they might have appealed to normal heterosexual instincts in man — and that’s what the prudes and censors are apparently against. And if the models happened to be attractive in both face and figure, fresh, healthy and well-scrubbed in appearance, and appealingly posed and photographed — then the citizenry should become really outraged, because such a picture not only appeals to the heterosexual side of man, it gives the sexual response a clean and wholesome quality that suggest sex may indeed be a thing of beauty and joy.
The censor fails to comprehend that sexual responsiveness can be conditioned to a variety of stimuli in human society just as Pavlov conditioned his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. If we remove the primary heterosexual sources of stimulation from society, or through practiced propagandizing make an individual feel guilty about his natural responsiveness to such stimulation, then he will affix his responses to something else — other men, perhaps, or perhaps a shoe or a bit of lace underwear. This is the kind of sickness that the unknowing censor can bring to society. This is what the Drs. Kronhausen meant when they wrote, “All clinical evidence indicates that guilt-based sexual inhibitions, restrictions and repressions result in perversions of the sexual impulse, general intellectual dulling, sadomasochistic inclinations, unreasonable (paranoid) suspiciousness, and a long list of neurotic and psychotic defense reactions with unmistakable sexual content or overtones.”
Playboy and Pornography
It should be clear to even the casual or occasional reader of Playboy that our arguments for a more liberal, censor-free society are not, in any sense, a defense of this magazine of prompted by any commercial self-interest. To the contrary, a freer, less taboo-ridden, less hypocritical society would probably have less interest in (and less need for) the rebel part of Playboy’s personality. (Though we do like to think that our overall editorial excellence would retain for us the majority of our present readers.)
Our own more serious censorship concerns are now many years behind us and an easing of the censor’s tight control would only bring to wider distribution and sale a host of bolder imitators of this publication that have long been a bane to our existence and a source of not a little embarrassment (for they make more difficult, the explanations — to those who do not read us and know us only by reputation - of what Playboy is really all about and what sets it apart amongst present-day magazines in America).
Nor would Playboy change very much in such a censor-free society. The magazine has never attempted to push to the outer boundaries of what was censorable or what could be considered objectionable by the more sophisticated part of our society. We have always chosen to set our own standards of taste and propriety, and to communicate with that number of other urban fellows whose view of life is similar to our own.
Our interest in a society free of the shackles of censorship is as a citizen who believes he will be happier living in an America in which all men are allowed to exercise full freedom of speech, of press, of religion and of association. It is the kind of America we believe in. It is the America our founding fathers meant us to have. We believe we should have it.
Mark Twain expressed himself on America’s oft seemingly schizophrenic sexual attitudes in his Letters From the Earth, long suppressed by his family and just recently published for the first time: A fallen angel visits earth and describes, with some incredulity, what he finds there to archangels St. Michael and St. Gabriel. “There is nothing about man that is not strange to an immortal. His heaven is like himself: strange, interesting, astonishing, grotesque. I give you my word, it has not a single feature in it that he actually values. It consists — utterly and entirely — of diversions that he cares next to nothing about, here on earth, yet is quite sure he will like in heaven. Isn’t it curious? Isn’t it interesting? You must not think I am exaggerating, for it is not so. I will give you details.
“The human being, like the immortals, naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys — yet he has left it out of his heaven! The very thought of it excites him; opportunity sets him wild; in this state he will risk life, reputation, everything — even his queer heaven itself — to make good that opportunity. Yet it is actually as I have said: It is not in their heaven; prayer takes its place.”
Religious puritanism pervades every aspect of our sexual lives. We use it as a justification for suppressing freedom of thought, expression and, of course, personal behavior. By associating sex with sin, we have produced a society. By associating sex with sin, we have produced a society so guilt-ridden that it is almost impossible to view the subject objectively and we are able to rationalize the most outrageous acts against mankind in the name of God.
But what sort of God would have man deny his God-given sexual nature?
Some members of our society sincerely believe that sex has a single purpose: procreation. As such, sexual activity is logically limited to coitus within the bounds of marriage, since children benefit from the presence of both parents, and a stable familial environment is best established within the bounds of wedlock. But life is more complex than that. To deny the true emotional and physical significance of sex in society is to turn our backs on all the knowledge about man that the sociological and psychological sciences have given us. In suggesting that the sole purpose of sex is the perpetuation of the species, we reduce man to the level of the lower animals.
So intimately is sex interrelated with the rest of human experience that it is impossible to conceive of a society existing, as we know it, without benefit of the primal sex urge. Most certainly, if such a society did exist, it would be a very cold, totalitarian and barbarous one. The existence of two sexes, and their attraction for one another, must be considered the major civilizing influence in our world. As much as religion has done for the development and growth of society, sex has done more. The tendency in modern times to reduce the differences between the sexes and create the cultural illusion, if not the physical fact, of a single sex has grave implications for society and we shall explore them at length a bit later.
Stimulation and Sublimation
Religiously inspired sexual suppression is harmful to society: It is never desirable to have a significant gap between the professed principles of a society and its actions; as with an individual, any serious conflict between beliefs and behavior produces emotional instability. When it is a normal physical drive that is being rejected, the resulting trauma is apt to be more severe; when an entire nation attempts to deny a basic urge, the results can be catastrophic. Human sexual behavior remains relatively unchanged generation after generation, but man’s attitudes toward that behavior vary greatly.
As recently as 1959, in the preliminary report of the California State Subcommittee on Pornographic Literature, there appeared the following statement: “It is still the principle of our nation that premarital and extramarital sexual activity is an undesirable thing, and anything that incites or lures or glorifies premarital or extramarital activity is objectionable.”
On such a premise, the censor and the prude are free to do their dirtiest deeds — ban our books, suppress our speech and take from us any semblance of free choice in our most private affairs.
If the report of the California State Subcommittee is to be taken seriously, then the “pornographic literature,” with which they were concerned, is only one small and relatively insignificant aspect of their problem. If they really considered objectionable “anything that incites or lures” men and women into premarital and extramarital intercourse, they would have to face up to the banning of all tight or revealing clothing, bathing suits, romantic music, dancing, liquor, perfume, makeup and — if those ads from Mad Ave are to be believed — most every deodorant, mouthwash, toothpaste and hair oil on the market. And even after that, their job would not be done.
Kinsey has listed a seemingly endless number of sources of erotic stimulation reported in preadolescent boys, including such nonsexual stimuli as taking a shower, punishment, fast elevator rides, skiing, sitting in church, boxing and wrestling, swimming, anger, being late to school, seeing a policeman, being alone at night, looking over the edge of a building, big fires, marching soldiers, seeing name in print, running away from home, fear of a big boy, long flights of stairs, motion of a car or bus, receiving report card and hearing the national anthem.
Kinsey has commented that preadolescent boys are sexually aroused by “a whole array of emotional situations, whether they be sexual or nonsexual.” By his late teens the male has been so conditioned that he rarely responds erotically to anything except direct physical stimulation or to psychic situations that are for him specifically sexual; in the still older male even physical stimulation is rarely effective unless accompanied by the proper psychological atmosphere. The pattern is a continually contracting one in which a person responds initially to a wide variety of stimuli which then becomes more specific, through experience and conditioning, as he matures.
Kinsey stated: “For most males, whether single or married, there are ever-present erotic stimuli and sexual response is regular and high.”
If any group like the California State Subcommittee on Pornographic Literature ever hoped to eliminate those “objectionable” sources of stimulation that might serve to “incite or lure” the unwary into premarital and extramarital sexual activity, they would be doomed to failure before they began. For even if they could successfully eliminate every anticipated source of sexual arousal, the potent human sex drive would simply affix itself to some other psychological and/or physical stimuli. And the danger of attempting to eliminate the more direct heterosexual sources of stimulation in society is the obvious possibility that the sex urge will become conditioned to less socially desirable stimuli.
In The Playboy Panel on “Sex and Censorship in Literature and the Arts” (July 1961), Dr. Albert Ellis commented on the diversity of sexual stimuli thusly: “How can you ban desire? Some people go out on the street and look at a clothesline with drawers hanging on it and get aroused. Should we therefore censor clotheslines?”
Which reminded Publisher Barney Rosset, of Grove Press, of a book by the French new-wave author Robbe-Grillet, about a man who derives sexual stimulation from a piece of string. Rosset said: “He sees this piece of string throughout the book and concocts extremely erotic fantasies around it. He uses it in various ways; it might be a clothesline in one instance, and the next instance he is imagining tying a girl up with this piece of string. It gets down to almost anything being used as subject matter for erotic fantasy.”
Judge Thurman Arnold then warned about the danger of removing one source of sexual stimulation only to have it replaced by another more objectionable one: “Human beings can be trained like Pavlov’s dog, so that they are stimulated by sights and sounds completely unrelated to the things they desire. A strict standard of obscenity contributes to such unhealthy training. Taking the pin-up girls away from American soldiers would not make their minds more pure. It would only mean that they would be aroused by some less healthy or attractive substitute. At the turn of the century the old Police Gazette had a nationwide pornographic appeal. A dance called the cancan in which the chorus girls kicked up their legs covered with black stockings was wicked and highly stimulating. Today a person with an appetite for pornography would not pay ten cents to see either the magazine or the dance. This is how censorship makes material sexuality stimulating which would not have any stimulation at all if that censorship did not exist. And that is why anything but the most tolerant standards creates an unhealthy psychology.”
The possibility of conditioning a person to less healthy erotic stimuli is especially pronounced in the preadolescent period and we think about this whenever anyone tells us, somewhat self-consciously, that he enjoys Playboy himself, but he doesn’t like to leave it around the house where his children might get hold of it and look at the pictures. We wonder just what sort of stimuli this parent would like his children to associate with sex instead of the beauty of the human body.
This attitude is prompted by this mistaken idea that the sex urge is only aroused by the more obvious erotic stimuli and that without them it would remain quiescent. But if a normal child is denied sexual stimulation by beautiful images he will be stimulated by ugly images; if a child is not stimulated by heterosexual sources, he will be stimulated by homosexual ones. And with any luck at all, the misguided parent will succeed in passing on his own feelings of guilt or shame to his offspring also.
A related misconception surrounds Freud’s theory of sublimation. A great many people assume that the basic sex urge itself can be “sublimated,” with the need for sexual fulfillment being redirected into other, more socially acceptable, activities. This is untrue. Dr. Theodor Reik has stressed that the primal sex drive, while easily satisfied, “is entirely incapable of being sublimated…. The satisfaction of this particular urge cannot be fulfilled by the substitution of another goal.”
Reik points out that it would make as much sense to try to convince us that other natural urges, like thirst or hunger, could be redirected into the accomplishment of cultural achievements, as to suggest that man’s basic sex drive would be put to such use. What can be used for cultural achievements is, rather, the energy of ego-drives, says Reik, of which love itself is one of the main ingredients, along with the need for social recognition, competitiveness, vanity and vainglory, its less popular relatives.
Before Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his associates of the Institute for Sex Research, at Indiana University, published their first two volumes, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), social scientists had at least a general knowledge of the extent of human sexual activity, but the public knew very little of the matter. There had been sex surveys published before, but never so extensive or so scientifically accurate. The first “Kinsey Report” hit the American people like a bombshell. Here was indisputable scientific evidence (though a great many tried to dispute it) that our entire society was living a lie. We were professing one set of standards and living quite another. In a moment, it became clear that all manner of sexual behavior previously considered abnormal by most was not only normal, but commonplace. Hidden guilts over secret sexual indiscretions were now relieved through the knowledge that much or the rest of the chastity-loving American public was practicing the same indiscretions quite wantonly, while preaching a completely different set of standards. We had come to grips, at last, with the true sexual nature of man.
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male became an immediate best seller at $6.50 a copy and the small scientific-book publisher that had produced the hefty 820-page volume was unable to keep up with the demand. Every major magazine in America reprinted, paraphrased or commented on it. Ordinary people, on buses, in offices, and over cocktails, were discussing frequency of sexual outlet, premarital, extramarital and homosexual activity, using words like orgasm and masturbation that were previously seldom used in polite company and fellatio, cunnilingus and pederasty, with which they had not even been acquainted before.
In a moment, it became clear that our commonly accepted sexual mores were woefully unrealistic and our sex laws totally unrelated to the facts of human behavior. Quite reasonably, one might have expected this revelation to have precipitated a complete re-evaluation of our sex standards and a thorough overhauling of out absurd sex statutes. No such thing occurred.
There is always a time lag between the acquisition of knowledge and the social and personal changes which might be expected to ensue; where deep-seated traditional beliefs and ingrained behavior are involved, the cultural lag is considerably prolonged. To be sure, a sexual revolution is taking place in the U.S., but 15 years after the publication of Kinsey’s first book, we still suffer under much of the same social pressure and suppression as before.
What did Kinsey’s two volumes on American sexual behavior reveal? Eighty-five percent of the total male population had had premarital intercourse. With extramarital intercourse, Kinsey’s researchers found a greater tendency for cover-up or outright refusal to answer questions than in any other part of the study, especially among the older married males of better-than-average educational and social levels. Kinsey considered the social consequences attendant on the revelation of adultery to be the primary reason for the reluctance of many to contribute to his research and believed that this reservation also affected the statistics that were gathered, by perhaps as much as “ten to 20 percent.” He wrote: “…allowing for the cover-up that has been involved, it is probably sage to suggest that about half [50 percent] of all married males have intercourse with women other than their wives, at some time while they are married.”
Fifty-nine percent had had some heterosexual mouth-genital experience; 70 percent had had relations with prostitutes; 50 percent had had some homosexual contact and 37 percent had had homosexual contact to orgasm; 17 percent of all men raised on farms had had animal intercourse (the percentage of animal intercourse for the entire male population is much lower, because of the lack of opportunity for such contact among men raised in the city); 92 percent of the total male population had masturbated to orgasm and this figure jumped to 96 percent for male college graduates, when considered separately (Kinsey felt that if the tendency for cover-up were eliminated from the statistics, the percentage would have been closer to 98 for the total male population).
As to the sexual activities of American women, Kinsey and his staff found that 64 percent had “responded to orgasm” by one means or another prior to marriage. Forty-eight percent had had premarital intercourse; and among college graduates, this figure increased to 60 percent. Twenty-six percent admitted to extramarital intercourse; among college graduates, the number of wives who admitted to having intercourse with a man other than their husband, while married, was 29 percent. Forty-three percent had had heterosexual mouth-genital experience; when the better educated of the youngest generation included in the female sample were considered by themselves, the figure was 62 percent. Twenty-eight percent had had homosexual contact to orgasm. Twenty-eight percent of the female sample, with only a grade-school education, had masturbated to orgasm; 59 percent of the females with a high-school education had reached orgasm through masturbation; the percentage is 57 for those females who graduated from college and 63 percent for those with a postgraduate education.
Kinsey found that educational background had a marked effect upon the sex lives of both men and women, with the lower educated male being less inhibited about ordinary coitus than his upper educated brother (98 percent of the lower educated men had had premarital intercourse) and the upper educated female being much freer than her less educated sister; the better educated of both sexes proved less inhibited in all sex behavior other than ordinary coitus, however (including variety of positions, mouth-genital contact and homosexual experience).
A Nation of Hypocrites
If the vast majority of all American men and nearly half of all women engage in premarital intercourse and one half of the married males and one quarter of the females of extramarital intercourse, one might rightly wonder who the California State Subcommittee on Pornographic Literature had in mind, when they stated that Americans still find such activity objectionable. Who’s objecting? Or are we really such a nation of hypocrites that we take exception to such behavior for anyone else, while engaging in it ourselves? In many ways, it appears that we are just such a nation of hypocrites. The sexual activity that we pompously preach about and protest against in public, we enthusiastically practice in private. We lie to one another about sex; and many of us undoubtedly lie to ourselves about sex. But we can not forever escape the reality that a sexually hypocritical society is an unhealthy society that produces more than its share of perversion, neurosis, psychosis, unsuccessful marriage, divorce and suicide.
Now we can accept the argument that it is some flaw in the nature of man, some weakness or devil in the flesh, that produces our sexual yearnings and behavior; we reject as totally without foundation the promise of the prude, who would have us believe that man would be healthier and happier if he were somehow able to curve these natural desires. Nor is it true, as some suggest, that those who indulge in early and frequent sexual experiences dull their capacity to enjoy and gain satisfaction from such experiences or invariably live to regret them.
Kinsey found that, contrary to popular prejudice, relatively few of the men and women in his study who had had premarital or extramarital intercourse reported regretting the experience. Nor is there any evidence that it harmed them. To the contrary, there is every indication that in most cases the experiences were beneficial. Kinsey reported that those who engaged in sexual experiences before marriage were more apt to indulge in extramarital activity after marriage, but he also found that premarital sex statistically increased a woman’s chances of getting married and of making a success of her marriage. Kinsey wrote, in his Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, “…premarital socio-sexual experience, whether in petting or in coitus, should contributeto [the] development of emotional capacities. In this, as in other areas, learning at an early age may be more effective than learning at any later age after marriage.” He also observed, “The record on our sample of married females shows that there was a marked, positive correlation between experience in orgasm obtained from premarital coitus and the capacity to reach orgasm after marriage.”
On the relationship of sex to a successful marriage, Kinsey wrote, “Sexual adjustments are not the only problems involved in marriage, and often they are not even the most important factors in marital adjustment…. Nevertheless, sexual maladjustments contribute in perhaps three quarters of the upper level marriages that end in separation or divorce, and in some smaller percentage of the lower level marriages that break up….” Kinsey found “considerable evidence” that sexual experience prior to marriage contributed “to the effectiveness of the sexual relations after marriage.”
The simple act of sex performed prior to marriage does not, per se, increase the chances of a successful marriage, of course. It is the attitudes that lead to the act that will determine how well a person adjusts both to sex and to marriage. There is a good deal more to sex than just the learned physical techniques (although the techniques themselves are largely underrated in our society and a majority of adults live out their lives with only the most rudimentary knowledge of the most vital of all human activities). Sex is often a profound emotional experience. No dearer, more intimate, more personal act is possible between two human beings. Sex is, at its best, an expression of love and adoration. But this is not to say that sex is, or should be, limited to love alone. Love and sex are certainly not synonymous, and while they may often be closely interrelated, the one is not necessarily dependent upon the other. Sex can be one of the most profound and rewarding elements in the adventure of living; if we recognize it as not necessarily limited to procreation, then we should also acknowledge openly that it is not necessarily limited to love either. Sex exists — with and without love — and in both forms it does far more good than harm. The attempts at its suppression, however, are almost universally harmful, both to the individual involved and to society as a whole.
