Art, Damon Brown, glasses, Joshua Jammer Smith, Masculinity Studies, naked women, original photograph, pencil, Playboy, Playboy Covers, Playboy's Greatest Covers, Pornography, Sexuality, still life, tea
A Hundred Hidden Bunnies
5 June 2017
Book Review, Cloche Hat, Family Guy, Feminism, Gracie and Frankie, Harry Potter, Manipulation of women, Play, Playboy, Queer Theory, Rape, sexual Education, Sexual politics, Sexual Rhetoric, Sexuality, Superbad, The Big Lebowski, The Penis Book, The Vagina Monologues, Vagina, vaginal imagery, Vibrators, Voldemort, Vulva, What Vaginas Smell Like, What Vaginas would Wear, Women's Bodies
If I had a vagina myself I think it would wear a cloche hat. I know it originally as a “flapper hat,” but that’s far too obscene when discussing women’s lady-bits. I’m thinking that it would have to be light gray with a solid black band and a feather or else a felt flower along the right side to really make everything pop. My vagina would never wear red or pink or maroon hats, for that would be too grotesquely obvious, and in fact the only color near those shades I would ever consider wearing would be a deep wine, and the name of that particular hue would have to be as obscure as the dye that produced it for nothing is too good for my vagina.
This is all a lovely exercise in imagination, but the conflict remains that I have a penis and penises don’t look good in hats.
Like so many things in my life I learned about the Vagina Monologues through Family Guy. If you listen close you can hear thousands of feminist’s cringe after reading that. Given what the Vagina Monologues are actually about, and given the fact that Family Guy has, in the last few seasons, done little to actually help its own reputation as being a den of refuge for sexist humor this cringe isn’t entirely unwarranted. Still the image of a woman’s waist, clad in just a pair of pink panties doing stand-up, was actually pretty funny and a great opportunity to observe the real originality of the early seasons of the show. Whether Family Guy is sexist or not is for the YouTube comment sections, the point is watching that show exposed me first to the idea that The Vagina Monologues was a performance that had something to do with Vaginas and, most assuredly, feminism in some form or capacity.
On that same note before actually sitting down to read the book I had never considered how the smell of vaginas could actually play a role in how a person felt about their own. Likewise, it was a revelatory experience reading the names of various types of clothes women would wear, or dress, their vagina in if they got the chance. Vaginas, and here my maleness really shines, were just internal body parts for women that had to do with sex and childbirth. In my defense, growing up in East Texas I rarely heard the word at all, and in fact actually saying the word aloud was like muttering the name of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, yet another famous V word that really needs to be spoken aloud so that we as a society can eliminate the fear that surrounds it.
Voldemort, I’m talking, writing, about Voldemort. And vaginas.
Eve Ensler, who is the main performer and writer (really compiler) of The Vagina Monologues has a section where she reads just the smells women have offered for vaginas, either their own or others and I have to list out a few because they range from beautiful to morbid to hysterical:
Earth, Wet garbage, God, Water, A Brand-new Morning, Depth, Sweet Ginger, Depends, Me, No Smell, Pineapple, Paloma Picasso, Roses, Yummy candy, Somewhere between fish and lilacs, Peaches, the woods, Strawberry-kiwi tea, Fish, cheese, ocean, sexy, a song, the beginning. (93-95).
She also provides several lists throughout the Monologues and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the list of clothes women provided when asked, “If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?”:
A beret, a leather jacket, mink, a pink boa, jeans, a male tuxedo, emeralds, an evening gown, Armani only see-through black underwear, Sequins, Something machine washable, Angora, a red bow, a leopard Hat, a silk kimono, glasses, sweatpants, An electrical shock device to keep unwanted strangers away, a pinafore, a slicker. (15-17).
I’m sure if I read that out loud to my wife she would appreciate the “electrical shock device” but that’s just because she would, if it were possible, be a supervillain that destroyed people for fun. As for myself, like I said above, my vagina would wear a cloche hat and look fabulous while doing so.
These lists though are important to read and listen to, principally because they do not come from just one woman’s imagination. The Vagina Monologues is not so much an original play, as it is the readings of various testimonies of women from all walks of life. Ensler has made a career talking to women and hearing their stories and she repeats their stories for audiences so that they hear from a woman in her 80s who had never even seen her vagina, a six year old girl who says her vagina would smell like snowflakes, survivors of rape-camps during the war and genocide in Bosnia, lesbians and their sexuality, women menstruating, a woman who hated her vagina until she met a man who loved it, a woman who had an orgasm once during her teens and the resulting “flood” embarrassed her too much to worry or think about it for almost 40 years, and the stories could literally fill volumes from that point on.
My reader may interrupt and ask why a whole book is really necessary when talking about Vaginas, but to this complaint I can offer only contempt or pity. You see the most popular essay I have ever written was about dicks. Big black dicks to be precise. Almost every day I pull up White Tower Musings and see that some other person has typed in some charming assortment of words involving “penis,” “black,” “girls fucked,” and “Mandingo.” There is a near constant worship and fascination with penises, which is ironic when you remember the fact that people will seemingly do everything they can to talk about penises without actually saying the words penis. If there is a paranoia or embarrassment with acknowledging vaginas in our culture, there is a dramatic and sometimes violent fear or disgust of the vagina.