This is not an endorsement of promiscuity or an argument favoring loveless sex — being a rather romantic fellow, ourself, we favor our sex mixed with emotion. But we recognize that sex without love exists; that it is not, in itself, evil; and that it may sometimes serve a definitely worthwhile end.
We are opposed to wholly selfish sex, but we are opposed to any human relationship that is entirely self-oriented — that takes all and gives nothing in return. We also believe that any such totally self-serving association is self-destructive. Only by remaining open, and vulnerable, can a person experience the full joy and satisfaction of human existence. That he must also, thereby, know some of the sorrow and pain of this world is without question, but that, too, is a part of the adventure of living. The alternative — closing oneself off from experience and sensation and knowledge — is to be only half alive. The ultimate invulnerability is death itself.
This is not at odds with what we have previously expressed about the need for a greater enlightened self-interest in society. Too many people today live out their entire existence in a group, of a group and for a group — never attempting to explore their own individuality, never discovering who or what they are, or might be. Searching out one’s own identity and purpose, taking real pleasure in being a person, establishing a basis for true self-respect — these are the essence of living.
We believe that life can be a greater pleasure if it is lived with some style and grace and comfort and beauty, but we do not believe that these are the all of it. It is possible to become so caught up in the trappings — both the form and the accoutrements of living — that the real satisfactions become lost. Each man — and woman — should try to know himself, as well as the world around him, and take real pride in that knowledge.
The do-gooder, the prude, the bigot and the censor have no such self-knowledge and their concern is continually with the affairs of others. A concentrated interest in the affairs of others may produce some worthwhile ends, but it can also be the basis for the meddlesome disruption of other people’s private lives. We have always been a little suspicious of those too aggressively concerned with the welfare of their fellow man. This is not to say that man should not be willing to aid those less fortunate than himself. He certainly should be — and that willingness to help the rest of humankind should know no boundaries of race, religion or country. But when you help a man, you also rob him of a measure of his self-reliance; if, however, you help him to help himself, you give him the means of establishing his own life in his own way. If we truly respect ourselves, it is impossible not to respect our fellow man as well — we must respect his individuality, the things that make him different from us, that set him apart and make him a person. One of the things that sets man above the lower animals is the distinctly individual nature of each of us; we should be as proud of these differences as we are of the similarities that make us all members of the family of man.
What we believe in, first and foremost, is the individual — and in his right to be an individual.
If a man has a right to find God in his own way, he has a right to go to the devil in his own way, also. It sometimes happens that the man most other men would agree is surely “going to the devil” has, instead, discovered a new truth that is leading him away from established thought and tradition to a better way that, in time, other men will understand and follow. The Bible singles out the meek and the poor in spirit for special blessings. We’d like to add one of our own: Blessed is the rebel — without him there would be no progress.
Religion’s Changing Morality
We do not want to suggest that all organized religion is guilty of being antisexual. There is a growing awareness of the true sexual nature of man within the more-liberal elements of both the Christian and Jewish religions. Our quarrel is not, therefore, with the whole of organized religion, but only with that part of it that continues to deny man’s sexual nature and pits man’s body, mind and soul against one another.
It is, paradoxically enough, the Protestant side of Christendom, originally responsible for Puritanism and the strongest advocate of prudery and antisexualism — that is now forming a new, more liberal religious view of sex. While the official Roman Catholic position still holds that the principal function of sex is procreation and that sex is not to be indulged in for pleasure alone (Beginning Your Marriage, a Catholic handbook, sums up the position of the Roman Church: “The reproductive processes have not been entrusted to man primarily for his pleasure, but rather for the continuation of the species…. Although the immediate result of sexual union is intensely pleasurable physical release and a sense of intimate unity, these are the accompanying effects of the act and not its primary purpose”), a great many members of the Protestant clergy now share the view expressed by fellow theologian Dr. Seward Hiltner, who believes that no conflict exists between the flesh and the spirit of man: Since man is a “whole or total being, sex is good if it serves the fulfillment of man as a total being.”
In an article titled A 20th Century Philosophy of Sex, Joseph Fletcher, teacher of social ethics at the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently wrote: “The Christian churches must shoulder much of the blame for the confusion, ignorance and unhealthy guilt associations which surround sex in Western culture…. The Christian church from its earliest, primitive beginnings has been swayed by many puritanical people, both Catholic and Protestant, who have treated sexuality as inherently evil.”
In The Bible and the World of Dr. Kinsey, William Graham Cole, professor of religion at Williams College, put it even more strongly: “There can be no quarrel with the secular world at this point. It is right and the church has been wrong. Sex is natural and good…. It is attitudes which are good and evil, never things…. Those who take the Bible seriously must stop apologizing for sex…they must begin with a concession to the secular mind, granting that sex is natural.
“In its efforts to prevent irresponsible procreation, Western civilization has used the device of what Freud called the walls of loathing, guilt and shame. On the whole this method of social control has worked reasonably well, but a price has been paid for its success — the price of sexual perversion, which is the product of fear and anxiety…. The method of moralism has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, partly because it moves in the wrong direction and partly because it has based its case on fear.”
In Religion and Sex: A Changing Church View, David Boroff wrote in the August 1961 issue of the now defunct Coronet, “Much of Protestantism no longer wishes to be identified with repression and Puritanism. ‘In fact,’ says Professor Roger Shinn, of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, ‘repression is a Christian heresy.’ …In this country, Puritanism…has been hostile to the expression of sexual feeling. But in recent years, Protestant theologians have re-examined these concepts. They now argue that Puritanism, when it insists that sex is evil, is actually a distortion of Christian doctrine. These thinkers have been influenced not only by recent Biblical scholarship, but also by the findings of psychiatry — especially the revelation of the psychic damage that may be done by sexual repression.”
England is undergoing a not-so-quiet sexual revolution of its own, as Time reported in its issue of March 22, 1963: “…the British are deeply concerned with their search for what some call ‘a new morality’ to fit the hushed-up facts of life. ‘The popular morality is now a wasteland,’ said Dr. George Morrison Carstairs, 46, professor of psychological medicine at Edinburgh University, in a recent BBC lecture. ‘It is littered with the debris of broken convictions. A new concept is emerging, of sexual relations as a source of pleasure, but also as a mutual encountering of personalities, in which each explores the other and at the same time discovers new depths in himself or herself.’
“In a violently controversial report,” reported Time, “a group of the Religious Society of Friends attacked the onus attached to ‘a great increase in adolescent sexual intimacy’ and premarital affairs. ‘It is fairly common in both young men and women with high standards of conduct and integrity to have one or two love affairs, involving intercourse, before they find the person they will ultimately marry.’ …This, concluded the report, is not such a sin. ‘Where there is genuine tenderness, an openness to responsibility and the seed of commitment, God is surely not shut out.'”
The same month, Associated Press carried a story, datelined London, which reported that a Church of England pastor challenged religious taboos against extramarital sex: “In a sermon delivered from the pulpit of Southwark Cathedral in London, Canon D.A. Rhymes declared the traditional moral code implied that sex is unavoidably tainted. ‘Yet there is no trace of this teaching in the attitude of Christ,’ he said. ‘He does not exalt virginity over marriage, or marriage over virginity — He merely says in one place that some have chosen virginity to leave them free for the work of the kingdom.
“‘Nor does Christ ever suggest that sexuality, as such, is undesirable or that marriage is the only possible occasion of any expression of physical relationship.’
“…Canon Rhymes said the moral code of today is being ignored because it is outdated. ‘We need to replace the traditional morality based upon a code with a morality which is related to the person and the needs of the person….'” The pastor concluded that if we want to live full and healthful lives, “we must emphasize love,” not an inflexible, impersonal and unfeeling morality.
The Ostriches of Sex
In the face of such a tide of reason and research from psychologists, psychotherapists, sociologists, mental-health experts and enlightened theologians, the firing of Biology Professor Leo F. Koch from the University of Illinois, as discussed in our fifth editorial (The Playboy Philosophy, April 1963), seem all the more incredible. For Professor Koch was removed from the faculty of the university for expressing substantially the same ideas, in a letter printed in the student newspaper, that the English pastor stated in a sermon from his pulpit. If anything, the professor was somewhat more conservative in his views, noting that “there is no valid reason” why premarital sex should not be condoned “among those sufficiently mature to engage in it without social consequences and without violating their own codes of morality and ethics.” For this he was publicly vilified and fired.
The occurrence prompted Dr. Robert A. Harper, President-elect of the American Association of Marriage Counselors to issue this statement: “As a veteran family life educator, marriage counselor and writer and lecturer on premarital and marital topics, I should like to state flatly that the conventional moral code regarding premarital chastity does a great deal more harm than good in contemporary American society. This code not only leads some young people into firmly fixed pornographic attitudes and prudishly repressive sexual behavior (from which matrimonial ceremonies, alas, cannot free them), but it instills guilt feelings in countless other youth who proceed to violate the stupid premarital taboos.
“Fortunately, however, a growing number of young people have been able to perceive the false, superstitious basis of the outmoded sanctions against premarital coitus and are proceeding maturely, stably, wisely, and happily with wholesome and desirable premarital sexual relations which greatly aid them in their marital sexual adjustments….”
In an article in Esquire titled “Sex: The Quiet Revolution,” David Boroff stated: “Attitudes toward sex among those who grew up after World War II…are strikingly different from those of earlier generations. It can be summed up in this way: Sex is one of life’s principal goods. The degree of pleasure one derives from it is a measure of one’s self-realization. And since the old moral sanctions have lost much of their authority, there is far less reluctance about premarital sex. In fact, Dr. [Albert] Ellis reveals that when he lectures on sex before college students, there is almost invariably a wild cheer when he endorses premarital sex. Before World War II, to be a virgin was good; today, after a certain age, it is bad. The loss of chastity is no longer the fall from innocence; it is the fall upwards, so to speak, to maturity and self-fulfillment.
“Paul Goodman, the brilliant author of Growing Up Absurd, was recently asked his view of premarital sex by a college student. ‘In sex, anything you get pleasure from is good,’ he said peremptorily. ‘And that’s all there is to it.'”
But the ostriches remain. The Realist, Paul Krassner’s impudent periodical of parody and social commentary, honored psychologist James E. Bender as “Unrealist of the Month” for his comment: “Anything more intense than a goodnight kiss, which should be nothing more than a gentle brushing together of the lips, should be reserved until marriage or, at least, until there is a definite engagement.”
And advice columnist Ann Landers, counselor of millions, still honors and promotes what she calls “white-flower girls” (virgins). What is more, in a recent syndicated column, she agreed with a reader that chaste girls should insist on chaste men for husbands. That such chastity before marriage is likely to promote sexual incompatibility after marriage is apparently less important than upholding the sex standards passed down from previous centuries, noted for their superstition, repression and perversion.
A horrified mother wrote to Miss Landers, because she had read a letter addressed to her son from his girlfriend and learned that the pair had been sexually intimate: “I am so shocked at the contents of the letter,” said the mother, “that I’ve been half sick ever since I read it. Both my son and the girl are 19. They have been intimate on several occasions. I can’t understand how two young people who were reared in respectable, Christian homes could have gone over the line of moral decency.”
Ann offered no word of wisdom to the suffering mother that might suggest that it was not abnormal for a 19-year-old boy and his 19-year-old girl to be sexually intimate; that this experience might be expected to heighten their chances of marital happiness, whether with one another or someone else; and that a majority of both men and women have similar sex experiences before they marry. Miss Landers counseled: “He [the son] should be told in plain language that the dangerous game he’s playing can wreck the girl’s life — and his as well. Countless teenagers have paid a devastating price for premarital experimenting. And they all thought it couldn’t happen to them.”
Never mind the “devastating price” that such prudery extracts from our marriages — the frigidity, the heartbreak, the frustration and divorce — that’s another problem, perhaps to be answered in one of next year’s columns.
This letter and response remind us of a story in Life that we read many years ago, when we, ourself, were an impressionable teenager. It told about a hapless young couple, who were in love, and whose parents would have been as deeply shocked as Miss Landers’ correspondent if they had known that their children were being sexually intimate. The girl became pregnant, but they were both afraid to face the parental wrath that would follow either an admission of what had happened or a hasty wedding. And so, being a pair of foolish romantics, they decided to kill themselves. The girl read passages from Romeo and Juliet aloud to her boyfriend on the day they chose to carry out the suicide pact. The boy shot and killed her — and then lost his nerve and called the police. Both sets of parents stood by the boy during the trial and he was acquitted; the parents blamed themselves, but it was too late to make any difference. How long, we wonder, will it take for us to learn the devastating toll that such prudery produces?
Ann Landers expresses a point of view toward sex and chastity that is still common in America — and the heartache and havoc that it causes are incalculable. In an informative little booklet titled Necking and Petting — and How Far to Go, Ann tells us: “Civilized people are expected to curb their ‘natural instincts.’… Teenagers should realize that their sexual attitudes have a direct bearing on other people. It is not just a ‘private’ affair…. Teenagers who get into trouble injure not only themselves but their families…. If necking is the evening’s entertainment, something to do instead of going bowling or going to the movies, it is WRONG…the basic rules for necking [are] …. All hands should be on deck and accounted for. Four feet should be on the floor at all times. Count ’em.
“And now, what is petting? Petting is necking that has gone out of control. It is kissing and hugging, plus wandering hands, with one or both parties reclining, and getting altogether too comfortable for anyone’s good. Petting is the forerunner of going all the way. THIS can lead to heartbreak, pregnancy, disgrace and a sudden, unenthusiastic marriage at an early age.”
Is it any wonder America has spawned generations that are frigid, impotent and sexually maladjusted? Dr. Kinsey stated, in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female: “A great deal has been written about the damage that may be done by premarital sexual activities, and particularly by petting; but relatively little has been said about the psychologic disturbances and subsequent marital difficulties which may develop when there is such condemnation and constant belaboring of any type of behavior which has become so nearly universal, and which is as likely to remain as universal, as petting is among American females and males.”
The Reader’s Digest is the most widely read magazine in the English language; with a monthly circulation of some 15 million, it is far and away the most influential in the entire world. This is all-the-more true, because it is so highly regarded by America’s impressionable middle class and the magazine is given wide distribution in U.S. schools.
In the July 1962 issue, the Digest reprinted an article which they first published in 1937 titled “The Case for Chastity” by Margaret Culkin Banning. The article was reprinted, the Digest said, because of the large number of requests for it from readers. In a brief introduction, the editors stated: “The problem it discusses is as acute as it was 25 years ago, and the sound advice contained in the article is, if anything, more pertinent.”
We’ll restrain the temptation to comment on a magazine that apparently believes sex has stood still in America over the last 25 years, and that any article written on sex attitudes in 1937 is as “pertinent” today as it was then, but because the article itself has reached such a very large audience and because it is filled with what we consider to be a great number of inaccurate and illogical statements, we feel a rather extended response is in order. Dr. Roger W. Wescott, of the African Language and Area Center in East Lansing, Michigan, former Associate Professor of Social Science at Michigan State University and a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association, expressed a similar criticism of the article in a recent issue of The Realist and we’ll refer to his comment at some points along the way.
In her opening paragraph, Miss Banning takes exception to “the frequent denial that any moral issue is involved in sex conduct.” But the sexually liberal deny no such thing. They argue, rather, that chastity is just another word for repression; that repression is harmful; that anyone who knowingly inflicts harm on another — including himself — is cruel; and that cruelty is immoral. In other words, as Dr. Wescott expresses it, “What the sexual liberals advocate is not the abolition of sexual standards, but the substitution of humane and reasonable standards for inhumane and unreasonable ones.”
Miss Banning next deplores the fact that young people “make up their minds with insufficient knowledge” about sex. This statement is misleading, in that it implies that those holding to the more traditional ideas about sex generally have more knowledge on the subject than do the sexually liberal and that they are more willing to impart this knowledge to the younger generation. Just the opposite is the case. This is, in fact, one of the major issues between the sexual liberals and traditionalists — with the liberals favoring more sex education for the young and the traditionalists generally opposing it. And as Dr. Wescott observes, “What little sexual education the traditionalists do dispense — whether it be formal or informal — is usually calculated more to intimidate than inform the young.”
Miss Banning then states, “We must remember that unchastity, common though it may be, is not the norm.” Since Kinsey found that upward of 85 percent of the male and 60 percent of the female population have premarital intercourse, we wonder what this writer means by “norm.”
In place of sex, Miss Banning suggests such “wholesome social activities” as “study, sports and domestic tasks,” implying, of course, that sexual activity is not “wholesome.” This suggests that the basic sex drive can be sublimated into more “worthwhile,” socially acceptable activities — a point of view that, as we commented earlier, Dr. Theodor Reik has taken great pains to label fallacious. Dr. Wescott comments: “…insofar as ‘wholesome’ means ‘healthy,’ there is something paradoxical about the inference [that sexual activity is not wholesome]. For most psychologists and physiologists would define a healthy capacity or organ as one which has full and free scope for the exercise of its appropriate function. Miss Banning would presumably not deny that it is, before all else, walking which keeps the legs healthy. Yet she denies the implicit corollary that sexual inactivity can hardly lead to sexual health.”
Miss Banning next claims that the sexually liberal are too “casual” about sex and announces: “But it is revealing that no reputable physician is equally casual. No psychologist who has seriously investigated the problems of sexual relations outside of marriage treats them as trivial.” She thus suggests that the bulk of knowledgeable scientific opinion is on her side in this matter, when precisely the opposite is the case. And if, by “casual,” she means that the sexually liberal wish to see people as less nervous and more relaxed about sex, she is certainly correct in that and most knowing psychologists certainly favor such a “casual” attitude.
And then, as we might expect, Miss Banning reaches down into her bag of tricks and produces that old scare pair — venereal disease and abortion. (Which rather confirms Dr. Wescott’s earlier comment about traditional sex instruction being intended more to frighten than enlighten.) As Dr. Wescott points out, Margaret Banning neglects to mention that venereal disease and abortion are equally real dangers within marriage as without (over half of all illegal abortions are performed on married women) and thus hardly valid arguments against a lack of chastity outside marriage any more than inside of it. The only real answer to venereal disease is, of course, not chastity, but a greater public awareness about the diseases (since both syphilis and gonorrhea are easily recognized and cured — which was not true in 1937) — and we must again remind ourselves that it is the sexual traditionalists, for whom Miss Banning speaks, who traditionally thwart attempts at broader sex education.
Abortion, the second specter revealed to our already presumably cowering youth by the lovable Miss Banning, with its potential aftermath of trauma, sterility or death, is again no argument against extramarital sex, but what Dr. Wescott calls an “indictment of a heartless and joyless social justice system.” For it is the illegality of abortion that forces it to be performed under circumstances that are often less than ideal and sometimes dangerous.
Miss Banning also condemns petting (Can she be a distant relative of Miss Landers?) on the grounds that “Early and casual sex experience often inhibits and spoils mature experience….” and, because it “is apt to create habits which…unsuit a girl emotionally for marriage.” (“The dean of a women’s college” is the source of this second psychophysical observation.) The writer is too delicate to specify what these evil “habits” might be, but the reader can only infer that they are the techniques for achieving orgasm. And with this reasoning, of course, we are taken out of the 20th century altogether and implicitly urged to revert to the Victorian view that women should regard sexual activity, not as their natural and joyously fulfilling birthright, but only as an unavoidable duty. Miss Banning’s statements regarding the harm in petting, whether before or after marriage, are wholly false — though it is certainly preferable to continue such intimacy through to coitus.
Miss Banning then warns against the influence of drinking (we had a feeling she would): “Alcohol inflames the senses, is an acknowledged aphrodisiac….” In this, of course, the dear lady is scientifically incorrect. Alcohol, as Dr. Wescott explains, is an intoxicant, not an aphrodisiac (Dr. Wescott adds: “In the strict sense of the word, no aphrodisiac has yet been discovered”) and is incapable of inflaming the senses. What it does do, the doctor goes on to explain, is dull the inhibitions and “permit more natural impulses to express themselves. There being few impulses more natural than the erotic, it is hardly surprising that alcohol therefore appears to sex-negators magically to magnify the sex urge.”
Miss Banning next comments that a girl may carry “into early sexual experience a sense of sin,” ignoring the obvious fact that it is those who would repress the natural sex urge who are responsible for promoting this notion of “sin”; and then: “The effect of unchastity on the nervous system is also serious.” Exactly the opposite is the case in those fortunate enough to be free from the stultifying, unnatural taboos which imbue the young with sensations of guilt and fear concerning the expression of their natural impulses.
Miss Banning then wags a warning finger at young lovers with the admonition that circumstances surrounding premarital sex are almost always secretive, ill-housed and uncomfortable. “Think,” she says, “of the motels, the cheap hotels, the back seats of cars as an environment for ‘love.’ Hurried, watchful, fearful….” Once again her observation amounts to an indictment of a society too uncharitable to grant proper privacy, comfort and understanding to its youth.
“The promiscuous woman is usually in doubt of her attractiveness,” writes Miss Banning (who we are obliged to assume is chaste, but who we simply cannot picture as being very attractive), “and is seeking reassurance by repeated and varied experience with men. The fact of inferiority is also true of promiscuous men, who in such ways prove a virility which they secretly doubt…. Promiscuity makes people lose the greatest experience in life — love.”
As Dr. Wescott points out, this statement is difficult to discuss until we know what is meant by all the terms in it, especially “promiscuity” and “love.” “If ‘promiscuity’ is defined as ‘wholly indiscriminate mating,'” notes the doctor, “we can safely dismiss it as a pseudo-problem, since even [lower] animals show at least minimal discretion in mating. If on the other hand, it is simply a slur-word for extramarital love, we may dismiss it as an antinomy since what it amounts to is a statement that love destroys love.”
Any implication that extramarital sexual activity on the part of either the male or female, with one or a number of partners, presupposes a neurotic motivation is simply untrue. There is a little item called the basic sex drive that explains such behavior far more accurately. Miss Banning’s banning pronouncements remind us of the Playboy cartoon by Phil Interlandi in last January’s issue, with two women marooned together on a desert island — one, young and voluptuous, exclaims to the other, who is elderly: “Look, do me a favor and stop saying, ‘Who needs it?!'”
To Miss Margaret Culkin Banning, apparently, all sexual liberalism seems little more than a pose. “It is all very well,” she writes, “to say, ‘People look at these things differently today.’ They may look at them differently, but they feel about the same.” If this were true in the absolute way in which Miss Banning expresses it, then one could aver with equal validity that since people once worshipped the sun, the rain, fire, trees and rocks, they must feel the same reverence for them. Such religious beliefs were undoubtedly of the utmost importance to our early ancestors, who fervently believed that society simply could not exist without them. Yet today most people not only feel no need to worship rocks, and rain, and fire, they seem to be free from even nostalgia for such worship. Civilization moves onward and upward — the ostriches notwithstanding — and people do progress, and learn to look upon and feel about things in new ways — given time, experience and the opportunity for enlightenment.
Miss Banning warns us that, “We cannot ignore man’s preference for a virgin as a bride.” To which Dr. Wescott replies, “True enough. But to acknowledge need not be to encourage. And the sexual liberal tries to show the determined virgin-hunter that his insistence on the magical virtue of the unruptured hymen is due to his implicit conception of women as property, and that it is far from flattering to ‘the fair sex’ to treat its members as salable commodities with only two possible labels — ‘used’ or ‘unused.'”
“It is,” Miss Banning says, “as true now as ever that in sacrificing chastity a girl may be gambling away her later chances of lifelong married happiness.” And Doctor Wescott responds: “Although happiness is, at best, an elusive and subjective concept, what few statistics there are on the subject of marital bliss are extremely melancholy. Even in the days of the pioneer German erotologist Iwan Bloch, prospects for betrothed virgins were bleak; and they seem to have declined since then. Virginity, in other words, seems to be a very poor passport to happiness.
“In fact, about the only prediction one can fairly make about the girl who is a physiological virgin before marriage is that she is more likely than her unchaste sister to remain an emotional virgin after marriage. In this case as in that of premarital petting, it seems that practice makes perfect. The sexual ‘rules’ are much the same as those for other vital functions: We must learn to walk before we can expect to run. And if we are not permitted to use, or even to mention, our legs, how can we learn to do either?”
Kinsey makes a strong point in his studies. It is especially true for upper-class males, who are far more “heterosexually restrained” in their early years than are lower-class males. Kinsey notes that after being thus repressed for ten or 15 years, getting married does not transform them overnight into Don Juans. And the sexual adjustment with their new mates is, at best, quite often a difficult matter.
Summarizing Miss Banning’s “case for chastity,” we find that she attempts to threaten and frighten more than persuade with any reason and that she also creates or perpetuates several myths that science rejects as untrue or unsound: Among these is the notion that romantic love is more natural and wholesome than sexual arousal; that work is intrinsically healthier than play; that petting makes a girl unsuitable for marriage; that the problems of venereal disease and abortion are caused more by lack of chastity than society’s prudery, and the resultant suppression of knowledge in the case of VD and the legal use of that knowledge in the case of abortion; that alcohol is an aphrodisiac; that promiscuity robs one of the ability to love or be loved; that attitudes and feelings do not change with time and experience; that premarital chastity is more conducive to a successful marriage than unchastity; that chastity is the norm; and that exalting virginity is really healthful and good for society. Most experts in the field of sexual behavior would reject all of the foregoing assumptions or conclusions as fallacious.
For the future, we share with Dr. Wescott the hope that the general reading public will be offered “more substantial fare than these venerable clichs and that it will have ever-increasing opportunity to escape from those sex-Banning attitudes that have hitherto robbed its life and its love of so much joy.”
Dr. Wescott also recognizes clearly the underlying significance of sexual freedom in a free society, as he states in the conclusion: “Ultimately, of course, the case for sexual freedom is the same as the case for any other kind of freedom — political, social or religious: Liberty releases and fulfills human potentialities, while restriction cramps and distorts them. Let us therefore no longer refuse free rein to that immense potential for good which resides, too often mute and unrealized [within each of us].”
We think it an apt conclusion, also, for this installment of The Playboy Philosophy.
Because of the considerable response to “The Playboy Philosophy,” beginning with this issue Playboy is introducing a new feature, “The Playboy Forum,” in which readers may offer their comments — pro and con — on subjects and issues raised in this series of editorials. No previous feature published by this magazine has elicited so much reaction and so much debate — in and outside the pages of Playboy — and since many of the subjects discussed are, we feel, among the most important facing our free society today, we will continue the “Forum” just as long as the letters from readers warrant.
One of the major controversies in contemporary society concerns sex. The gap between our supposed sexual morality and our actual behavior is extreme and when an entire nation practices such hypocrisy, the results can be calamitous. Since the behavior is based upon a natural sex drive that, when repressed, results in perversion, impotence, frigidity and unnatural feelings of guilt and shame, society is searching for a new morality more in keeping with the newly recognized “facts of life.”
To better understand this Sexual Revolution, it is worthwhile to explore the origins of our present-day traditions and taboos regarding sex. As we have seen, our sexual mores are based primarily on religious teachings. But where did our religions acquire their strong antisexual nature? Man hasn’t always equated sex with sin and his concepts of sexual morality have varied greatly through the centuries. Where did the ideal of chastity come from? And the notion that virginity is a virtue? Who devised the idea of chaste “romantic love” to replace natural sexuality? Has organized religion always been antisexual in concept?
Historically, religion and sex always have been intimately interwoven. Sex played an important role in early religious beliefs and rites, and vestiges of its celebration are apparent in many of our contemporary religious rituals. The first religions of primitive man defied sex and fertility. In the quite complex, sophisticated and intellectual societies of pre-Christian Rome and Greece, the gods were patterned after men and they were as sexually potent as one might expect a god to be: Roman and Grecian mythology are filled with tales of their sexual prowess. But the Jewish and Christian faiths perceived a less human God, and in this more ethereal state, He had no need of sex. The psychoanalytic might also point out that the Christian God has all the attributes of a father figure, with whom sex would be considered incestuous; and it is certainly true that incest and Oedipal fears played a major role in the early history in Christendom.
Though it is not generally recognized today, the concept of virginity as a virtue in women is actually antifemale in origin, derived from a period when women were thought of as property, owned first by their fathers and later their husbands. And as Dr. Roger W. Wescott wryly observed: “…it is far from flattering to ‘the fair sex’ to treat its members as salable commodities with only two possible labels — ‘used’ or ‘unused.'”
The term “virgin” did not mean to the Classical world what it means to us. The early Romans distinguished between virgo — an unmarried woman, and virgo intacta — a woman who had never known a man; the same distinction was made by the Greeks. To them a virgin was a woman who had retained her personal autonomy by not submitting herself to the restrictions of marriage. Virginity was more a social and psychological state than a physical one. It was the married woman, who had lost her independence through matrimony, who was no longer considered virgin. Indeed, it was believed that sexual relations with a god magically restored virginity.
In early Rome and Greece, sexual behavior was largely a matter of personal taste, though there were civil laws protecting individuals from abuse, such as rape. R. Rattray Taylor states, in his book Sex in History: “Husbands had property rights in their wives; a wife’s adultery was severely punished by the husband, because it made the paternity of the children doubtful. A husband, on the other hand, could have what sexual experience outside of marriage he liked, subject only to the fact that that he would incur the wrath of another husband if he seduced a married woman, and might be killed for so doing. An unmarried man was equally free…. There was no admiration of virginity as a good in itself [however] and among the populace an [unmarried] woman was free to sleep with a man at her own discretion.”
Sex in Early Judaism
The early Jews, according to Taylor, “believed strongly that one should enjoy the pleasures of life, including those of sex (see Deuteronomy 21:10-14) and some teachers held that at the last day one would have to account to God for every pleasure that one had failed to enjoy.” Jewish law was derived from the Babylonian code of Hammurabi and the only sexual injunctions in the Ten Commandments are against adultery and coveting of a neighbor’s wife. On this, Taylor states: “It must be understood that in this period, just as in Rome and Greece, adultery was a property offense and meant infringing the rights of another man. It did not mean that a man should restrict his attentions to his wife; indeed, when a wife proved barren, she would often give one of her handmaidens to her husband that she might bear children for him. Moreover, as the Bible often reminds us, men were free to maintain mistresses, in addition to their wives; on the number of wives a man might have there was no restriction.
“Nor was there any ban on premarital sex; it is seldom appreciated that nowhere in the Old Testament is there any prohibition of noncommercial, unpremeditated fornication — apart from rape, and subject to a father’s right to claim a cash interest in a virgin. Once a girl had reached the age of 12 years, she was free to engage in sexual activity, unless her father specifically forbade it. Prostitution, though frowned on, was common, and in Jerusalem the whores were so numerous that they had their own marketplace. Nor in pre-Exilic days was sodomy a crime, except when committed as part of religious worship of non-Jewish gods.”
But in the post-Exilic period there was a remarkable change in the Jewish attitude toward sex. There developed a feeling that all pleasure, but especially sexual pleasure, was wicked. Reubeni speaks of “the power of procreation and sexual intercourse with which, through love of pleasure, sin enters in.” In Ecclesiastes, we find the blame for sin being laid on women: “Women are overcome with the spirit of fornication more than men and in their heart they plot against men.”
As with early Christianity, it is probable that the persecution of the Jews had a great deal to do with this increase in sexual suppression and feelings of guilt. Coupled also with this change in attitude, as seems always to be the case, went a tightening ofrestrictions and a loss of personal liberty. Whereas previously the sexes had mingled quite freely, it now became a sin for a man to speak to, or even look at, a woman unless it was unavoidable.
L.M. Epstein states, in Sex Laws and Customs of Judaism: Virginity now began to be praised — “Happy is the barren that is undefiled…and happy is the eunuch” — whereas, previously, rabbinical tradition had regarded celibacy as a crime. Josephus reports of the Essenes: “They reject pleasure as an evil, but esteem continence and conquest of the passions to be a virtue. They neglect wedlock.” This period was marked with a new concern over afterlife and intensely increased feelings of guilt, shame and suspicion. According to one teacher, boys should not be allowed to play with girls, and a mother-in-law should not live with her married daughter for fear she might seduce the husband. Rabbi Samuel Glasner writes, in his chapter on Judaism and sex, in The Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior: “…The Talmud prohibits a widow’s keeping a pet dog, for fear of the suspicion of sexual abuse (Abodah Zarah 22b; Baba Betziah 71a), and in later times both Maimonides and Karo advised against unchaperoned association between young males (Yad I.B. 22, 2; Eben Ha-Ezer 24, 1). Ideas of contamination became widespread - with women considered the source of infection; a man was not permitted to pass within four ells of the house of a prostitute for fear of disease.
The attitude toward homosexuality changed markedly, as the warning against young men being allowed together unchaperoned suggests, and not only was it made a capital crime, punishable by death, but the law was applied to non-Jews as well. The intensity of these new homosexual anxieties is perhaps best illustrated by the special ban placed upon a father appearing naked in front of his sons, although no such specific prohibition was thought necessary in the case of his daughters. Ham, one of Noah’s sons, was condemned to slavery, and his children after him, and his children’s children — hence the rationalization for the subjugation of the Negro race, for Ham was black. His crime was that he entered the tent of his father and found him lying there dead drunk and naked. In general, Taylor reports, exposure of the sexual parts of the body was regarded as a crime, and within a family, a form of incest. Complete nudity was considered even more obscene and sinful. Homosexual fears seem to also be suggested by the rule that a mother might kiss her sons, but not her daughters, and conversely for a father.
Taboos against masturbation are certain to produce feelings of guilt in any society, since masturbation is a nearly universal sexual activity, especially among young males, and the post-Exilic Jews laid tremendous stress on such prohibitions. The Zohar called it the most reprehensible sin of all and Rabbi Glasner reports that one Talmudic authority declared it to be a crime warranting death. Clerical regulations on the subject display an obsession with detail: For example, a Jew was forbidden to sleep on his back, wear tight trousers or touch his sexual parts while urinating, for fear of sexual arousal. Even an involuntary seminal emission rendered the individual ritually unclean and required a ritual bath for purification (Leviticus 15:16-17; Deuteronomy 23:10-12).
Sex in Early Christianity
In such a time, Christianity had great appeal, as Taylor views it in his authoritative and comprehensive Sex in History, for “it affirmed the sense of guilt [so prevalent among the people of that time] and authorized self-punishment to relieve it.”
The officially favored religion in Rome at the end of the Second Century A.D. was Mithraism, which came from Asia and spread throughout much of Europe, including portions of England. It was an aggressive, outgoing religion. Taylor writes, “Mithraism specifically preached that good lay in action, in conquest, in grappling with the world….” As such, it had a considerable attraction to the Roman emperors, to soldiers, administrators and extroverts, but offered no place for women. In contrast, Christianity, in its early stages, was primarily a passive religion and it thus appealed to women, introverts, slaves and many of the common people of a lesser station. If a psychoanalytic interpretation of Mithraism reveals its sadistic nature, early Christianity may similarly be characterized as primarily masochistic. Taylor notes, “Mithraism adopted as its symbol the Cross, an instrument of torture and death…. The choice of Christianity in preference to Mithraism therefore not only represents a choice of masochism as against sadism, and a turning in of the death instinct against the self, but also a victory for death instincts as against life instincts.”
A flood of Iranian and Semitic concepts was sweeping the Mediterranean world, threatening to submerge the elaborate cultures erected by Greece and Rome, and early Christianity adopted many of these beliefs into its own religion. In Social Control of Sex Expression, Geoffrey May states that Christian asceticism comes not so much from the teachings of Jesus as from the element of Oriental dualism, implying the antithesis of the spiritual and the physical, found in the teachings of St. Paul. Moreover, under the persecutions of the Roman Empire, Christians came to desire suffering and revolted against the sexual excesses of the Romans.