Two cultural references probably give better examples than I could. The first is from the movie Superbad. Jonah Hill is defending his free use of pornography and when the issue of penetration comes up he has a line that’s revealing and truly pathetic.
Evan: You could always subscribe to a site like Perfect Ten. I mean that could be anything, it could be a bowling site.
Seth: Yeah, but it doesn’t actually show dick going in which is a huge concern.
Evan: Right, I didn’t realize that.
Seth: Besides, have you ever seen a vagina by itself?
Seth: [shakes his head] Not for me.
Likewise in the movie The Big Lebowski, Julian Moore plays an artist who is probably the exact image of feminism every anti-feminist thinks about when they masturbate to how much they hate feminism. She introduces herself to The Dude before mentioning a particular quality about her art.
Maude Lebowski: Does the female form make you uncomfortable, Mr. Lebowski?
The Dude: Uh, is that what this is a picture of?
Maude Lebowski: In a sense, yes. My art has been commended as being strongly vaginal which bothers some men. The word itself makes some men uncomfortable. Vagina.
The Dude: Oh yeah?
Maude Lebowski: Yes, they don’t like hearing it and find it difficult to say whereas without batting an eye a man will refer to his dick or his rod or his Johnson.
The Dude: Johnson?
These two impressions are just microcosms of the larger issue which is that people are often encouraged to ignore and feel repulsed by vaginas at the same time they’re taught to love and adore them. One example of the book provides a beautiful, in every sense of the term, demonstration of this when she interviews a group of senior women:
I interviewed a group of women between the ages of sixty-fie and seventy-five. These interviews were the most poignant of all, possibly because many of the women had never had a vagina interview before. Unfortunately, most of the women in this age group had very little conscious relationship to their vaginas. I felt terribly lucky to have grown up in the feminist era. One women who was seventy-two had never even seen her vagina. She had only touched herself when she was washing in the shower, but never with conscious intention. She had never had an orgasm. At seventy-two she went into therapy, and with encouragement of her therapist, she went home one afternoon by herself, lit some candles, took a bath, played some comforting music, and discovered her vagina. She said it took her over an hour, because she was arthritic by then, but when she finally found her clitoris, she said, she cried. This monologue is for her. (23-4).
From here if my contester has any other objections I’m afraid they’re going to have to leave them at the door, because after this story The Vagina Monologues aren’t just relevant they’re more important than ever. It’s important that men and women, especially from previous generations to realize, that sexuality is not limited to youth. For my own part I learned this lesson by reading Ensler’s play, but also from the show Gracie and Frankie. Originally when the show began I wanted to watch it because I loved Martin Sheen in West Wing and growing up Dad would often let me watch Law & Order where Sam Watterson was always the most interesting part of the “law” slot. The show is about two couples and Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin play the wives who find out over dinner that their husbands have been having an affair for close to forty years. Gracie and Frankie, who at first hate each other, begin to live together and so the show follows them as they try to figure out what’s next and where to go after the life you’ve built suddenly stops. The end of the last episode of season two brought the issue of elderly women masturbating however because Frankie receives a vibrator as a gift (I think it’s a Hitachi wand) and she sprains her wrist.
I sound painfully virginal when I write this out, but I didn’t think women over a certain age masturbated. Even if I did, I just didn’t really consider it because being a young man masturbation is a far more personal experience and you usually don’t think about other people masturbating while you’re masturbating. The attitude is, sexist as it may be: of course men masturbate, but why would a woman?
Perhaps this demonstration of masculine solipsism is great Segway into lesbianism.
Ensler interviewed several lesbians, but one in particular came back to the show and told her she hadn’t quite got it right and so Ensler tried again.
“As a lesbian,” she said, “I need you to start from a lesbian-centered place, not framed within a heterosexual context. I did not desire women, for example, because I disliked men. Men weren’t even part of the equation.” She said, “You need to talk about entering into vaginas. You can’t talk about lesbian sex without doing this.
“For example,” she said. “I’m having sex with a woman. She’s inside me. I’m inside me. Fucking myself together with her. There are four fingers inside me; two are hers, two are mine.” (115).
Once again I must profess my ignorance. Being a bisexual man, and former straight man, one is often exposed to “lesbianism” via pornography. This unfortunately perpetuates a bad label because, as boys grow up with the internet as I did, there is cultivated the idea that lesbians are fluid in their sexuality, open and available to men. This is obviously bullshit, but unfortunately nobody teaches you that. Because schools in the United States often cower beneath the might of outraged parents or religiously funded institutions, real healthy sexual education is often a garage enterprise, with the odd sex-ed teacher showing up with condoms and the eventual abused banana. My point is simply this passage was an excellent reminder that lesbianism is misunderstood by many men because no one bothers to teach them that lesbians don’t hate men, they just aren’t part of the equation.
In one of the more powerful portions of the book Ensler discusses her experience interviewing women who survived the “rape-Camps” of Bosnia. The break-up of the former country of Yugoslavia created a political cluster-fuck resulting in an ethnic cleansing and apparently between the bouts of murder a few soldiers established a systemized unit for the consistent rape of women.