As with the Jews, persecution of the Christians produced a masochism that made deprivation, suffering and pain a virtue. In Love and the Sex Emotions, W.J. Fielding notes that adherents of the new religion soon developed an obsessional horror of sex and multiple methods of self-torture quite different from the asceticism of earlier religions. Fanatical monks retired to the burning deserts of North Africa to mortify their flesh: fasting, flagellating themselves, going without sleep and refusing to wash. Ammonius tortured his body with hot irons until he was entirely covered with burns; Macarius went naked in a mosquito-ridden swamp and let himself be stung until nearly unrecognizable; St. Simeon ulcerated his flesh with an iron belt; Evagrius Ponticus spent a winter’s night in a fountain so that his flesh froze.
The association between these masochistic practices and sexual desire is indicated by the confessions of the fathers themselves. Thus Jerome says: “How often when I was living in the desert, which affords to hermits a savage dwelling place, parched by a burning sun, did I fancy myself amid the pleasures of Rome. I sought solitude, because I was filled with bitterness…. I, who from the fear of hell had consigned myself to that prison where scorpions and wild beasts were my companions, fancied myself among bevies of young girls. My face was pale and my frame chilled from fasting, yet my mind was burning with the cravings of desire, and the fires of lust flared up from my flesh that was as a corpse. I do not blush to avow my abject misery.”
How closely the whole psychological process depended upon the suppression of sexual desire is further indicated by the preoccupation of these early Christians with the subject of castration. Taylor reports, “The tonsure of the priest is a recognized symbol of castration, and his adoption of a skirted cassock perpetuates the adoption of female clothes, in just the same way as the priests of Astarte, after castration, assumed female attire. The Jews had adopted circumcision — another symbolic castration — as part of a religious convention that made every man a priest, and thus able to read the sacred books. But symbolic castrations were not enough for some early Christians. Thousands hastened to castrate themselves in truth…and a sect sprang up so enthusiastically addicted to the practice that its members castrated not only themselves, but also any guest rash enough to stay under their roofs.” Since the continuance of any religion depends upon the fact that children usually follow in the faith of their parents, a sect which fails to reproduce itself is in danger of dying out. The Church recognized this simple truth and soon forbade the practice.
The earliest Christians had sought to transcend sex — to be above temptation; but that didn’t prove very successful, so the Church abandoned this technique in favor of repression. The relative merits of the two methods were not entirely resolved, however, and debate over the alternative techniques was to arise numerous times in the centuries that followed.
The medieval Church was obsessed with sex to an extreme degree, according to Taylor. “Sexual issues dominated its thinking in a manner which we should regard as entirely pathological.” The Christian code was based, quite simply, “upon the conviction that the sexual act was to be avoided like the plague, except for the bare minimum necessary to keep the race in existence. Even when performed for this purpose, it remained a regrettable necessity. Those who could were exhorted to avoid it entirely, even if married. For those incapable of such heroic self-denial, there was a great spider’s web of regulations whose overriding purpose was to make the sexual act as joyless as possible and to restrict it to the minimum.” Taylor points out that it was not the sex act itself which was damnable, “but any pleasure derived from it — and this pleasure remained damnable even when the act was performed for the purpose of procreation….” This idea reached its crudest expression with the invention of the chemise cagoule, a sort of heavy nightshirt with a suitably placed hole, through which a husband could impregnate his wife while avoiding any other contact with her. The belief that, even with marriage, the sexual act should not be performed for pleasure still persists in some Christian sects to this day.
Not only was the pleasure of the sexual act held to be sinful, but also the mere desire for a person of the opposite sex, even when unconsummated. Since the love of a man for a woman conceived of as, at least partially, sexual desire, this led to the concept that a man should not love his wife too much. In fact, Peter Lombard maintained, in his apologetic De excusatione coitus, that for a man to love his wife too ardently is a sin worse than adultery.
By the eighth century, the Church had begun to develop the strict system of laws which ruled the Middle Ages. A series of “penitential books” appeared that explored the subject of sinful sex in minute and intimate detail; every misdeed was described at length and penalties were prescribed for each. Celibacy was the ideal and for those with priestly functions, it became obligatory. Since chastity was a virtue, it was virtuous for wives to deny sex to their husbands, which many apparently did. It is doubtful if this actually increased the sum total of chastity, however, since many husbands were driven to extramarital relations as a consequence, to such a degree that the Church felt obliged to intervene.
Shame of the body and a near-pathological modesty came with this increasing emphasis on chastity and soon extended beyond the areas of sexual activity, as with a virgin named Gorgonia, who “with all her body and members thereof…bruised and broken most grievouslie” refused the attentions of a doctor because her modesty would not permit her to be seen or touched by a man; it was reported that she was rewarded by God with a miraculous cure.
In some penitentials, fornication was declared a worse crime than murder. Attempting to fornicate, kissing, even thinking of fornication, were all forbidden and called for penalties: In the last case, the penance was 40 days. Nor was intention a necessary requisite for sin, for involuntary nocturnal emissions were considered sinful: The offender had to rise at once and sing seven potential psalms, with an additional 30 in the morning.
The penitentials also devoted a disproportionately large amount of space to penalties for homosexuality and bestiality, but the sin upon which the greatest stress of all was placed on masturbation. In Social Control of Sex Expression, Geoffrey May observes that in the five comparatively short medieval penitential codes, there are 22 paragraphs dealing with various degrees of sodomy and bestiality, and no fewer than 25 dealing with masturbation on the part of laymen, plus a number of others dealing separately with masturbation on the part of the laymen, plus a number of others dealing separately with masturbation by members of the clergy. According to Aquinas, it was a greater sin than fornication. And as we previously observed, taboos surrounding masturbation are particularly significant, since this activity is so common, they are certain to produce feelings of guilt. Taylor observes that modern psychiatric insights indicate the belief that sexual pleasure is wicked springs primarily from parental taboos on infantile masturbation. Since the child is punished when he is too young to understand its significance, and when masturbation is his primary means of pleasure without outside assistance, a fear of this specific pleasure becomes imbedded in the unconscious, which later becomes generalized until it turns into a fear of pleasure in all of its forms. It is easy to understand why the early Church seized upon this willingness of parents to frown on infantile masturbation as a means of maintaining its system of sexual repression and, therefore, concentrated a considerable amount of attention on the matter.
The more general discouragement of pleasure, of even a nonsexual nature, was a part of earliest Christendom. In the third century, Porphyry set the tone by condemning pleasure in all its forms. May comments, “Horse racing, the theater, dancing, marriage and mutton chops were equally accursed; those who indulged in them were servants, not of God, but of the devil.” Augustine called Porphyry the most learned of all the philosophers and established this doctrine on a formal basis.
Most of us have at least a vague awareness of the existence of the sexual prohibitions of the medieval Church, since many of them are still maintained, if in diminished strength, today. What is less generally recognized is the extent to which the Church attempted to limit and control not only sex outside of marriage, but within it, too. The sexual act could be performed in only one prescribed position, with the male above, and penalties were prescribed for any variance. This concept was described from the notion that other positions were more sexually enjoyable, and was consistent with the idea that sex should be kept as pleasureless as possible.
Not content with this, the Church proceeded to reduce the number of days per year during which even man and wife might legitimately perform the sex act. First, sex was made illegal on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, which effectively removed the equivalent of five months out of every 12. Then it was made illegal for 40 days before Easter and 40 days before Christmas, and for three days before attending communion (and there were regulations requiring frequent attendance at communion). Marital sex was also forbidden from the time of conception to 40 days after birth. It was, of course, also forbidden during penance.
These are the principles from which our modern Western sexual ideals have been principally derived. Taylor points out that the Christian attitude of antisexuality, even within wedlock, was in marked contrast to that of Mohammedans, who held that there were grounds for divorce if the sexual act was not performed at least once a week.
It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that the early Christian Church prepared these codes of sexual conduct with the brutal single-mindedness of the Nazis preparing to pop another batch of humans into the ovens. Rather, it was a case of these dicta being promulgated in a passion of despairing guilt by a group of individual men like Augustine, Aquinas, Damiani and Bernard, who knew nothing of the true sexual nature of man, and who were tormented by the virtual certainty of eternal damnation for all who so much as thought about sexual pleasure. All about them, they witnessed sensuality and in a frantic attempt to save the people from themselves, they instituted and perpetuated ever more rigid rules of abstinence. Never mind the cruelty, never mind the injustice, if only this frightful and damning disaster could be somehow prevented.
That these ideas were pathological, there can be no doubt. But the motives were pure, even if the end results were grotesque in the extreme. “Only real desperation is enough to explain the ruthlessness with which the Church repeatedly distorted and even falsified the biblical record in order to produce justification for its laws,” says Taylor. For such extreme antisexual sentiment is not to be found in the Bible and certainly not in the New Testament. As W.H. Lecky states, in The History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, “The fathers laid down a distinct proposition that pious frauds were justifiable and even laudable…[and] immediately, all ecclesiastical literature became tainted with a spirit of the most unblushing mendacity.”
The Church claimed that its stringent taboos on sex had been proclaimed by St. Paul, but in actual fact, although Paul had gone much further than anyone before him in disallowing sexual activity, he had never suggested anything as radical as the sexual code of the medieval Church. Paul also made it clear he was not propounding the official teachings of Christ, but was simply giving his personal opinion, in reply to a number of questions put to him at the Church of Corinth.
Attaching, as they did, so much importance to preventing masturbation, the medieval churchmen sought biblical justification and finding none, evidenced no great reluctance in twisting the Scriptures to suit their purpose. Genesis 38 refers to Onan’s seed falling upon the ground and his subsequently being put to death. The idea was established — and is still widely believed — that this passage refers to masturbation, from which is derived the word onanism as a synonym for the practice. Actually, the biblical passage refers to coitus interruptus and it had a property interest as its raison d’etre rather than a sexual one; N.E. Himes, in A Medical History of Contraception, confirms that the reason that Onan was put to death was that he had violated the law of the levirate, by which a man must provide his deceased brother’s wife with offspring, so that the family’s possessions could be handed down to direct descendants. The Catholic writer Canon E. de Smet, in his book Betrothment and Marriage, also comments upon this: “From the text and context, however, it would seem that the blame of the sacred writer applies directly to the wrongful frustration of the law of the levirate, intended by Onan, rather than the spilling of the seed.”
“It was part of its comprehensive attempt to make the sexual act as difficult as possible,” observes Taylor, “that the Church devised laws against the practice of abortion.” The Romans, Jews and Greeks had not opposed abortion, but Tertullian, following an inaccurate translation of Exodus 21:22, which refers to punishing a man who injures a pregnant woman, popularized the notion that the Bible held abortion to be a crime. Rabbi Glasner states, “The Bible itself does not mention it at all…. One might argue that the therapeutic abortion, at least, would not be considered objectionable, since the embryo was considered a part of the mother (like a limb), and not a separate entity.” Taylor states that though the error in translation has long since been recognized, the Church still maintains its position opposing all abortion, and this opposition has become incorporated into secular law. Which nicely demonstrates that moral laws may not as often be derived from biblical authority, as biblical authority is sought to justify the particular prejudices and predilections of the time.
The Church’s interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden provides an even more striking example of construing Scripture in ways not inherent in the text. To support its general position on sex, the story was changed to suggest that the “forbidden fruit” Adam tasted in the Garden was sex, with Eve cast in the role of the temptress. Thus the Original Sin that Adam handed down to all of us was sexual in nature. But the Bible makes no such statement; the Book of Genesis indicates that Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it is for acquiring this knowledge, which made him godlike, that he was expelled from Eden. No reference is made to sex in connection with Adam’s fall from Divine favor. (It should be noted that in the story of the Garden of Eden, the female is again viewed in an unfavorable light — not only is she created from one of Adam’s ribs, placing her in a position of being his possession, but Eve is also the one who tempts Adam into breaking God’s commandment, thus causing his downfall. In a variation of the story, menstruation was explained as a “curse” imposed upon women for Eve’s treachery in seducing Adam.)
Sexual Contamination in Women
The sexual obsessions of the Church were especially hard on women. Pre-Christian societies had treated women as property; the medieval Church perpetuated this belief and considered them the source of all sexual evil as well. One philosopher of the period stated, “A Good Woman is but like one Ele put in a bagge amongst 500 Snakes, and if a man should have the luck to grope out that one Ele from all the Snakes, yet he hath at best but a wet Ele by the Taile.”
Taylor points out that the Church’s concern over sex was derived from earlier pagan superstitions. It preserved the primitive belief in the power of sex to contaminate. It was for this reason that married couples were required to abstain from intercourse for three nights after marriage — the so-called Tobias nights — and once having performed the sexual act, they were not allowed to enter a church for 30 days, and then only on condition of doing 40 days of penance and bringing an offering. Theodore further extended the belief in sexual contamination when he ruled that it was a sin for a menstruating woman to enter a church and imposed a penance for any infraction of this dictum.
We remarked earlier on the incest fears that pervaded early Christianity and these further emphasize the superstitious nature of the Church’s attitude toward sex. Many cultures, though by no means all, have regarded it as incestuous to marry a parent or sibling. But in the 11th century, the Church became increasingly obsessed with incest fears and extended the ban to first, then to second, and finally to third cousins. But this was not all. So strongly was the notion of sympathetic contagion embedded in the collective psyche, so intense were the anxieties concerning incest, that godfathers and godmothers were included in the ban; next, even the relatives of the priests who had baptized or confirmed an individual were included; finally, even the two adults who had been the sponsors to the same child in baptism or confirmation were restrained from ever marrying one another. In some small villages, it is not too far-fetched to imagine that these regulations sometimes eliminated every available candidate and condemned individuals to a lifetime of celibacy in the same way, as Taylor points out, as the complicated exogamic regulations of the Australian blackfellow.
As a further restriction on marriage, Christians were forbidden to marry Jews, or followers of any other religion. In fact, copulation with a Jew was regarded as a form of bestiality and carried the same penalties. And in this there is a certain irony, since it was from the Jews that the Christians derived their laws against bestiality.
It might be assumed that such a lengthy list of prohibitions would have exhausted the ways which zealots found to complicate and hinder the performance of the sexual act, but there is yet one more: The Church proclaimed that no one could marry for a second time, even if the first partner had died — a doctrine which was allegedly supported by the Pauline text stating that a man who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery; even though St. Paul had made it clear that in this he referred to putting away a living wife. It was part of this same program that the medieval Church opposed polygamy, though the Jews had been polygamous, and the early Christian fathers did not object to multiple marriage either. Even the strict St. Augustine considered it permissible to take a second wife if the first was barren.
Because it considered marriage a contaminating process, the Church at first refused to perform the marriage ceremony, but later — as a part of its comprehensive attempt to control all sexual matters — it urged couples to their marriage vows in the Church; because its negative position regarding the married state, however, it did not assert that a civil marriage was invalid, for to do so might have indirectly implied a greater approval of the marital state that they were then willing to accord. It was the Tudor monarchs, untroubled by such questions of theology, who first proclaimed church marriage compulsory. The Church then refused to perform marriage ceremonies at certain times of the year; Taylor reports that at one point “there were only 25 weeks in the year when marriages were legal….” The Church also restricted the hours during which the marriage vows could be taken; first declaring that such an occurrence should be done openly, “it established that marriages must take place in daylight, but later defined daylight as eight a.m. to noon.”
Since it was the intent of the Church to reduce sexual opportunity to the minimum, it recognized divorce for a limited number of reasons, including barrenness and religious incompatibility, and the penitential books allowed divorce in cases of prolonged absence, or capture by the enemy in wartime, but the fully developed medieval code conceded only especially granted Church annulments and separations (the latter allowing for no possibility of marriage to another).
It is from the Church’s superstitious or near-magical view of the sex act that we get our idea that marriage has not been truly consummated until coitus has been performed. By “logical” extension of this premise, it was considered bigamous for a woman to marry if she had previously committed fornication with someone else; it was also considered bigamous for a husband to continue to sleep with his wife after she had slept with another. The performance of the sex act was thus believed capable of creating some new relationship between individuals and could even retroactively destroy a previously licit relationship.
It was felt that sexual evil really dwelt within woman, since she tempted man, who would otherwise remain pure. Thus, not only sexual intercourse, but the very presence of a woman was thought to attract evil and contamination. During the plague it was considered inadvisable to sleep with women or even go near their beds, as this increased the risk of infection implying that the spread of disease is a uniquely heterosexual phenomenon.
This degradation of the female and the lowering of her status was very different from the position she held in earliest Christian times. In Christian Rome, women had enjoyed a status nearly equal to that of men; they had been allowed to preach, to cure, to exorcise and even to baptize. All these rights had been gradually taken away, and by the Middle Ages married women ceased even to have legal existence. Blackstone commented: “The very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage…for this reason a man cannot grant anything to his wife or enter into any covenant with her; for the grant would be to presuppose her separate existence, and to covenant with her would be only to covenant with himself.”
Because a wife was her husband’s property, to seduce her remained an offense against property (even as in early pagan times), and as late as the Victorian era, the husband’s first recourse was to bring civil action for damages against a wife’s lover. A husband had the right to inflict “moderate chastisement” upon a wife who did not obey him and civil law allowed him to “beat her violently with whips and sticks.”
J.C. Jeafferson, in Brides and Bridals, notes that it was permissible to thrash a woman with a cudgel, but not to knock her down with an iron bar.
A quite different attitude toward women also began to develop during the Middle Ages, and from it we derive many of our own traditions regarding romantic love. A school of poets sprang up, who called themselves troubadours, and who extolled the virtues of a relationship between a man and a woman, in which the woman was placed on a pedestal and the man sought to win her favor. The rules governing “courtly love,” as it was called, were elaborately worked out and were written down about 1186 by Andrew the Chaplain, of the Court ofQueen Alienor; this Treatise of Love was soon translated into the principal foreign languages and became a standard work throughout Europe.
The Church opposed the troubadours because they elevated the position of women, but the concept of courtly love was not a sexual one; it was the preliminary wooing that was the important thing, and the underlying antisexual nature of these romantic relationships (which is responsible for some of today’s most persistent notions about chaste romance) indicates that this was simply one more attempt to sublimate the tremendous feelings of guilt, about any male-female association, that Church-perpetuated repressions had produced. Andrew’s Treatise listed a number of reasons for not bringing a romantic affair to any physical conclusion and listed as the “worst” of crimes, “engaging in the work of Venus.” A majority of the troubadours’ poems were actually rife with religious references and they did much to glorify the Virgin Mary.
Each troubadour extolled the virtues of a particular woman whom he both loved and obeyed — whom he wooed, but hoped never to win, whom he considered superior in every way. Taylor comments that it would probably be a good psychiatric guess that the troubadours were, or would have been, troubled with impotence if finally faced with their mistresses; this is consistent with the observation of Rilke to the effect that the troubadours feared nothing so much as the success of their wooing. Many were probably passive homosexuals. Thus the troubadour Rambout of Orange says that if you wish to win women, you should “punch them in the nose” and force them, as this is what they like. “I behave differently,” he adds, “because I do not care about loving. I do not want to be put to trouble for the sake of women, any more than if they were my sisters; and so with a woman I am humble, obliging, frank and gentle, fond, respectful and faithful….” In Dante’s Purgatorio, two troubadours are found in the sodomites’ circle of Hell.
L’amour courtois of the Middle Ages was, according to Morton H. Hunt, author of The Natural History of Love, in his chapter in Julian Huxley’s The Humanist Frame, “…a compelling relationship which could exist only between a man and woman not married to each other, and in which the man was the pleading, humble servitor and the woman the disdainful, cruel tyrant. It was compounded of quasi-religious exaltation, much public discussion of aesthetic matters and of etiquette, ‘purified’ and often unconsummated sex play, and the queer fusion of chivalric ideals and concepts of good character with the practice of secrecy, deception and illicit relationships….” Hunt says in addition: “[Courtly love’s] protoromantic qualities of sadness, suffering, distance from the beloved, difficulty of attainment of desire, secrecy and the like can all be explained in psychological terms, but they would never have been admired and idealized had love not been forced by…religious asceticism, and the subservient status of the wife, to remain outside and alongside marriage.
“…Courtly love, during its early centuries, was ideally functional for both the individual courtier and the courtly class. But for the bourgeois of the Reformation, it was dysfunctional in that, among other things, it required more time, money and cultivation of taste than the middle class possessed; moreover, it was in conflict with their general sense of morality. When, however, it was modified enough to be amalgamated with marriage, these dysfunctions disappeared. Thereafter, romantic love leading to romantic marriage ideally suited the commercial and business classes….” It is in this modified form that romantic love found its way down to the present time, reaching its apex in the 19th century. Of this period, Hunt says: “…The 19th century — that high-water mark of romantic and sentimental feeling — was a time when many men were made impotent or masochistic by the prevailing love mores and many women were warped by frigidity and frustration.”
In The Medieval Manichee, S. Runciman reports that the very same area which gave birth to Courtly Love (Provence and the Languedoc) developed a related religious movement known as Catharism. Though soon declared by the Church to be heresy, it became so popular that it was openly preached, was supported by many nobles and seems to have replaced, to a large extent, the orthodox Church until the savage persecutions of Simon de Monfort wiped it out, and wiped out most of the troubadours, too. Catharism stressed sexual abstinence: Fully initiated members were required not to sleep with their wives. They felt it was desirable to forgo all fleshly pleasure, not because it was “wicked,” but because they believed it slowed up the attainment of enlightenment. A number of similar sects sprang up, which were related to the chaste romanticism of the period. In these, women were accorded a higher status than they enjoyed within the orthodox Church, but chastity was stressed, even between man and wife.
The notion that man should, and could, rise above sexual temptation was not a new one, by any means, and we have mentioned that the earliest Christians first sought to transcend sex and, failing in that, turned to repression, which the Church found worked far better. The orthodox Church vigorously attacked all of these sects as heresy, but it was, in time, itself affected by the ideals of this romanticism.
Taylor observes that in the hands of the saints, the notion of transcending sex “was twisted into a more athletic and masochistic form, becoming the famous ‘trial by chastity,’ in which one sought to demonstrate one’s self-control by finding the greatest extremes of temptation….” It is said that St. Swithin constantly slept in one bed with two beautiful virgins, which led fellow clergymen to rebuke him for the risk he was incurring. St. Brendan attempted a similar feat, but found that, though he could resist the temptation, he was unable to get off to sleep, and returned to his monastery discomfited.
Sex and the Church Courts
The ecclesiastical courts had the exclusive right to try all offenses against the Church, which included not only matters of religion, but questions of morality and sex, as well. The system and content of canon law which gradually developed was completely different from the common law, which was used by the civil courts. Whereas the common law was primarily concerned with the protection of the rights, person and property of the individual, canon law frequently regarded as offenses actions which harmed no one. Thus they proceeded against individuals for “impure thoughts,” in exactly the same manner as modern dictatorships practice “thought control.” The Church attempted to prescribe behavior in not only the major matters of life, but in many minor matters also, such as enjoying the sight of a priest in trouble, refusing to sing in church, sitting in the wrong pew and even for passively encouraging or favoring such “crimes.”
One of the most remarkable laws evolved by the Church court used marriage as a punishment for fornication. In 1308 the Archbishop Winchelsey developed a procedure whereby a contract was drawn up at the time of the first offense stating that, in the event of a third offense, the parties were to be considered as having been man and wife from the time of the first offense.
Nor can it be argued that such laws were established for any logical or ethical reason, or to foster lasting personal relationships, for the Church also held that it was a worse crime for a priest to marry than to keep a mistress, and to keep a mistress was worse than to engage in random fornication. In A History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church, H.C. Lea writes that when a priest was accused of being married, it was a good defense to reply that he was simply engaged in indiscriminate seduction, since this carried only a light penalty, whereas the former might involve total suspension.
The Church courts had at their disposal the ultimate penalty of excommunication which, in more serious cases, could include the loss of civil rights, and imprisonment, if the offender persisted in his sin. In time the Church so influenced public opinion that the secular courts began to support and reinforce the ecclesiastical courts and, without the protection of a separate church and state, many of the Church’s extraordinary prohibitions eventually became embodied in the civil law (where some of them still persist today).
Nonetheless, it was apparent that no mere physical system of supervision could hope to regulate the most private behavior of men and even their very thoughts — only a more subtle psychological control, based upon terror, could do that. The Church had continually emphasized afterlife — the advantages of heaven and the disadvantages of hell. But now an additional emphasis was placed upon the horrors of eternal damnation and what it would mean to spend an eternity roasting in hellfire. It must be recognized also that the continually increasing repression of sex by the Church might be expected to have produced a greater interest in fantasies of sadistic horror in both the clergy and the general public, since modern psychiatric preception has revealed the intimate link that exists between sex and pain and how a repression of the sex urge tends to produce sadomasochistic and other abnormal inclinations. It is not surprising, therefore, that Taylor reports: “By the beginning of the 12th century, some of the predictable results of sexual repression had begun to appear: references to perversion, flagellation, sexual fantasies and heresy abounded….”
A great number of Christian ascetics have described how they were unable to escape all feeling of sexual desire, and how they tormented themselves and subjected their bodies to excruciating tortures in the vain attempt. Taylor writes, “In this unenviable state, men are quick to find sexual overtones in every object, every action of others. And it was just these men — restless, unhappy, obsessed, driven by the energies of their bottled-up libidos — who were apt to attain positions of power in the Church and stamp it with their character.”
The more these men of God attempted to deny their inborn sexual nature, the more perverse they became; the more perverse, the more concerned they were with sexual sin; greater concern led to greater repression; perversity became perversion and still more repression was thought necessary. The Church’s obsession with sex created a self-perpetuating chain reaction that continued to increase through the centuries until it finally burst in the holocaust of the inquisitions, leaving mangled, bloody corpses spread all across the face of Europe.
Sex and Witchcraft
Near the end of the Middle Ages, Pope Innocent VIII issued the Bull Summa desiderantes, most often referred to as a bull against witchcraft, but the sexual nature of its content indicates that it was something more than that. Innocent was actually prodded into issuing the declaration by two of his subordinates, Sprenger and Kramer, who returned from Germany with wild tales of sexual excesses and witchery; the churchmen and people of the community violently denied the charges, but the declaration was issued just the same, and Sprenger and Kramer were appointed Chief Inquisitors. Soon after, they prepared and had published a famous handbook on the subject, Malleus Malleficarum, which stated: “All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable.” With perfect logic, it then adds that the primary source of witchcraft is the quarreling of young women and their lovers. This small volume might be considered today a near-classic casebook of sexual psychopathy. The popularity of Malleus, which rapidly went through ten editions, gives some indication of the perverted preoccupation the general public had in such matters at the time. The three main subjects of the book were impotence, conversion hysterias and sexual fantasies; all of these were said to be caused by witchcraft. And since the incidence of impotence, hysteria and sexual fantasy in such a sexually repressed society must have been staggering, it is not surprising that the witch hunters had no difficulty in finding an ample number of “victims” as evidence of witch magic.
Once they had found a “victim,” finding the witch was a relatively simple matter. The techniques used by the Inquisitors guaranteed results: The victim was first asked to name whomever he though might have cast the spell upon him; failing in this, neighbors were interrogated and asked to name the witch; the Interrogators might select a likely prospect themselves; or the general public was sometimes asked to pick a candidate. The suspect was then arrested; tortured until he “confessed,” and then burned at the stake, or otherwise disposed of.
Persons of both sexes and all ages — from small children to the most elderly — were accused, though the biggest group consisted of young girls in their teens. Both the accused and the accusers came from every stratum of society and many prominent persons were involved. To cite a single example from
C. Williams’ book, Witchcraft: In the mass persecutions in Bamberg between 1609 and 1633, when 900 persons were burned to death, one of those executed was Johannes Junius, a burgomaster of the city. Under torture, he confessed to witchcraft; asked to name his accomplices, he denied having any, but, tortured again, named some. Shortly before his execution, he was permitted to write to his daughter. He told her not to believe what he had confessed — “It is all falsehood and invention…. They never cease the torture until one says something.”
In his article, The Sabbats of Satan, in last month’s Playboy, E.V. Griffith described some of the rituals purportedly practiced by witches of the time and it is undoubtedly true that in a period of such extreme sexual repression some devil worship really did exist. It was during the 14th century that the Black Mass was born, in which the holy sacrament of the Church was turned into a ritual honoring Lucifer, and the nude body of a young woman was used as an altar, from which were read the Devil’s Commandments, with the “Thou shalts nots” of the Ten Commandments changed to “Thou shalts.” But it is doubtful that these practices were as common as it is generally assumed. The actual number of devil worshipers will never be known, but it is certain that only a smallpercentage of those executed for witchcraft were actually guilty of any crime whatever.
Torture was not always required to elicit confessions, however. Many came forward of their own free will and admitted such sins, even though they knew that such admissions virtually assured their deaths. If this seems strange, one need only be reminded that even today any major murder brings forth a number of “false confessors,” who admit to having perpetuated the crime (see The False Confessors, Playboy, January 1958). Psychiatry would explain this as an overwhelming need for punishment that some deranged individuals experience because of inner feelings of guilt that is completely unrelated to the act that they confess. In a time when an entire society was so thoroughly guilt-ridden, it is easy to understand why so many willingly came forward with confessions that were pure fantasy.
Though the inquisitions spread to include other forms of heresy, the predominantly sexual nature of the trials continued to the end. In fact, the very term “witchcraft trials” is a misleading misnomer, since it was sex that the Church wished to suppress and the inquisitions were a means of suppressing it.
It was a basic assumption, during the trials, that all witches (of both sexes) had had sexual relations with the devil. All inquisitors worked with an established manual of questions, and since these were almost wholly sexual, they were usually successful (with the help of a little torture) in producing sexual guilt.
In early Christianity, the devil had played a relatively minor role. But early in the 14th century, Satan became a very definite and prominent figure in religious dogma, with detailed appearance, habits and intentions. He was viewed as the immortal enemy of God, exclusively occupied in trying to mislead men into denying or perverting Christian morals and practices. Various lesser demons were described as the members of the devil’s staff of subordinates, all organized in a hierarchy very similar to that of the Church. Not only were Satan’s chief lieutenants given names, the exact number of his army of demons was calculated: 7,405,926. The devil frequently engaged in those forbidden sexual acts that were prohibited to man and in some accounts he is described as having a forked penis, so that he could commit fornication and sodomy at the same time. The Devil was both insatiable and sadistic, sometimes demanding intercourse 50 and 60 times a night. Though he lives in the bowels of the earth, mid fire and brimstone, he was often described as icy cold to the touch — especially his sexual parts. The clergy had an explanation for this iciness that was, if nothing else, ingenious: “Having no semen of his own, he gathers up that of mortal men wasted in their night dreams or masturbations, storing it up in his own abhorred body for later usage.” The devil’s demons were either male (incubus) or female (succubus), and could change from one to the other at will. Griffith writes, “Practicing this quick-change artistry was, in fact, a favorite trick of the hellish visitors: Often a man would be locked in amorous embrace with a succubus…when the devil would transform [herself] to a male incubus, with attendant complications which the demon found hilarious. The reverse also took place, when the female witch, at the height of her abominable ravishment, found her hellish gallant had gone aglimmering, leaving her in the arms of a succubus.” The subconscious fears of homosexuality in such imaginings is obvious. The devil, who was “Prince of the Air” as well as of the Darkness, could also make himself invisible and thus have intercourse with his converts in the very presence of the godly.
In order for the Church to undertake these “witch hunts,” it was necessary to reverse a position held for several centuries: The Church had previously declared that witchcraft was a baseless superstition. In 785 the Synod of Paderborn had ordered death to anyone who killed another for being a witch; Charlemagne confirmed this ruling and the Canon of Episcopi ordered bishops to combat the belief in witchcraft and to excommunicate anyone who persisted in such beliefs. An Irish council had ruled, “Whoever, deceived by the devil, believes in the fashion of the heathen that anyone can be a witch and burns her on this account is to undergo punishment of death.” John of Salisbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, displayed remarkable psychiatric perception for his time when, in the 12th century, he stated that “some falsely believed that what they suffered in imagination…was real and eternal. We must not forget that those to whom this happens are poor women or simple and credulous people.”
The change from this enlightened view started with John XXII, who — gathering together all the wildest fragments of superstition — issued the Bull Super illius specula, which formulated the new attitude. His quite maniacal campaigns against the new sin helped to develop in the people a paralyzing sense of dread and danger. A papal bull issued by Pope Lucius III instructed the bishops to investigate heretics, forcing persons “found marked by suspicion alone” to prove their innocence or be punished. Officers of the law who did not cooperate were excommunicated. Further enactments followed in 1374, 1409, 1418, 1437, 1445 and 1451, and the witch-hunting craze became a dominant reality throughout Europe.
Prominent theologians wrote fervent appeals to the public (Sprenger and Kramer actually coerced the Senate of the University of Cologne into endorsing their Malleus Malleficarum).
It was finally asserted that to deny the reality of witchcraft was heresy. The ecclesiastical courts elicited the cooperation of the civil courts, for the Church did not wish the responsibility of shedding blood itself; the religious court turned the hapless person accused over to the civil authorities with the sanctimonious recommendation to avoid the shedding of blood, and the state then usually hanged or burned the victims, since this did not involve bloodletting, in the strictly legal sense.
It was during this period that the civil courts consented to recognize copulation with the devil as a capital crime. The proposition that witches engaged in night flights became dogma in 1450: This made it possible to argue that accused persons committed sinful witchcraft many miles away without being seen en route or having to rely on customary means of transportation.
The frenzied state into which many of those who made the accusations and attacks managed to work themselves can only be understood by recognizing the subconscious sexual pleasure that was undoubtedly linked to much of the sadism of the inquisitions. Only a society as sexually repressed, and consequently perverted, as the one we have described could have produced such an appalling spectacle. The accused of both sexes and all ages, from 5 to 75, were often stripped naked during the questioning. Their bodies were poked and prodded, especially the genitals, for it was believed that witches could be identified by the existence of insensitive spots on their anatomy. A long needle was sometimes used for this purpose — the inquisitors pricking every inch of skin to the bone; this was considered a form of examination, incidentally, and not torture. If a spider, louse or fly was found in the victim’s cell, while he was being held prisoner before or during the trial, this was recognized to be a demon in disguise, come to visit the accused, and provided additional evidence of guilt.
“Trial by Water” was another technique for determining guilt. The accused was trussed and tossed into a river. If he floated, he was believed to be a witch and was put to death; if he sank and drowned, his innocence was established.
In The Sabbats of Satan, E.V. Griffith describes the trial and execution of a comely young woman of 24, a Hildur Loher of Wurzburg, who was typical of the many who were put to death in that period. She was a bride of a few months; her husband had been the chief witness against her and the court record is still intact; her crime was having had sexual relations with the devil.
The owner of a brothel in Bologna was condemned in 1468 for keeping a house staffed exclusively with succubi. He was sentenced to have his flesh “torn from his bones by red-hot pincers,” after which he was burned and his ashes “spat upon.”
In the German community of Lindheim, which in 1664 had a population of 600, 30 persons were executed. In 1589 at Quedlinburg in Saxony, a town of some 12,000 inhabitants, 133 were burned in a single day. In Toulouse the number burned in one day was 400. It was claimed that in some towns there were more witches than houses. According to H.C. Lea, “a Bishop of Geneva is said to have burned 500 persons within three months, a Bishop of Bamberg 600, a Bishop of Wurzburg 900.” Eight hundred were condemned, apparently in one body, by the Senate of Savoy. Paramo, in his History of the Inquisition, boasts that in a century-and-a-half, from 1404, the Holy Office had burned at least 30,000 witches.
Nicolas Remy (1530-1612), an inquisitor from Lorraine with 800 executions to his “credit,” stated, “So good is my justice that last year there were no less than 16 killed themselves rather than pass through my hands.” H. Williams, in The Superstitions of Witchcraft, writes that in Spain, Torquemada personally sent 10,220 persons to the stake and 97,371 to prison.