I should forewarn my reader that this can be a little rough:
Not since the soldiers put a long thick rifle inside me. So cold, the steel rod canceling my heart. Don’t know whether they’re going to fire it or shove it through my spinning brain. Six of them, monstrous doctors with black masks shoving bottles up me too. There were sticks and the end of a broom.
Not since I heard the skin tear and made lemon screeching sounds, not since a piece of my vagina came off in my hand, a part of the lip, now one side is completely gone. (63).
Ensler’s recordings here serve a historical and political purpose, but I find that simply writing these stories down is a profoundly human act. It’s also a reminder that I lack a great strength because simply typing them out I had to stop.
I had to stop and cry again. Close to 2000 women were impregnated as a result of rape, because of these camps.
But lest I succumb to the morbid conclusion Ensler notes what The Vagina Monologues mean for her later on:
This is my favorite part about traveling with the work. I get to heat the truly amazing stories. They are told so simply, so matter-of-factly. I am always reminded how extraordinary women’s lives are, and how profound. And I am reminded how isolated women are, and how oppressed they often become in their isolation. How few people they have ever told of their suffering and confusion. How much shame there is surrounding all this. How crucial it is for women to tell their stories, to share them with other people, how our survival as women depends on this dialogue. (98).
I hear the complaint immediately. My reader will contest; this is nothing but typical feminist tripe. Why isn’t there a Penis Monologues? Why isn’t there a show where a man reads testimonies by men about their penises and the funny or sad or terrifying stories about their penises? Why should I care about vaginas?
There’s a problem with this argument and it reeks of bullshit. The contester who makes this argument is often self-serving because they are lazy. If the critic who makes this charge is truly serious and is legitimately concerned about the absence of a Penis Monologues then he should stop complaining and actually do something about. Quit your job, start asking men about their dicks, start recording the stories that they tell, start booking gigs, and make The Penis Monologues a thing. But of course they won’t, because it’s as I said before, the critic who suggests the Vagina Monologues are self-serving feminist tripe are themselves just pedantic cowards who need to feel special shitting on someone else’s good time rather than going out and making something of their own.
My animosity aside, there is tremendous importance to The Vagina Monologues as a performance, but for my own part as a written document. Not everyone will be able to see Ensler’s show. Not everyone will be able to meet her and tell her their story or listen to the testimony of other women. The chance to hear the stories is where everything comes full circle. “The Battle of the Sexes” is an unfortunate lingering marketing ploy that, beneath the layers of bullshit reveals an almost mythic truth, which is that men and women constitute their own communities. Calling The Vagina Monologues feminism is of course fair, but it’s also limiting for at stake is not just whether women are allowed to talk about their genitals as much as men. The Vagina Monologues are the community of women recognizing one another, recognizing their differences, and at the same time finding themselves unified by the very fact they each possess the same, and at the same time not so same, set of genitals. Each woman forms a relationship with her vagina the same way a man does with his penis, and by having a venue from which to talk about their relationship women are able to find one another.
And at first it will just be about the differences but then the similarities. Women who were abused, women who are lesbians, women who never found their vaginas and perhaps still haven’t, these connections and differences make the Vagina something more than a place where babies go in and out, it makes them a symbolic totem from which women can find one another as individuals, as women, and feel connected to someone else.
Ensler ends her introduction with a statement that is almost a manifesto:
In order for the human race to continue, women must be safe and empowered. It’s an obvious idea, but like a vagina, it needs great attention and love in order to be revealed. (xxxvi).
One of the best teachers I ever had was a woman, and during one of her lectures (I think it was during Jane Eyre) she told us that consistently it has been observed that the way societies remain advanced is by educating women. Education is a frightening activity, and requires dedication for it often a tedious exercise. Most of all however, it requires real courage that comes from inner strength.
A book like The Vagina Monologues is vital, not simply because it’s a wonderful feminist document, but because it affords women, as well as men, to examine the way we as a society and culture view vaginas, how we treat people who have them. Rather than hiding them, or being disgusted by them, we should at least have the courage to at least talk about them. Even if we’re uncomfortable, even if we’re scared, and even if we’re simply apathetic, we should still try and find the effort to ask a few simple questions about them and listen to what the other has to say. These little questions matter, because they encourage reflection.
They also make me reevaluate the cloche hat, but damn if nothing else looks good on my vagina. And sun hats are just so blasé.
For my own part, I didn’t get a chance to work it into the article. but here’s my vagina story.
For my own part, though I don’t have one myself, vaginas have always been a mystery. When I was five years old I had the nasty habit of going through my father’s stuff. Usually his desk because he has nice pens and pencils. One day, and I’ve never forgotten it, I was looking through his drawers, shortly after he’d told me not to, and when I opened one of them I saw a naked woman resting against an old aluminum radiator. This was my first Playboy magazine. Boys are supposed to go through a “latency period,” a period of life when “girls are gross” and one forms homo-social bonds with other boys. I never had that. My first memory ever was a girl, and looking at the girl on the magazine I felt an overwhelming urge to be “close” somehow. I knew it was bad looking at this, but I stole it under my shirt and snuck off to my room. Once the door was closed I opened the magazine and studied each picture. It was a collection of centerfolds from the late 90s to the original founding of the magazine. There were lots of beautiful women in all manner of poses, and while the breasts were nice to look at what I’ve never been able to let go of is the impression of seeing a woman’s vulva and pubic hair. I didn’t know what a vagina, a vulva, or pubic hair was, but I did know one thing for certain: I liked it.