No one knows the total number of human beings exterminated in this manner and estimates range from a conservative few hundred thousand to several million. It may be safely assumed, however, that more persons were put to death for religious reasons by our Christian ancestors than were killed in all of the European wars fought up to 1914.
The blame, of course, does not attach itself only to the Catholic Church. The Protestant reformers were, if anything, even more fanatical and they persecuted “witches” with even greater ferocity. In Scotland, the church porches were equipped with a box built there especially to receive anonymous denunciations. Taylor reports that “Calvin, in Geneva, with crocodile tears of compunction, burned heretics of all kinds. Luther attributed all insanity to the devil.”
The records include numerous confessions that were denied after the torture ceased, but this did not save the accused from death. In Spain and England, investigations into some of the trials were instituted and some real attempts were made to arrive at the truth. James I was so distressed by much of the typical “evidence” that he completely altered his previous attitude in favor of witch hunting, insisted on fair trials for the accused, exposed false confessions and accusations, and saved the lives of five women charged by a hysterical boy. In Spain, when Salazar was sent to investigate a wave of accusations in 1611, he reported that among 1300 persons accused, there was not a single genuine case. After he made this report, the preaching of sermons on witchcraft was prohibited and from that time forward, little more was heard of the subject in Spain.
But the overall impression one is left with is not that of a gradual emergence from honest error to enlightenment, so much as a sudden awareness of the mass madness that had dominated European life for so long and that stands as a horrifying monument to the effect extreme sexual repression can have upon a society and the form that it can take when church and state are one.
Because of the considerable response to this editorial series, Playboy has introduced a new feature, “The Playboy Forum,” in which readers can offer their comments — pro and con — on subjects and issues raised here. No previous feature published by this magazine has prompted so much reaction and debate — both in and outside the pages of Playboy — and since many of the subjects discussed are, we feel, among the most important facing our free society, we will continue the “Forum” just as long as the letters from readers warrant.
In the tenth installment of “The Playboy Philosophy,” which appears next month, Editor-Publisher Hugh M. Hefner completes his analysis of the history of religious sexual suppression and begins a consideration of the effect this tradition of guilt and shame has had upon contemporary society.
In an attempt to better explicate the sexual revolution currently taking place in society, and Playboy’s own part in this search for a “new morality,” we offered last issue a brief history of sexual suppression since early Christendom through the Middle Ages, and this month we will complete that historical analysis with a consideration of the Renaissance, the Reformation, Puritanism, Victorianism and their relationship to present-day sex prohibitions and taboos.
We have already noted that earlier pagan religions did not suffer from similar suppression and that pre-Christian Roman and Grecian societies were relatively free of symptoms of sexual guilt and shame. Virginity was prized in the female, but not because of any religious or moral convictions: Women were considered property and a virgin female had a greater value, even as a new and unused piece of pottery, furniture or clothing might; similarly, adultery was a crime against property, like stealing another man’s ass or plow. These prohibitions applied only to women and it is directly from this concept of the female as being the property of the male that we evolved our own present moral views of virginity as a virtue and as adultery as a sin.
The coming of Christianity did not increase the status of women in society — indeed, the opposite proved true and the antisexual nature of the new religion produced a far greater antifemale attitude than had existed previously. Women were considered “vessels of sin,” according to one authority of the period, and a source of temptation and lust that could lead men to their downfall. Robert Briffault, the noted English historian and anthropologist, writes that the early Church “pronounced a curse upon sex, stigmatized woman as the instrument of Satan….. Woman was regarded not as ‘impure’ only, but as the obstacle to purity, the temptress, the enemy; she was the ‘gate of hell.'”
This Christian view of sex and the female as inherently sinful did not come from Christ. It was derived largely from the teachings of St. Paul, who was influenced bythe asceticism of the Asiatic religions then spreading throughout the Roman Empire. Paul had a personal aversion to sex and he also believed that the Second Coming and the end of the world were imminent, and that man should put away all things material and prepare himself for that moment. Nathaniel S. Lehrman states, in “Some Origins of Contemporary Sexual Standards,” in the Journal of Religion and Health, “Neither the doctrine of virgin birth nor the as yet unenunciated view of sex as original sin played any part in shaping the thinking of St. Paul, whose exaltation of celibacy was so important in determining Christianity’s entire subsequent attitude and history. His eschatology, with its anticipation of the imminent, cataclysmic end of the world, and his personal preference for the unmarried state, probably an overreaction against the sexual promiscuity of his times, were probably the most important factors underlying his viewpoint.” John Short writes of Paul, in The Interpreter’s Bible, “Obviously the marriage relationship did not appeal to him…[he] seems to have regarded the more intimate sex relationship with some distance. He is of the definite opinion that it is better for Christians to follow his personal example and remain unmarried.” St. Paul had an extremely guilt-ridden and pessimistic view of both man and sex: He wrote, “It is well for a man not to touch a woman”; and further, “For I know that in me dwelleth no good thing…. For the good that I would do, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do…. Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
But St. Paul’s antisexualism was slight compared to the twisted theological thought that followed him. William Graham Cole, while chairman of the Department of Religion at Williams College, wrote in his book Sex in Christianity and Psychoanalysis, “All unwittingly [St. Paul] marked the transition point between the healthy and positive attitude toward the body which characterized the Old Testament and Jesus, and the negative dualism which increasingly colored the thought of the Church…. Although in most other respects the Church successfully defended the ramparts of naturalism, the citadel of sex fell to the enemy. Increasingly, virginity became a cardinal virtue, marriage a concession to the weak…sex had become an evil necessity for the propagation of the race, to be avoided and denied by the spiritually strong…. Even those who were ‘consumed with passion’ were urged not to marry, to discipline themselves, to mortify the flesh, for the flesh was evil….”
Henry C. Lea, author of the classic English studies on the Inquisition, wrote in his History of Sacerdotal Celibacy, “[Jesus’] profound wisdom led him to forbear from enjoining even the asceticism of the Essenes. He allowed a moderate enjoyment for the gifts of the Creator; and when he sternly rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees for imposing…burdens upon men not easily to be borne by the weakness of human nature, he was far indeed from seeking to render obligatory, or even to recommend, practices which only the fervor of fanaticism could render endurable.”
Early Judaism accepted sex as a natural part of human existence. Lehrman states that premarital virginity and extramarital fidelity were “not demanded of Hebrew men. Prostitution, both sacred and profane, existed in Israel and the sexual use of captured women was also specifically permitted, although limited.” Morton M. Hunt writes, in The Natural History of Love, “Men in the Old Testament were patriarchal and powerful, and often guiltlessly enjoyed the services of several wives and concubines.” Lehrman states further, “Because the bearing of children was regarded as such a blessing, dying in the virgin state was considered unfortunate rather than desirable…. Sexuality and eating would…seem to have been regarded rather similarly by the Old Testament. It permanently forbade certain types of food and of sexuality, and sometimes temporarily prohibited all eating and sexual activity. Permanent and total sexual abstention seems to have been as foreign to its thinking, however, as permanent and total abstention from food.
“Although sexuality was accepted without question throughout early biblical times, and in the Mosaic code in particular, various aspects of the latter have given rise to the erroneous belief that the Old Testament is antisexual. Such asceticism appears to be altogether foreign to the traditions of Israel.”
David Mace writes, in his Hebrew Marriage, “The entire positive attitude toward sex which the Hebrews adopted was to me an unexpected discovery…. I had not realized that it had its roots in an essentially ‘clean’ conception of the essential goodness of the sexual function. This is something very difficult for us to grasp, reared as we have been in a tradition which has produced in many minds the idea that sex is essentially sinful….”
Roman society was sexually liberal and this turned the Christians away from sex toward asceticism; the first Christians were a persecuted people and the religion early developed a masochistic nature which it has never completely shaken. Roman society had also tended to upgrade the status of women, compared to earlier times, and Ira L. Reiss, professor of sociology at Bard College, states in his book, Premarital Sexual Standards in America, “The Christians opposed from the beginning the new changes in the family and in female status….. They fought the emancipation of women and the easier divorce laws. They demanded a return to the older and stricter…ideas, and beyond this, they instituted a very low regard for sexual relations and for marriage…. Ultimately, these early Christians of the first few centuries accorded to marriage, family life, women and sex the lowest status of any known culture in the world.”
Sexual liberalism has often erroneously been cited as the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire. Concerning this, Hunt writes, “By the fifth century, Saint Augustine and other Christian writers would state flatly that sexual sin was directly responsible for the crumbling away of the Empire, the afflictions of which were interpreted as the punishment visited upon mankind by a wrathful God. The evidence of comparative anthropology, however, proves that many societies have permitted extramarital sexual activities and love affairs without major damage to themselves…. Historians differ with the early Christians in assessing the role of love in the overall decline of Rome.”
Hunt then enumerates the reasons most often adduced by historians for Rome’s decline: “…the squandering of resources, the indolence of the proletariat, the corruption and greed of the upper classes, the growing political power of the army…more generally, these are all related to the parasitism, excessive leisure and purposelessness of imperial Roman life.”
As Christianity spread, so did its antisexuality. Following the Babylonian Exile, Judaism developed related repressions and feelings of sexual guilt and shame previously unknown in Hebrew history. Hunt states, “A growing current of asceticism and antifeminism” manifested itself. By the fifth century, “an increasing cynicism and weariness [had] affected the Western Empire as well as the Eastern, maturing into a widespread soul-sickness…. Oriental, Jewish and barbarian ideas were mingled and fused with the Christian contempt for women; the concept of the wife was that of an inferior and sinful creature…. It is true in all monogamous family life that children must repress the sexual impulses they feel toward the parents they love; but it was early Christianity that made a philosophy of the situation and turned it into a lifelong problem, rather than a problem of childhood alone.”
William Graham Cole states, “If Christianity had not in some measure spoken in accents to which the ear of the age was attuned, it would have remained an obscure sect…. Origen castrated himself in order to escape the temptations of lust; John Chrysostom declared that ‘virginity is greatly superior to marriage’; and Tertullian regarded sex even with marriage as sinful.”
Hunt comments, “The struggle against lust produced an explosive state of mind; the personality could be held together only by the tenacious cement of irrationality. The desert fathers saw and worked little miracles every day. In themselves, these sound harmless enough, but the same intellectual orientation could lead further, and did; not by mere coincidence, it was a towering figure of asceticism, Tertullian, whose formula for finding the truth of Christianity was Credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd), while Pope Gregory — later sainted and called ‘the Great’ — burned the Palatine library because he considered it a hindrance to Bible study. Asceticism led thus to intolerance, obscurantism and overt aggressiveness. The ascetic was not content to master himself; inevitably his route led him to try to master other men’s flesh, and their minds as well.”
In such a time, it was not illogical for the Church to rewrite religious history to suit its antisexual attitude, including the story of Adam and Eve and their Fall in the Garden of Eden. Cole states, “The preponderance of theological opinion, in both Jewish and Christian circles, has interpreted the Original Sin as pride and rebellion against God. The Church’s negative attitude toward sex has misled many into belief that the Bible portrays man’s Fall as erotic in origin. Neither the Bible itself nor the history of Christian thought substantiates such a belief.”
The twisting of the tale of man’s Fall from Paradise to suit the Church’s obsessive concern over sex helped St. Augustine and others substantiate the ideal of celibacy. Roland H. Bainton comments upon St. Augustine’s attitude toward sex in What Christianity Says About Sex, Love and Marriage: “Since procreation is definitely approved, the sexual act cannot be wrong. Nevertheless, it is never without wrongful accompaniments. There is never an exercise of sex without passion, and passion is wrong. If we could have children any other way, we would refrain entirely from sex. Since we cannot, we indulge regretfully. Augustine almost voices the wish that the Creator had contrived some other device.” Cole states, “Augustine’s prejudices against the passions, particularly the sexual passion, is thoroughly unbiblical….”
The new Church concept of the Fall also suited its antifemale attitude, since it was Eve who tempted Adam into tasting the “forbidden fruit.” Tertullian proclaimed to all of womanhood: “Do you not know that each one of you is an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: The guilt must of necessity live, too. You are the devil’s gateway…you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack….”
Nor were such attitudes held by a few members of the clergy only. Robert Briffault states, “These views were not, as has been sometimes represented, exceptions at the extreme…. [The Fathers of the Church] were one and all agreed…. The principles of the Fathers were confirmed by decrees of synods, and are embodied in the canon of the Council of Trent.”
John Langdon-Davies states, in his Short History of Women, “To read the early Church Fathers is to feel sometimes that they had never heard of the Nazarene, except as a peg on which to hang their own tortured diabolism, and as a blank scroll upon which to indite their furious misogyny.” Havelock Ellis says in Man and Woman, “The ascetics, those very erratic and abnormal examples of the variational tendency, have hated woman with a hatred so bitter and intense that no language could be found strong enough to express their horror.”
Since control over sex constitutes tremendous power, it was perhaps predictable that the Church would eventually modify its position sufficiently to permit a more direct regulation of the sexual behavior of the faithful than was possible when it stood in opposition to sex in any form.
The Church originally refused to perform marriages, since their sexual consummation was considered a sin, but this attitude gave way to one in which the Church eventually included the marriage ceremony as a religious ritual, while continuing to accept civil ceremonies as legitimate also; and not until much later was it decreed that only marriages performed in and by the Church would be considered bona fide — a position still held by the Roman Church today. This placed the Church in the position of being the sole licensor of sex.
As we described in detail last month, the Medieval Church wielded this power mercilessly. The Church Fathers increasingly codified every aspect of sexual behavior to the point where only coitus between man and wife, for the purpose of procreation, in a single approved position, was considered “right” and “natural.” In some of the penitential books, fornication was declared a worse crime than murder. Attempting to fornicate, kissing, even thinking about fornication, were all forbidden and called for penalties; not was intention a necessary requisite for sin, for involuntary nocturnal emissions were considered sinful: The offender had to rise at once and sing seven penitential psalms, with an additional 30 in the morning. Sex was also restricted to certain days of the week and times of the year: G. Rattray Taylor states, in his Sex in History, that at one time in the Middle Ages, “the Church forbade sexual relations — even between man and wife — for the equivalent of five months out of every year.”
Celibacy remained the ideal, though it did not become universally required of the clergy until the 11th century; and this, Lehrman indicates, “was more the result of political than psychological or even theological factors.” Seward Hiltner, in Sex and Religion Today, asserts that this enforcement of sacerdotal celibacy among the secular clergy “was not primarily a sexual matter, but a strategic and political attempt to enhance the power of the Roman Church by relieving priests of the distractions of family life.”
Our modern idealization of asexual romantic love evolved from the concept of “courtly love” developed by a school of poets, called troubadours, during the Middle Ages. In contrast to the Church attitude, which still considered the female the primary source of sin, the troubadours placedwoman on a pedestal. This, too, was a primarily antisexual concept, replacing honest sexuality with a complicated ritual in which the emphasis was placed more on the wooing of a woman than on winning her. L’amour courtois was, according to Hunt, “…a compelling relationship which could exist only between a man and a woman not married to each other, and in which the man was the pleading, humble servitor and the woman the disdainful, cruel tyrant. It was compounded of quasi-religious exaltation, much public discussion of aesthetic matters and of etiquette, ‘purified’ and often unconsummated sex play, and the queer fusion of chivalric ideals and concepts of good character with the practice of secrecy, deception and illicit relationships….” Hunt concludes, “[Courtly love’s] proto-romantic qualities of sadness, suffering, distance from the beloved, difficulty of attainment of desire, secrecy and the like can all be explained in psychological terms, but they would never have been admired and idealized had love not been forced by…religious asceticism, and the subservient status of the wife, to remain outside and alongside marriage.”
The Church enjoyed increasing influence over all of society throughout the Middle Ages. Without the protections of a separated church and state, Church law became — in many instances — civil law as well; and any opposition to Church doctrine and authority was vigorously prosecuted as heresy.
Mass sexual repression resulted, predictably, in mass perversion, frigidity, impotence and sexual delusions, which finally produced the hysteria necessary for the almost unbelievable atrocities of the witch trials of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Pope Innocent VIII declared witchcraft a Christian heresy in 1484 and the Malleus Malleficarum, the famous book on witchcraft that was authored by the Pope’s two Chief Inquisitors, Sprenger and Kramer, declared: “A belief that there are such things as witches is so essential a part of the Catholic faith that obstinately to maintain the opposite opinion savors of heresy.”
Numerous authorities have pointed out the predominately sexual nature of the Inquisitions and G. Rattray Taylor expresses the opinion that the very term “witch trials” is a misnomer, since the papal bull that began the witch persecutions; the Malleus Malleficarum; and the trials themselves, were all concerned with impotence, sexual delusions and hallucinations, and depended upon the sadomasochistic nature of the times for their savage success.
It was understood that all “witches” had sexual relations with the devil or with one of his demons, who were both male (incubus) and female (succubus), and the clergy who sat as judges at the trials indulged in intensive questioning about the sexual habits of the accused. R.H. Robbins includes a typical list of obligatory questions that was “used by the judges at Colmar, in Alsace, year after year, throughout the three centuries of the witch mania. It was headed: ‘Questions to be Asked of a Witch.'” Included therein were, “Who was the one you chose to be your incubus? What was his mane? Where did you consummate your union with your incubus? What did your incubus give you for your intercourse?”
Getting confessions from those accused was a relatively simple matter, since in addition to the sexual fantasies so prevalent among the people of the period, it was the practice to torture alleged witches until they said precisely, and in detail, whatever it was the Inquisitors wanted them to say. A number of the records of these witch trials are still in existence and Robbins quotes from one of a trial in Rhineland in 1637: “After three floggings, she says that the devil, dressed in black, came to her prison cell last night and this morning. Last night he…had intercourse with her, but he caused her so much pain that she could hardly hold him, and she thinks that her back and thighs are falling apart. Furthermore, she promised to surrender her body and soul to him again…and to remain true to him only….”
Hunt states: “…in the opinion of several eminent psychiatrists who have intensively and independently studied the evidence, the descriptions of the witches’ Sabbath bear the unmistakable characteristics of abnormal sexual fantasies, which the celibate Inquisitors eagerly, even hungrily, seized upon and accepted as objectively real.”