I would eventually steal this same magazine over and over again through the years until I found the internet, but those women were my first exposure to vaginas. I may have come to find Playboy a rather repulsive institution over the years, but I can never take away that first moment when I realized that women were different and my interest in them seemingly doubled over night.
This is my vagina story.
I found this Daily Show Meme a few years back and I’ve been holding onto it hoping to find a proper place for it. I hope you enjoy, and also allow to reflect on the fact that a woman using the word vagina in a public debate on abortion was barred from speaking. Let that sit in and then reflect on how American culture handles, or doesn’t handle, vaginas in discourse.
I’ve discussed vaginas a lot in this essay and I’ve used a lot of images that are reminiscent of vaginas, or refer to vaginas, or act as pseudo-vaginas, but like The Penis Book before it would be a mistake to be coy about this, so below is an anatomical rendering of a human vagina. No jokes. No funny. Just what it is. And in fact, if you pay attention, this isn’t a vagina at all, this is a vulva, a word which, when often spoken aloud, makes people either giggle, roll their eyes, or become righteously offended.
And that’s the point. Vulva and Vagina are words, medical terms, and we can’t even say the word without either giggling or else feeling repulsed. It’s just a part of the human body and the healthy attitude isn’t to fear it, but to acknowledge it, because the alternative isn’t really working in anyone’s best interest.
Batman Pajama Pants, belles lettres, Creative Writing, Destiny, Esquire, Harpers, Joshua Jammer Smith, Ms., New York Times, Playboy, Poetry, Prufrock, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Times Literary Supplement, Tweed, Writing
The other day a friend wrote to me, actually wrote me a letter, and being the kind of person who actually bothers to read the letters from friends I read the following lines, which I believe to be poetry, and wondered at my friend. At the end I could not tell if he was being indulgent, whiney, or else incredibly profound. Whatever the case I transcribed the letter and have published it here for all the world to see.
I do hope you enjoy.
–Joshua Jammer Smith
I would really love to write for the New York Times,
I would love to write for Harpers,
I would love to write for the Times Literary Supplement,
I would love to write for The New Yorker,
I would love to write for Esquire,
I would love to write for Ms.,
I would love to write for The Atlantic,
I would love to write for Playboy,
And I would love to write for The Washington Post.
It would seem that I would love the write for those literary halls where I might secure the bubble reputation of those who craft the belles lettres and all that fashionable thinking prose that seals the legacies of gods.
But such is that and none of that for me. I will linger in obscurity, and, like Prufrock, wonder at the mermaids who sung songs for other men. But for my youth,…
Ah, but there is none of that.
I am destiny’s forgotten son. And I would love to write for you, for you is me, and that’s all that I can ever be.
While I wrote this two lamps were on. I was wearing my blue tweed blazer with the elbow patches. I was wearing Batman pajama pants, and a scarf around my neck.
A Letter to a Royal Academy, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, Aristotle, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, biological arguments, Book Review, Carl Japikse, Catch-22, Essay, Family Guy, fart jokes, Fart Proudly, farting, fathers, Founding Father, Founding Fathers Purity Myth, history, Literature, Mouse Trap, On Rhetoric, Playboy, Playboy Interview, Playboy September 2009, Satire, satisfaction, Science, Seth McFarlane, The Oath, Walter Isaacson
A title like Fart Proudly grabs you immediately and you realize that you not only need to read the book, you have to own it. The fact that it’s written by Benjamin Franklin and actually taught in college classrooms is just the way you defend it when you mother tsk tsk’s you when she catches you reading it. Your mother anyway, my mother loved the book and wanted to read it herself.
I read Fart Proudly in its entirety during graduate school when I needed an early American Lit course and decided to spend my semester reading famous American speeches, and while that semester was largely spent reading and dissecting Native American oratory, I made sure that Fart Proudly was on the reading list. My professor laughed, but didn’t object, for she often used the book when teaching the class to undergraduate students and in her own words, “The title just beckons.” I hadn’t come across the book through her class I’m ashamed to admit (she had a reputation as being one of the most difficult professors and so I pussied out), but actually through a friend who was taking the class. She had her books spread out over one of the tables in the writing center, a not uncommon sight for everyone did this at some point, and because I am the self-declared book whore I had to see what she was reading. Dr. Beebe had been right, the “title just beckons,” and so I picked the book up while my friend worked on her paper and I read a few of the passages.
I mean this without hyperbole, I actually laughed out loud. This is a rare occurrence, for while I have found several books funny, there’s only been two or three times a book has actually made me laugh out loud, the other two being Catch-22 and Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace. Fart Proudly is a book of rich and deep humanity, because it tries only to poke fun at day to day life, including its more morose moments. Take for instance the small poem The Oath:
Luke, on his dying Bed, embraced his Wife,
And begged one Favour: Swear, my dearest Life,
Swear, if you love me, never more to wed,
Nor take a second Husband to your Bed.