A. Guirdham offers a further psychoanalytic consideration of this phase of Christianity in his book, Christ and Freud, in which he states: “Modern psychiatry permits us to see that the Inquisitors were themselves, below the conscious level, afflicted with doubts. Men so doubting, and reacting with guilt toward their uncertainty, could atone and reassure themselves wither by the punishment of themselves or others. The flagellants were recruited from the former, and the Inquisitors from the latter class….
“Why should Christianity be based to the degree that it is, on a sense of guilt? What, if anything, is there in common between a faith which has enriched our culture and the crudities of tribal religion? Do we exaggerate the element of guilt in Christianity? I do not think so. Suppose we reject altogether Freud’s theories as to the unconscious factors…there is still abundant evidence on the conscious level. We have the system of confessions and penances in the Roman [Church]…. In the Dissenting Churches, there is less insistence on the verbal ritual of guilt and penitence, but the Nonconformist psychology reveals itself as riddled with guilt [also] which expresses itself in clinical terms….
“To induce such a sense of guilt was a partly political aim, the maintenance of which became an ecclesiastical tradition. Such a policy…ensured that the priests should be the guardians of the public conscience. Coercion in the spiritual sphere has been practiced in different religions…. The ecclesiastical preoccupation with a sense of guilt is something which, if not entirely characteristic of the Jewish and Christian religions, is especially developed in them.”
Though it was a complex period that defies any simple label, the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries are generally referred to as the Renaissance. A most significant and far-reaching change began taking place in society during this time: Whereas previously man had tended to accept a set of strict rules laid down for him by the Church, as the official spokesman for divine authority, freedom of choice now began to be emphasized. In the Middle Ages, not only sexual expression had been suppressed, but all other freedoms as well. Art, literature, science and education had suffered and overwhelming feelings of guilt and despair had gripped all Europe. Now a new enlightenment and emancipation from medieval barbarism was introduced, accompanied by a renewed interest in the humanities. By making a knowledge of literature and the arts the mark of a gentleman, the Renaissance established an international secular culture that was, as The Columbia Encyclopedia states, “outside of, independent of, and often hostile to, the Church.” An emphasis was placed on the importance of the individual man — autonomous, versatile and creative. Scientific activity centered around philology, ethics, biography, education, psychology, government and history, but the arts, architecture and literature received the major attention. The Renaissance was characterized by a more optimistic view of the world and a belief in the goodness of man; it also evinced a greater interest in societal problems and sympathy for the common man than is generally assumed.
The Church’s control was markedly weakened and there was a considerable increase in sexual freedom. As a part of the lessening of the feeling that pleasure was evil, the festivity accompanying marriage became markedly more uninhibited and there was a general heightening of the status of women. Hunt states, “…between the early and the later phases of the Renaissance, a notable change had begun to show itself. As the power of medieval repressions abated, men began hesitantly to see women as complex creatures who united within themselves both good and bad attributes. If a real woman was somewhat less divine than the Lady, she was also considerably less vile than the Witch. Men could begin to feel the emotions of affectional love where they also felt animal heat, and to envision in the ideal wife the qualities that produced both.”
But for all the rejection of ecclesiastical regulations, Renaissance Man still lived under the shadow of the magical-religious sanction: In Elizabethan dramas, for example, a woman who had earned the title “adulterous” was most often doomed to destruction, regardless of any extenuating circumstances, and there was nothing anyone could do to save her from her fate.
Sex in the Reformation
These years of comparative grace, freedom and enlightenment came to a rather abrupt end with the arrival of the Protestant Reformation. Though on the surface, the birth of Protestantism seems a further rejection of the rigid dogma of the Roman Church, the men who sparked this new religious movement proved more fanatical and totalitarian in their thinking than any then alive in Rome. They objected not only to the corruption that had permeated the Roman hierarchy, but to the more liberal sexual morality that had developed, both inside and outside the Church, and they set about doing something about it — with frightening efficiency. Far from reforming their religion, in the positive sense of the word, the leaders of the Reformation re-established many of the pagan ideas, superstitions and regulations of the medieval Church.
The Protestant movement started on the Continent and though it was Martin Luther who first instituted the religious schism, it was John Calvin who best exemplifies the severe authoritarianism of the movement and who had the greatest influence on Britain and the English Puritanism that, in turn, influenced our own puritanical tradition in America.
Calvin believed in the Bible as an absolute statement of the word of God and rejected the divinity of the Pope; he was convinced of the utter depravity of human nature; under Calvinism, the status of women was once more radically reduced; and he was a firm believer in witchcraft. Extreme Protestants persisted in this pagan superstition long after the rest of Europe had abandoned it: Wesley, a Protestant forefather of considerable note, was a firm believer in witchcraft and many of the Puritans carried the belief with them to the New World.
In 1536 Calvin completed and had published his Institutes of the Christian Religion, a systematizing of Protestant thought, which most religious historians consider to be one of the most important theological works of all time. Britannica states, “From this time forward his influence became supreme, and all who had accepted the reformed doctrines in France turned to him for counsel and instruction. Renan, no prejudiced judge, pronounces him ‘the most Christian man of his time,’ and attributes to this his success as a reformer.” Calvin spent considerable time in Geneva, where he became extremely influential, and in 1541, according to The Columbia Encyclopedia, he “set himself to the task of constructing a government based on the subordination of the state to the Church.” Once the Bible is accepted as the sole source of God’s law, he argued, the duty of man is to adhere to it and preserve the orderly world which God has ordained. He set out to achieve this end through the establishment of ecclesiastical discipline, in which the magistrates had the task of enforcing the religious teachings of the Church, as set forth by Calvin.
Calvin’s emphasis on authority is quite striking; he not only stressed divine authority, but all paternal authority was sacrosanct. In Geneva a child was beheaded for striking his father; in Scotland, too — a country most strongly affected by Calvin’s teachings — severe penalties were prescribed for any child who defied his father. If there was anything worse than defying a father’s authority, it was to defy Calvin’s. Special penalties were prescribed for addressing Calvin as Calvin, and not as Mr. Calvin. Citizens who commented unfavorably on his sermons were punished by three days on bread and water.
Gruet, who had criticized Calvin’s doctrine and who had written “nonsense” in the margin of one of his books, was beheaded for blasphemy and treason. Betheleiu, who challenged the right of the Consistory to excommunicate, was beheaded, along with several of his supporters. Calvin’s most formidable opponent within the Protestant movement was the renowned Michael Servetus. Calvin betrayed the more liberal theologian to the Catholic Inquisition in France and then covered his part in the matter by lying about it. Servetus, having escaped the French Inquisitors, went to Geneva hoping to discuss his differences with Calvin, only to be seized, tried without benefit of legal representation, and burned alive — on Calvin’s express instructions. (Before the trial began, “the most Christian man of his time” gave orders that Servetus was not to leave Geneva alive.”) Calvin’s principal differences with Servetus concerned the nature of the Holy Trinity. Of Calvin’s action in having Servetus killed, Castellio commented: “If thou, Christ, dost these things or commandest them to be done, what is left for the devil?”
As with any authoritarian or totalitarian dogma, Calvinism was fanatically opposed to intellectual freedom. Calvin himself stated that he had submitted his mind “bound and fettered” in obedience to God, and he expected a similar subservience from others. Taylor notes, “Not only Servetus and Gruet, but many others who dared to query the official teaching were condemned and imprisoned or killed; and since Church and State were one, to hold the wrong opinion was not only heresy but treason.”
One interesting aspect of Calvinism which differentiated it from the doctrines of the Middle Ages was a tendency to generalize feelings of guilt to cover every conceivable form of pleasure. Whereas the medieval authorities tended to dwell on sex in all of its details and deviations, Calvinists devoted their ingenuity to the regulation of all the minutiae of daily life, just as the Puritans in England and America did after them. The guilt-ridden character of Calvin’s doctrine is evident in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, as when he quotes with approval Christ’s words, “The world shall rejoice, but ye shall weep and lament,” and then asks, “Do not our innumerable and daily transgressions deserve more severe and grievous chastisements than those which His clemency inflicts on us? Is it not highly reasonable that our flesh should be subdued, and as it were accustomed to the yoke, lest it should break our, according to its propensities, into lawless excesses?” And we no longer need a psychiatric footnote to inform us that the forbidden “excesses,” from which men had to be protected, concerned “the licentiousness of the flesh, which unless it be rigidly restrained, transgresses every bound.”
Taylor states, “So terrible were the forces of guilt and destructiveness animating Calvin, that he not only revived Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, but carried it to an even more fearful extreme, and resolutely condemned to eternal torment, not only all babies who died before baptism, but all persons in non-Christian countries — including, of course, all persons living prior to the time of Christ.” As E. Troeltsch points out, in Protestantism and Progress, the doctrine of predestination effectively precludes the possibility of divine intervention, love or mercy — psychologically, it is the reaction of one who, having been treated with cruelty as a child (which Calvin undoubtedly was), reacts by suppressing his own natural instincts of tenderness.
It is therefore quite understandable that John Calvin constructed at Geneva what Taylor terms “probably the strictest theocratic society ever devised, and treated with savage severity all those who held views opposed to his own.” In Calvin’s world, not only were fornication and adultery strictly prohibited, but so were even the mildest forms of spontaneity.
Records reveal that bridesmaids were arrested for decorating a bride too gaily. People were punished for dancing, spending time in taverns, eating fish on Good Friday, having their fortunes told, objecting when a priest christened their child by a different name than the one they had chosen, arranging a marriage between persons of disparate ages, singing songs against Calvin, etc. Pierre Ami, one of those responsible for bringing Calvin to Geneva, was imprisoned for dancing with his wife at a wedding; his wife later had to flee the country. Attendance at church on Sundays and Wednesdays was compulsory, and the police went through the streets, shops and homes to make certain no one was evading his duty.
In order to impose such rigid standards, Calvin had to resort to wholesale violence, torture and execution: 150 of those who disagreed with him were put to death in Geneva.
Calvin seems to have had a special preoccupation with the idea of adultery, and introduced references to it in almost every matter he discussed. Since repression usually stimulates what it sets out to repress, it is not too surprising that his sister-in-law gave herself in adultery in 1557 and his daughter did the same five years later.
The influence of Calvinism spread throughout the entire Western world, realizing its purest forms through the influence of John Knox in Scotland, and through the clergymen and laymen of the Puritan Revolution in England and the Puritan settlers in the New England colonies.
Martin Luther’s influence on Protestantism was far less profound than Calvin’s, but he was only slightly less authoritarian in principle. Luther’s dominating characteristic appears to have been an intense subconscious fear of the father figure. He writes about how fearfully, as a boy, he studied a stained-glass window in his church depicting “Jesus the Judge,” a figure with a fierce countenance holding a flaming sword. When, following his admission to the Roman priesthood, he first had to officiate at Mass, he was frightened almost to incapability. This becomes easily understood when we learn that his father, a miner, used to beat him so severely that he ran away from home; his schoolmaster was equally harsh and his mother was scarcely less severe: She once beat him until blood flowed for eating a nut he found on the table. Despite his rejection of the Catholic hierarchy, his viewpoint was extremely authoritarian. The Cambridge Modern History states that he believed thoroughly in the propriety of using force, placing absolute power in the hands of the church-dominated state, and encouraging its use by saying, “No one need think that the world can be ruled without blood. The civil sword shall and must be bloody.”
Luther was even more pessimistic about sex than Calvin. He considered it uncontrollable and, according to Hunt, “sought simply to confine its raging within marriage.” For this reason he opposed the Catholic prohibition of sacerdotal marriage and considered it, according to Henry Charles Lea, in The History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church, “the origin and cause of excessive vice and scandal [among the clergy]…he stigmatized the rule of celibacy as angelical in appearance but devilish in reality, and invented by Satan as a fertile source of sin and perdition.” Cole states, “Luther departed from Aquinas and followed Augustine in his view of the defects [in man] arising from Original Sin. He insisted that man was ‘totally depraved,’ corrupted in mind, body and will, rather than merely deprived of supernatural gifts…. But with regard to the effects of sin on sex and marriage, Luther had in general very little disagreement with Aquinas. The first penalty of Original Sin was the ravages of lust. Once more, sex is regarded as evil because of the ‘brutelike’ quality of passion.”
Sex in the Counter Reformation
The Reformation prompted the Counter Revolution — the attempt of the Roman Catholic Church to correct the abuses it felt had caused the defection of much of northern Europe to Protestantism. Taylor states, “For the ordinary historian, this is a movement opposed to the Protestant Reformation and contrasted with it. Psychologically, however, it can be regarded as an exactly similar movement…. There were certain points of difference, naturally. The Catholic Church made no attempt to substitute the infallibility of the Bible for that of the Pope…. While it revived its former attitude of seeing sexual sin as infinitely worse than other sins, it did not make the general attack on lighthearted gaiety which the Calvinists were making. But in broad terms, its reforms were [the same]. In particular, it reverted to sadistic persecution and masochistic self-torture in the medieval manner, and it opposed the growth of research and inquiry even more rigidly than had Calvin. The Council of Trent, summoned by the Pope, reiterated all the medieval regulations and, as Lord Acton, himself a Catholic, has observed, ‘impressed on the Church the stamp of an intolerant age and perpetuated by its decrees the spirit of an austere immortality.’ The enactments of this ill-attended body remain the Catholic code to this day.”
Lehrman states that the reaction of the Roman Church to the Reformation was “an increased strengthening of its suppressive, dictatorial and aggressive internal trends. Two outstanding events in this reaction were the founding of the Jesuits in 1538 [described by Harry Elmer Barnes, in The History of Western Civilization, as], ‘a belligerent and aggressive order devoted to contraverting Protestantism and preventing its spread,’ and the 1871 Declaration of Papal Infallibility. Since the ‘faith and morals’ with which the latter is concerned seem to include areas ranging from public education to communism to sexual attitudes — among them celibacy itself — this declaration would seem to represent a significant tightening of papal control within the Church as well as an increasingly suppressive attitude toward differences within it.”
The principal maxim of the Jesuits was “If the Church preaches that a thing which appears to us as which is black, we must proclaim it black immediately.” Taylor says, “Nothing conveys better than this phrase the contemptible acceptance of authoritarianism, the miserable abandonment of the faculties of judgment and initiative, the blank lack of interest in truth and learning, which characterized the Counter Reformation. Following in the wake of the conquering Spanish armies, the Jesuits re-established the terror of the Inquisition. Paul IV enlarged its powers and instituted the index of prohibited books. Speculative inquiry became mortally dangerous. In 1600 Giordano Bruno was burnt for holding, what the Greeks, Romans and Chaldeans had realized ages before, that the universe evolved…. The already dead body of Archbishop Antonio de Dominis, a Dean of Windsor, was formally burnt, together with his writings on the nature of light. Galileo was tortured and imprisoned by the same man who, as a Cardinal, had befriended him. Campanella was tortured seven times for defending Galileo. Descartes, whose Principia had narrowly escaped the charge of being heretical, was so discouraged by the fate of Galileo that he abandoned his plan for a magnum opus, the Treatise of the World. When G.P. Porta, inventor of the camera obscura, founded a society for experimental research, Pius III banned it — probably because he was the first man to write a treatise on meteorology, whereas the Church held that storms were caused by God or by witches. Once Florence had been the seat of learning and enlightenment; but here too the Church intervened, destroying the Accademia del Cimento, which Borelli had founded ‘to investigate nature by the pure light of experiment.’
“Papal infallibility had its setbacks, of course. In 1493, for instance, Alexander VI, on the basis of his belief that the earth was flat, drew a line on the map and ruled that all territory east of it belonged to the Portuguese, all territory west to the Spaniards. The Portuguese promptly confounded his intention by reaching South America by the eastward route and claiming Brazil. Shortly after, Magellan circumnavigated the globe. Yet the flatness of the earth was taught for another two centuries in Catholic territories.”
Sex in English Puritanism
The overblown reaction to the Keeler-Protumo affair notwithstanding, England is presently undergoing a sexual revolution that is, if anything, even more pronounced than America’s. It is needed, for England has long suffered from the same Puritan sex suppression as the U.S. In a recent page on the subject, Time editorialized, “There is a widespread feeling that Britain’s moral machinery is not grinding as harshly as it used to. Much in English life today suggests decadence and dissolution. Since the girls were driven off the streets four years ago, they have taken to advertising their services in shop windows as ‘masseuses,’ ‘models,’ or ‘French teachers.’ London’s booming striptease parlors offer some of the crudest live pornography to be seen publicly in Europe. Its parks in summer are pre-empted by couples who aren’t just necking. One third of all teenage brides in Britain are already pregnant. Innumerable scandals preceding the Profumo case suggest considerable promiscuity, along with sexual arrangements infinitely more complex than the old-fashioned triangle. And, as everyone knows, homosexuality is ‘the English vice.’ Dr. George Morrison Carstairs [professor of psychological medicine at Edinburgh University] said recently [in a BBC lecture]: ‘Popular morality is now a wasteland, littered with the debris of broken conventions. Concepts such as honor, or even honesty, have an old-fashioned sound, but nothing has taken their place.’
“This harsh judgment may overlook the fact that Britain was never the sort of place Victorian morality pretended it was. If London today resembles Babylon-on-the-Thames, it is little more than a deluxe model of the brutal, carnal 18th century city whose brothels, boudoirs and gin shops (‘Drunk for a Penny. Dead drunk for Tuppence.’) were pictured by Hogarth, Richardson and Fielding. Says Malcolm Muggeridge: ‘There’s always been a lot of high-grade whoring in this country.'” Time’s conclusion: “There is a lot of past evidence to prove him right…. Thus the state of sexual morality in Britain today is probably no worse than it ever was, and there is much evidence that it is better. Britain may not be a moral wasteland but a battleground in which a more realistic, less hypocritical generation is attempting to win legal and social recognition of the facts of everyday life.”
Nor was Dr. Carstairs as “harsh” in his judgment as Time’s editorial may suggest. In an earlier issue, “The Weekly Newsmagazine” reported his BBC lecture more fully: The doctor also said, “A new concept is emerging, of sexual relations as a source of pleasure, but also as a mutual encountering of personalities, in which each explores the other and at the same time discovers new depths in himself or herself.”