Anne dropt a Tear. You know, my dear, says she,
Your least Desires have still been Laws to me;
But from the Oath, I beg you’d me excuse;
For I’m already promised to John Hughes. (30).
It’s passages like this that remind me I want to go back and pursue my degree in American history, for it would provide me plenty of excuse to study Benjamin Franklin. Growing up in America the Founding Fathers are figures of contention for when you’re young the typical indoctrination is that the writers of the Declaration of Independence were perfect beings, devoid of flaws or human weakness. This image becomes contrasted as you age and experience the first “real” history teacher, who begins to show chinks in the armor of these ideal beings, and then eventually students will encounter teachers who will teach them that these men were slave owners, drunks, and hypocrites. Before the reader assumes I’m going to side with any one of them, I have to disappoint because my position is that all of these interpretations hold value. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did in fact own slaves, and John Adams was boring at parties (seriously who wants to play Mousetrap at a kegger? The damn game never works). These are facts that can’t be denied, but I would remind the reader that there is nothing so suspect as judging people in past with contemporary standards. I’m not excusing or condoning the owning of slaves, I’m just asking the reader to remember that the idea that slaves were people too was a paradigm that was slowly gaining in traction.
My aim isn’t to discuss the complexities and nuances inherent to studying and arguing about Colonial American historical discourse, because like the title suggests, this article is about the noble art of farting. I just want the reader to understand what model of man I’m working with here before I get into the book.
Benjamin Franklin is the troublesome founding father for many Americans, for while pundits on Fox news try desperately to pretend like the man doesn’t exist, and while Liberals try to turn him into some kind of enlightened genius plagued by rumors of his sexual voraciousness, Benjamin Franklin, the man tends to get lost. Just the other day I decided to begin a biography of Franklin, not his autobiography which I started once and had to stop because of school and Fraggle Rock (it was a weird weekend), but instead Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. Two chapters in and already the book is proving to be one of the best financial decisions of my life, and when approaching the life of Franklin Isaacson offers up what is in my mind, one of the best examples of what good biography should do:
Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us. George Washington’s colleagues found it hard to imagine touching the austere general on the shoulder, and we would find it even more so today. Jefferson and Adams are just as intimidating. But Ben Franklin, that ambitious urban entrepreneur, seems made of flesh rather than of marble, addressable by nickname, and he turns to us from history’s stage with eyes that twinkle from behind those newfangled spectacles. He speaks to us, through his letters and hoaxes and autobiography, not with ortund rhetoric but with a chattiness and clever irony that is very contemporary, sometimes unnervingly so. We see his reflection in our own time. (2).
It’s this spirit of man who wrote the essays, letters, reviews, and poems found within Fart Proudly, and the reason why I return to the book again and again. Washington is a man made of marble and legend; Franklin as a man is as much a scholar as he is a vulgarian, and for this he earns my eternal respect.
Looking through the book the best selection to choose from, for it best represents the book as a whole and even provides the inspiration for the title of the slim tome, is A Letter to a Royal Academy. Franklin studied the natural world throughout his life, and these observations eventually lead to him becoming one of the best scientists of his generation. He often read and contributed to scientific societies and documents, and in A Letter to a Royal Academy, which was in fact a real letter to a friend, Franklin is able to demonstrate his passion for science, as well poke a little fun at the institution of the Academy.
He says, with tongue firmly in cheek:
It is universally well known, that in digesting out common food, there is created or produced in the bowels of human creatures, a great quantity of wind.
That the permitting this air to escape and mix with the atmosphere, is usually offensive to the company, from the fetid smell that accompanies it.
That all well-bred people therefore, to avoid giving such offense, forcibly restrain the efforts of nature to discharge that wind.
That so retained contrary to nature, it not only gives frequently great present pain, but occasions future diseases, such as habitual cholics, ruptures, tympanies, &tc, often destructive for the constitution, & sometimes of life itself.
Were it not for the odiously offensive smell accompanying such escapades, polite people would probably be under no more restraint in discharging such wind in company, than they are in spitting, or in blowing their noses. (15).
It’s hard to put into words painful and pleasant recognition. I often get into debates with friends and colleagues who argue that fart jokes aren’t terribly funny, and while there are individuals who legitimately suffer from medical problems that result in uncontrollable flatulence who understandably don’t find farts terribly amusing, most of the criticism of fart jokes, and likewise farts themselves, is that enjoying them is an indication of stupidity or immaturity. I’ve written at length about my love for the television show Family Guy, which relies on farts for a majority of its comedy, and my love for the show is often looked upon as suspect. Farts smell bad, sometimes, and Franklin tries to argue that the only reason farts bother people as much as they do is because of that smell. If farts possessed no odor at all, he argues, then farting would be no different than sneezing or coughing, though people would still probably tell you to shush in a movie theatre.
Franklin’s creative aim in the letter however is scientific and so he makes the following proposal:
My Prize question therefore should be, To discover some drug wholesome and not disagreeable, to be mixed with our common food, or sauces, that shall render the natural discharges, of wind from our bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreeable as perfumes. (15).
The idea of pills that make farts smell better at first sounds ridiculous until you remember that there are pills on the market designed to make penises stiffer. Letter to a Royal Academy is not mocking science so much as it is mocking the standards of “moral” or “proper” behavior. In many ways Franklin’s letter is akin to On the Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde, for the Letter is in essence a “comedy of manners.” Franklin is poking fun at humanity who regard farts as monstrous or unwholesome despite the fact that, scientifically speaking, there’s nothing inherently wrong with farting. In fact, as the previous quote demonstrated, farts are a natural and healthy part of every individual biology.
To return to Family Guy for a moment, I remember a time when I actually received Playboy magazine on a regular basis (before they decided to cut the nudity from their magazine and become, I don’t know what) and my favorite part of the magazine was actually the Interview. I still hold to this day the September 2009 copy because the interview was with Seth McFaralane, a man who has become not just as a formative influence upon my life, but who is also in his own way reminding me why I enjoy Rat Pack music so much. At one point in the interview he’s asked about his “emotional age” and this brings up the topic of fart jokes on Family Guy.
Playboy: What would you say is your emotional age?
McFarlane: Maybe 97
Playboy: Really? It seems a lot more adolescent than that.
McFarlane: Yeah, it’s sort of a combination of 97 and 12. If somebody farts, I can get to laughing so hard I can’t breathe. But I sure do love the music of Nelson Riddle. I love Woody Allen movies, and I love watching Jackass. We’ve been criticized for being too crude and lowbrow on Family Guy. What in the world is wrong with that? That kind of laughter releases the healthiest endorphins. There’s something puritanical about people who object to fart jokes or shit jokes. It’s that puritanical idea that you shouldn’t have sex because it feels good—and that’s a sin. How can anything that makes you laugh that hard be bad in any way unless it’s harming somebody? Farts are good; they clean you out. (34).
McFarlane and Franklin come together beautifully then for both men advocate the release of farts, but more importantly the release of the elitism that surrounds farts. Rather than embrace biology, and laugh off what can be the most annoying and obnoxious part of our biology, there is a section of humanity that tries to ignore the cold (though sometimes hot if you’ve eaten spicy foods) reality of their bodies. The body digests food through a process of cellular respiration and during that process a fair amount of carbon dioxide and methane is produced, and because our species has yet to find a way to release that gas without producing funny smells and sounds, we’re all slaves to our biology which is rather loud, though sometimes sounds like Louis Armstrong’s trumpet. Rather than mourn this reality, or suggest that those who try to laugh off the pain of embarrassment are uncultured and immature, the only healthy approach is to laugh and remind yourself that life is absurd and ridiculous.
By purging your body of the fart, and the idea that there’s something wrong with farting, a real comfort arrives.
Franklin embraces this model of hedonism, and in fact explains it out as the more sage philosophic reality:
Are there twenty men in Europe at this day, the happier, or even easier, for any knowledge they have picked out of Aristotle? What comfort can the vortices of Descartes give to a man who has whirlwinds in his bowels. The knowledge of Newton’s mutual attraction of the particles of matter, can it afford ease t him who is racked by their mutual repulsion, and the cruel distention it occasions? The please arising to a few philosophers, from seeing, a few times in their life, the threads of light untwisted, and separated by the Newtonian Prism into seven colours[sic], can it be compared with the ease and comfort evert man living might feel seven times a day, by discharging freely the wing from his bowels? (17).
I am an avid reader, but I must concede to Franklin’s argument for the release of a fart has tended to provide more satisfaction to me than ever reading Aristotle. In fact, to be honest, between the choice of re-reading On Rhetoric again or laying a fart I would probably choose the fart. This is not because I don’t believe On Rhetoric has no merit as an intellectual product, but if my aim is to be happy and comfortable farting will honestly, realistically provide me with more comfort for afterwards I will probably laugh, move on with my life, and then eventually pick up On Rhetoric and learn about what makes Oedipus the King such an amazing play.
Fart Proudly offers up numerous essays that deal frankly with issues of sex, farting, and parodies of the seemingly endless rules and values of cultured society, and once again I look to Franklin the man rather than the “founding father.”
I’m a product of my time, for the last words always inspire distrust, because those people who talk about what “the founding fathers would have wanted” always come with their own agendas and the “fathers” are merely the justification for whatever action is desired. It all boils down to elitism and personal bias, and this is odious to me as an American because I am a patriot, and I am a man who understands that “fathers” tend to be human creatures; fathers are anything but ideal in this way. My father and grandfathers taught me plenty of lessons about life and liberty, but they also taught me the important lessons: like how to spit, where to pee in the woods, if you have to take a shit what do you use (or not use) to wipe your ass, and of course, what to say when you eventually fart. For the record I always taught to blame “frogs,” their croaks sounded suspiciously like the farts of a grown man who would laugh when mom sighed and told me grab him another beer.
Farting is a human act. It levels you in your reality and body and prevents you from developing an asinine elitism that is in fact only having your head up your ass. Fart Proudly, Franklin (really Carl Japikse the editor), argues, because there really isn’t any other way to that will keep you sane.