England has had her sexual ups and downs over the centuries — paying the price of sexual repression and hypocrisy that came with the Puritan Revolution. English Puritanism was derived largely, as we have noted, from the teachings of Calvin and in Scotland, John Knox was quite successful in imposing the Calvinist dogma, with the same suppressive and authoritarian results as Calvin had achieved in Geneva.
The doctrine of Calvin and the Puritans, making work a virtue and emphasizing frugality rather than ostentatious expenditure, had considerable appeal to the emerging middle class of England. A civil war resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy and the execution of King Charles I in 1649; for more than a decade England was kingless and was under the rule of the Puritan Commonwealth and the Protectorate. Oliver Cromwell was virtual ruler of the country until his death in 1658. Puritan rule proved far more oppressive and restrictive than the people had expected, however, and popular feeling swept it out of power shortly after Cromwell’s death and restored the monarchy.
Even before the Puritans gained control of the government, they attempted to regulate behavior in various less obvious ways, as with the establishment of “Puritan Sunday,” from which we derive our own Blue Laws. (Puritan Sunday was an especially effective means of controlling activity at the time, since Sunday was the only day the working classes had to themselves.) Jeremy Collier, an English clergyman, wrote, “The Puritans having miscarried in their operations upon the Church, endeavored to carry on their designs more under covert. Their magnifying the Sabbath Day, as they called Sunday, was a serviceable expedient for the purpose.”
Henry VII had been responsible for introducing the Reformation into England, but during his reign Sunday was a day of sports, fairs, drinking, archery and dancing. Frith, a pre-Puritan Reformer, said, “Having been to church, one may return and do one’s business as well as any other day.”
Elizabeth, who completed the work of the Reformation begun by Henry, regularly transacted State business on Sundays, and so quite naturally refused to pass a Sunday-observance act in 1586; instead, she licensed others to organize Sunday games for her subjects. The Stuarts continued this tradition — Charles reissuing an official Book of Sports in 1633 that James I had originally prepared for Sunday pleasure.
But between 1645 and 1650 there were a series of acts, ordinances and proclamations prohibiting Maypoles; abolishing Christmas, Whitsun and Easter as pagan festivals; ordering the Book of Sports to be burned; and even banning “idle sitting at doors and walking in churchyards.” As one non-Puritan member of the House of Commons observed, “Let a man be in what posture he will, your penalty finds him.”
The Puritans opposed dancing, drinking, sports, games, carnivals, masquerades, mumming and all other pleasurable pursuits and pastimes, as well as idleness, since the wasting of time was as serious as the wasting of money. Theirs was an austere, severe, strict and restrictive theology — and a pattern of prohibitions emerges that Taylor sees as the product of two subconscious fears: a fear of pleasure and a fear of spontaneity — rooted in the Puritan belief that only through control could they hope to keep man’s baser nature in check — that if left unchecked and to itself, anything might happen. “And it was primarily this fear of spontaneity and feeling,” Taylor suggests, “which caused the Puritans to object to color and richness of decoration, and hence to insist on sober clothing and bleak churches….”
All theaters were permanently closed and when a company of actors attempted to ignore this law, they were arrested and the theaters were ordered torn down. In place of festivals, Days of Publique Humiliation were established, on which all shops were shut and all travel — except to church — forbidden, as was “any unnecessary walking in the fields or upon the Exchange or other places.”
For some, two sermons on Sunday became “a necessity of salvation.” Labor of any kind was prohibited on the Lord’s Day and some objected to the preparing of roast meat for Sunday dinner — a lead which kitchen maids quickly followed by declaring that it was sinful to wash dishes on that day, also.
Cromwell was hostile to art, learning and, most of all, the democratic process. The general disapproval of free inquiry is also illustrated by the Puritan condemnation, a few years later, of the Royal Society for the Advancement of Science as “impious.”
In Mrs. Grundy, Leo Markun wrote, “The Scottish ministers identified the natural with the sinful…. The ministers called on their parishioners to live in such a way as to please a jealous divinity who could not approve of frolicsome conduct, who would surely send a dreadful plague if wedding guests danced and joked and enjoyed themselves in the good old Scottish way. The Reverend Mr. Abernathy said, ‘Pleasures are most carefully to be avoided, because they both harm and deceive…. Beat down thy body and bring it into subjection by abstaining, not only from unlawful pleasures, but also from lawful pleasures and indifferent delights….'”
When they were in power in England, the Puritans attempted to make “immorality” impossible by imposing the harshest of penalties. For adultery and for incest (the latter being any degree of relatedness in which marriage was prohibited), the death penalty was instituted. In Puritan, Rake and Squire, J. Lane reports that a man of 89 was executed for adultery in 1653 (which, age considered, may seem more a compliment than an injustice) and another for incest (with his brother-in-law’s daughter) in 1656. But juries generally responded to such trials by refusing to convict. Whereupon the Puritans introduced specials to control the court and enforce the law — and when a jury failed to bring in a verdict to their liking, it was dismissed.
The Puritans made great and extensive use of public humiliation as a means of chastisement and control, with the pillory, the stocks and the scarlet letter — techniques they carried with them to the colonies in the New World. In Scotland, even more feared than the pillory was the punishment of having to appear in Church every Sunday for a given number of weeks (the number varied, but not infrequently it was 26 or 52) to be harangued for half-an-hour in front of the congregation by the minister; in some churches, when the sin committed was considered serious enough, the offenders (both men and women) were fastened to the wall of the church by an iron collar, or joug.
The main body of public opinion was opposed to the extremes of Puritanism and was especially against the Puritan control of Parliament. The members of Parliament discovered to their dismay that they had allied themselves with authoritarians far more ruthless than the Stuart kings. Rebellious crowds filled the streets, crying, “Give us a free Parliament,” and the sarcastic dismissal of the crowd by General George Monk, head of Cromwell’s armed forces: “You shall have a free Parliament,” was taken as a promise, causing a chain of beacons to be lighted which carried the supposed good news throughout England, and prompting such a widespread reaction that the Puritan fathers were forced to accede to the demand. In 1660 the monarchy was restored and Charles II returned from exile to accept the throne.
Some indication of the sadistic cruelty that was still natural to an age that had tortured and burned so many witches, and produced the severe authoritarianism of the Reformation and Puritanism can be perceived from a reading of the sentence of the court, pronounced on the five judges who had condemned Charles I to death: “You shall go from hence to the place from whence you came, and from that place shall be drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution, and there shall hang by the neck till you are half dead, and shall be cut down alive and your privy members cut off before your face and thrown into the fire, your belly ripped up and your bowels burnt, your head to be severed from your body, your body shall be divided into four quarters, and disposed as His Majesty shall think fit.”
The Restoration and Romantic Love
England was freed for a time from the yoke of Puritanism and the Restoration that followed the return of the monarchy was primarily a reaction against the Puritan influence and an era of reawakening prosperity and vigorous political activity. The arts and trades of an increasingly complex civilization led to new triumphs of creative endeavor; the people rejoiced over the curtailing of Puritan power, strong opposition developed to undue authoritarianism of any kind and the new freedom produced a considerable relaxing of sexual morality and a greater status for women in society. The theaters were reopened and, The Columbia Encyclopedia says, “The drama of the period was marked by brilliance and wit, and by a moral laxity which reflected the looseness of court manners.”
A new romanticism emerged, partly as a reaction against the dehumanizing materialism of a growing industrialization, and sought to establish aesthetic values in place of utilitarian ones. The Romantic Movement in England was more sexual than the earlier conception of “courtly love” held by the troubadours and the Romantics introduced a new concept of marriage, based upon mutual love and respect on the part of both man and wife. Taylor states, “Not only did the Romantics reject the Christian assumption of feminine inferiority which has ruled for more than a millennium, but they went further and put forward the claim that romantic love should be the raison d’tre of the marriage relationship…. [They held] that the lover should enjoy with his beloved both sensual passion and platonic companionship…. Furthermore, they held that sexual experiment was necessary if one was to find the ideal mate — which is to say that they abandoned the Christian doctrine of strict prenuptial chastity. Moreover, they revived Plato’s theory that every individual is but one half of a complete entity, so that somewhere there is to be found the twin-soul, the missing half, the only person in the world who provides the full complement for one’s own personality…. Here was born the sentimental notion, to be enshrined in popular song when [these] ideas finally triumphed in the 20th century, of ‘the only girl in the world’ — an idea in complete contrast with the view previously [held] that any two people, not previously antipathetic, could probably make an effective marriage.”
When the ideal partner has been found, in keeping with this new Romantic view, “no mere mundane obstacle — such as one of the parties being married already — must be allowed to stand in the way of fulfillment.”
Such an extreme conception of romantic love, while not without considerable virtue — when contrasted with the strict, antifeminine, antisexual views of medieval Christianity and Puritanism — obviously has its impractical, naive and inhuman side. Yet it is upon just such a doctrine — interlaced with even more impractical, naive and inhuman Puritanism — that our own present-day conception of romantic love and of marriage are based.
At about the same time as this Romantic quest, England began to swing back in the direction of puritanism. The new trend was officially endorsed by George III, who issued a Proclamation Against Vice, and this led to the restrictive period we refer to as the Victorian Era — though it actually reached its peak before Victoria’s reign and began to decline during her rule.
The prudery and puritanism of the 17th century were less drastic than that which flourished from the middle of the 18th and well into the 19th centuries. A new Evangelical campaign, undoubtedly based upon sexual anxieties, inveighed not only against sexual indulgence and all forms of pleasure, but also all spontaneity in emotion and behavior. And to a marked extent, people accepted these stricter values. Woman’s status was again reduced to the medieval level of submission, modesty and hard work, but whereas medieval man had regarded woman as a source of sin, the Victorians considered her pure and sexless.
The publication of “Mary Wollstonecraft’s Right of Women, at the height of this trend, created a scandal. Even the worldly Horace Walpole referred to her as a ‘hyena in skirts.’ The Ladies Magazine published a case history of four girls who had, it asserted, been perverted by reading this work: One of them not only rode to hounds, but even groomed her own horse, while another committed the unpardonable sin of quoting from the classics in social conversation.”
Hunt asserts, “In the Victorian scheme, woman was denied every form of status and achievement except one, but in an industrial urban world that one was no longer as meaningful as it once had been. She yearned, instead, for the achievements reserved for men, and her feminist spokeswomen argued that she was the natural equal of man and deserved the same opportunities as he. But the very nature of the argument created in her mind a confusion as to what part she could, or should, play in life: The choice seemed to be between that of the unwed, childless, career woman, and the subjugated, dependent, housewife-mother. If there were some other answer, some other personality she could assume, Victorian women had no idea what it might be….
“The role in which Victorian man had cast woman had its inevitable effects on man himself. Patriarchal he might be, stern to his children, frock-coated, mightily bewhiskered, and not to be trifled with, but he played this part at the expense of his own sexual expressiveness and his own peace of mind. If he were a libidinous man, he was driven to resort secretly to brothels. If he were weakly sexed, the emphasis on the purity of woman might actually unman him. If he were an average man with an average drive, he might live his entire life galled by the need for self-denial and self-restraint.”
Victorian man, if without much foundation in fact, considered himself far more civilized than the men of the preceding century — more rational, refined and virtuous. The Puritans considered sex a sin; the Victorians regarded it as undignified, irrational, bestial and disgusting.
While Victorian man urged women to purity, he distrusted them also. He wanted them to be virgins, but suspected secretly that they were whores. He was therefore compelled to divide the female sex into two categories: “good” women, who had no taste for sex; and “bad” women, who had. It is tellingly symptomatic of the times that W. Acton asserted, as a supposed statement of fact in a scientific work, The Functions and Disorders of the Re-productive Organs, that it was a “vile aspersion” to say that women were capable of sexual feeling. In A History of Courting, E.S. Turner states, “Sexual instincts became something no nice girl would admit to possessing; her job was to make man ashamed of his.”
In To Deprave and Corrupt, published by Association Press, an affiliate of the Young Men’s Christian Association, John Chandos writes, “…the industrial revolution and the expansion of opportunities which it created brought into existence a new and growing commercial middle class. The members of this class were very naturally insecure, ambitious and snobbish…. In their anxiety to be respectable, to be ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ they struck exaggerated postures of propriety, flattered their superiors, bullied their inferiors and set great store on following a strict code of conduct. In the course of their advancement they brought with them, usually from humbler origins, an assertive prudishness — part of the paraphernalia of respectability — a worship of industry for its own sake, a suspicion of pleasure as being a trap of the devil and a complete lack of aesthetic taste or tradition…. The spontaneity of the English personality was attacked by a paralyzing disease from which it has never since fully recovered. Standards no longer evolved from or through the aristocracy…. They developed a veritable obsession with sin, especially sexual sin, and since the only way they could with propriety maintain constant contact with the forbidden pleasure was by censoring it presence in others, they nosed out sex with an industry as indefatigable as it was ingenious….”
The reformers did not, as a rule, succeed in getting Parliament to provide legal sanctions against the activities they criticized, frequently because their requests were so extreme. Thus in 1800 and again in 1856 and 1857, attempts were made to have Parliament impose the death penalty for adultery, but the motions were defeated. On the other hand, private societies for the suppression of vice multiplied and were responsible for a great number of prosecutions. As early as 1757, a Society for the Reformation of Manners was founded, but five years later it was disbanded, after being convicted of employing false testimony (in that five-year period it had instituted more than 10,000 prosecutions).
In 1789 the Proclamation Society Against Vice was formed to implement the royal Proclamation Against Vice; the announced purpose of the Proclamation Society was to suppress “licentious publications,” but as usual, the attempt was made to suppress all free speech on matters which the Puritans found objectionable. Its offspring, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, was used to prosecute The Republican, a paper defending free speech and a free press. Tom Paine was forced to flee the country following the publication of his Rights of Man, and subsequently had to flee from France to America, where his Age of Reason was no better received. In 1820 a so-called Constitutional Association was formed to prosecute “seditious works.” Among the works it thought seditious, and against which it successfully brought prosecutions, were Palmer’s Principles of Nature and Shelley’s Oedipus Tyrannus and Queen Mab. Byron’s publisher was so fearful of the Association’s activities that he hesitated to print the first two cantos of Don Juan.
In 1793 the Evangelical Magazine declared that “All novels, generally speaking, are instruments of abomination and ruin.” Joshua Collins said that parents would be wise to establish “an immutable law” forbidding their offspring from reading novels. “It is much to be questioned,” he said, “whether my sort of fictional representation ought to be put into the hands of youth.” In any case, it was pointed out, to compose fiction was to assert what was not true and was, therefore, a form of lying.
The theater had long been a target of Puritan hatred and the attacks upon it were, of course, resumed in the Victorian Era: It was declared that to visit a theater was not merely unsuitable, but absolutely unlawful for a Christian. John Styles, a Methodist minister, earned himself a certain kind of fame by declaring that it was a “luckless hour” when Shakespeare became a writer for the stage.
The Victorian period was marked by a quite incredible preoccupation with symbolic representations of sex, especially verbal ones. In the Middle Ages, the Church had preached against sex in the strongest terms, but it never hesitated to use sexual words and phrases in referring to it: Nor had it objected to representations in art of the sex organs and of the sexual act in all its variations. No such sexual frankness was permitted in Victorian times, however. Thus not only words used repeatedly in the Bible, such as “whore” and “fornication,” became taboo, but the prohibitions were increasingly extended until words and objects only remotely connected with sex could not be named, but had to be referred to euphemistically. In time even the euphemisms became objectionable and had to be replaced by expressions even more indirect: The more colloquial “with child” was replaced by “pregnant” — which in those days had a half-metaphorical connotation which is almost entirely lost today; but then “pregnant” also became offensive and was replaced by the more ambiguous phrase, “in an interesting condition.” Undergarments, and eventually even men’s trousers, became “unmentionables”; it became indelicate to offer a lady the leg of a chicken — hence the still existent custom that it is more proper to offer her the breast, though this was properly referred to as the “bosom” in the 19th century. Such taboos led to the desire to ignore all animallike aspects of existence, so that the lower creatures might “sweat,” but proper men and ladies would “perspire” — and this was finally refined to “glow.” References to the lower extremities were generally avoided and a “leg” was called a “limb” — even on a chair or table. Proper women also took to covering the legs of furniture with crinoline skirts and Captain Marryat tells of visiting a ladies’ seminary where the piano had each of its legs clothed in “modest little trousers, with frills at the bottom of them.”
Any physical complaint between the neck and the knees was referred to as “liver.” And when it was necessary for a doctor to treat a female patient, he was sometimes handed a doll upon which the location of the affected part might be pointed out.
This extreme Victorianism was carried over to America and it is recorded that a preacher in Athens, Georgia, bowdlerized the Bible, reading “stomach” for “belly” and “a certain fowl” for “cock.” The improper parts of nude paintings and statutes were covered over; old maids became reluctant to go to bed in rooms containing men’s portraits; and some private libraries violated alphabetical order, separating books by sex, to prevent volumes by men and women from resting against one another on the shelves.
Far from de-emphasizing sex, such actions had the opposite effect, and so instead of remaining aloof from it, the Victorian Era must be seen as sexually obsessed — as all such periods of repression must be.
Modern American Morality
We have already commented, in earlier issues, upon the similarly suppressive sexual traditions that were carried over to Puritan America and that form a part our own history and heritage. Modern American morality is an amalgamation of the superstitious paganism and masochistic asceticism of early Christianity; the sexual anxieties, feelings of guilt and shame, witch-hunting sadism and sex repression of the medieval Church; the desexualized courtly love of the troubadours; England’s Romantic Age, wherein love was presumed to conquer all; and the prohibitively strict, severe, joyless, authoritarian, unresponsive, book-banning, pleasure-baiting dogma of Calvinist Protestantism, Puritanism and Victorianism.
This is a morality that virtually assures us our high incidence of unhappy marriages, frequent divorces, impotence, masochism, frigidity, frustration and perversion. Perhaps this review of the origins of many of the unreasoned and unreasonable traditions and prohibitions of our present society may afford some additional insights as we next consider contemporary religions’ changing views on sex, the unchanging U.S. sex laws, and modern man’s need for a new, more realistic, rational, human and humane sexual morality.