Because I like fart jokes, having a steady supply of them on hand is of a must and so I’ve provided a link below of one or two websites that provide the reader with all the fart jokes their hearts and gum could ever desire. Enjoy:
Amelia Airheart, anal penetration, Anal Sex, biography, Eleanor Roosevelt, Family Guy, Feminism, Gender Expectations, Hook, How to Make Love like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale, Jenna Jameson, Jumanji, Legend of Zelda, Mrs. Doubtfire, Playboy, Pornography, Pornography Industry, Pornosexuality, Rape, Robin Williams, sex, Sex Workers, Sexual Fantasy, Sexual politics, Sexual Rhetoric, Sexuality, slut, The Other, Tropic of Cancer
I’m part of a generation raised with porn. Before the reader begins to imagine my upbringing I need to clarify. While I did stumble upon my dad’s Playboys, and then eventually an actual porno VHS tape, porn was never “laying around” the house when I was growing up. My days were largely spent either playing Legend of Zelda on my Super Nintendo or else watching Robin Williams movies like Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire, or Jumanji. The lines “My first day as a woman, and I’m getting hot flashes” are sealed indelibly upon my psyche for the record. Pornography did eventually make its way into my life, but I was spared the hardcore stuff, in every sense of the word, until I had hit puberty in which case that was purely based upon my own research.
Still despite this porn was everywhere, I just didn’t recognize it as such. When I would read a statistic early in puberty that by age thirteen most kids of my generation will have seen at least 100 sexual images I was surprised and then at the same time not surprised. Films always seemed to have sex in them (I’m thinking of American Pie and that infamous flute), books like Tropic of Cancer or For Whom the Bell Tolls would contain descriptions of sensuality, advertising was brimming with sex based imagery, and Family Guy, my favorite television show, relied regularly on sex for jokes. Pornography then was really just the core media from which every aspect of visual culture was derived.
Still despite this prevalence, and free usage let’s be clear here, I never discovered the work of Jenna Jameson until I was at least sixteen or seventeen, and even then I didn’t have much consideration of her, her work, or what impact she would have upon society. She was yet another blond face in the seemingly endless ocean of naked bodies enjoying the mechanical performance of a sexuality I’ve taken to classify s pornosexuality. This is a sexual expression in which individuals engage in sex with members of the same and opposite sex and exhibit a near insatiable desire for single or multiple partners.
Jenna Jameson may not be the President of the United States (yet, if Trump can run now anybody can), neither is she a diplomat nor an accomplished public orator, but her voice and body has been part of many individual’s personal sexual experiences, and also their reading habits. Including mine.
About two years ago I stumbled upon How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale when I was working up my courage to actually stand and stay in the Sexuality section of the Half Priced Book Store. My hormones hadn’t completely calmed down, but I was getting to that point where a picture of boobs no longer left a me two-hundred-pound ape grunting and groping the air. More importantly I was becoming interested in sexuality not only as a fun activity, but also as a discourse unto itself. Buying up books about homosexual men, sexual expression, the history of lesbianism in early Europe, the history of cultural attitudes about the penis, and sexual behavior in history was intoxicating and while I gathered up a small pile I turned and saw Jameson’s book. I’d seen it before on book shelves but I never had the nerve to actually open it and read it. I added it to the pile, bought it, and began to read.
When the biography was published in 2004 it spent six weeks on the best seller, for all the reasons you probably suspect. One passage alone can probably reveal everything:
Anal Sex. Anal fucking sex. Brown-hole spelunking, rusty-can-expanding, colon tickling anal fucking sex.
I know you’re interesting now because just about everyone is interested in doing it up the butt, whether it’s because they want it, their partner wants it, or they’re just curious. (323).
Now personally before throwing the concept of anal sex into my writing I like to start off either with a joke or an amusing anecdote about Beanie Babies, but then again I’m not a porn star. These few lines are similar to numerous passages throughout the book, and while this particular example of bad rhetoric is designed to entice the reader further, it should be noted that it actually does serve the larger purpose of starting a chapter dedicated to the realities of being a female porn-star. It also is an opportunity for Jameson to reveal a bit of herself, and given the fact this book is a memoir first a bit of self-disclosure is appropriate:
For me to allow a man to have anal sex with me, I must have trust first. Because to be on the receiving end of anal sex is to give yourself completely to your partner. […] And that’s why despite the fact that it is practically an industry standard to have anal sex in every sex scene, I’ve never done it in a film.
It has become a constant issue for me. I’ve been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to do anal. But even if I walked away with $300,000 for having done it, I would also be taking away the feeling that I gave up something that was really important to me. This is almost embarrassing for a porn star to admit, but I’ve only given that up to three men, all of whom I really loved. (323).
She follows this on the next page with:
If you come into this industry as a woman, you need to have a clearly defined set of guidelines and boundaries for yourself. That’s how you maintain your sanity. And every person I know has a different standard they hold themselves to. (324).
This passage may in fact hold some kind of feminist statement though I recognize immediately just writing that puts me in a precarious position. A cisgender man, even if he is bi-sexual, writing about a pornstar’s memoir and arguing that it’s a feminist document, or contains feminist sentiment, reeks of bad apology and by that I mean it sounds fucking pathetic and sad. Many men before, some of them good writers but most of them just terrible, have attempted to make the argument that a woman starring in porn can have a feminist position, but when you’re making the argument with your dick in your hands it’s a little difficult to take that argument seriously. Even if I don’t watch Jenna Jameson videos regularly, I do believe this passage has some feminist argument behind it.
Whether or not you like porn, or agree that it should even exist, the fact that Jenna Jameson places responsibility of her body, and more importantly control over her body in her own hands rather than in someone else’s is a feminist statement. As such the contesters of this position typically fall back upon the standard yet reliable weapon, namely the word slut.
The arguments against female pornstars are often reduced down into the sentiment that they’re simply sluts. As such nothing they say or do should really be taken seriously because no slut should be taken seriously. There’s a conflict with this however because it is “othering.” By reducing a woman into the title of slut, a critic turns her into an “other” a being that doesn’t represent any kind of humanity and therefore any and all treatment of them is acceptable. I’ve written before that I don’t care much for the word slut. It’s not a pretty word linguistically, it’s almost always used as a pejorative term, and the individuals who typically use it usually seem to possess a holier than thou stance in their approach to life. Slut is used as a weapon to reduce women rather than raise them but at this point the contester emerges.
So what? Jenna Jameson is a pornstar, and the memoir isn’t written by Tolstoy, so why should I bother reading it?
This is a fair question because not even I have full answer to this one. How to Make Love Like a Pornstar: A Cautionary Tale is not literature or art by any means, and in terms of biographies of famous women the lives of Amelia Airheart and Eleanor Roosevelt are almost certainly more the model most parents would prefer their daughters to aspire to. The lack of creativity concerning prose, and the actual details of Jameson’s life creates a conflict when trying to defend this book as art, or at least an important cultural object. However, I will argue that part of the importance of this book was the conversation it started.
Pornography is, at least in America, is an institution that is beloved and despised simultaneously. Before Jenna Jameson’s biography few sex workers had the bravery, or even outlet, to write about their life outside of a few publishing companies sympathetic towards the industry. When Jameson’s biography was published this changed. How to Make Love Like a Pornstar not only proved that pornstar biographies could reach a mass market, it validated the idea that sex workers were a functioning figure in the American cultural landscape. Traci Lords, Asa Akira, Terra Patrick, and Monica Mayhem are just a few of the well-known pornstars to have written memoirs following the success of Jenna Jameson, and in the last few years Belle Knox, the Duke University Student who starred in porn films to pay for her tuition, told her story effectively writing herself into a feminist icon for her generation. Women in pornography are no longer just sluts, they are in fact individual women creating a career and life for themselves that actively involves their bodies.
Jameson’s book addresses this old argument however, by offering her reader a real moment of her humanity. Later in the book she describes an interview she gave during the height of her career on the Howard Stern Program. Stern asked her the usual sexual based question, it is Howard Stern and he has a reputation to live up to, but during the interview he began to ask her if she was in porn because she had a rotten childhood, or if because she was ever abused or molested. Jameson reveals that she said no but that the question summoned the memory of being viciously gang raped by a bunch of football players when she was a teenager. She says no and describes the attack, and just to be clear I won’t repeat the attack here because I refuse to out of general principle. What is important is her reflection on the experience and why she told Howard no:
It had only flashed through my consciousness a couple of times since then, but Howard’s question—I’d never been asked anything so direct—brought the images flooding back. I understood what he was trying to get at. The question had crossed my mind before: Was I in this business because I was victimized or because I wanted to succeed at something? I examined it from every angle I could, and every time came to the same conclusion: that it didn’t make a shred of difference. It occurred too late in my development to be formative. Whether it happened or not, I still would have become a porn star. I’ve been through enough therapists to know that.
I’ve never told about either the Montana experience or the one with Preacher because I don’t want to be thought of as a victim. I want to be judged by who I am as a person, not by what happened to me. In fact, all the bad things have only contributed to my confidence and sense of self, because I survived them and became a better and stronger person for it.
Ultimately, what really matters is not just the experiences you have at a young age, but whether or not you are equipped—by your parents, your genetics, by your education—to survive and deal with them. (395).
This passage for me is ultimately what demonstrates the value of How to Make Love Like a Pornstar, and what should compel the reader to at least attempt this memoir. I recognize going forward that I haven’t addressed the issue of the pornography industry for the most part, and so it may appear that I condone the manipulation of young girls entering the industry hoping for the kind of fame that actresses like Jameson have achieved. For the record, I don’t. The pornography industry is a business that regularly leaves young women metaphorically and literally screwed and Jameson’s book factually and unromantically addresses this problem.
Porn captures the imagination of the culture it entertains and Jameson’s book ultimately reveals that. Millions of people bought the book with its colorful passages and numerous photographs showing boob after boob after boob, and this desire to know and understand Jameson revealed something about American culture. It’s unlikely that the book will survive the battle against history, but it does stand as an important document that revealed that almost everyone’s browsing history held some dark sticky gem. Those readers eager and desperate to read a tragic story were horribly disappointed, while those readers eager to read about sex got their money’s worth while also reading about a woman who possessed a strength which defied an industry which has, and continues to do so, leave many women defeated, used, or destroyed.
Rather than besmirch it, deny it, or call it a slut however, Jameson’s book allowed a glimpse into the life of a real woman who achieved her success by the choices she made.
It’s not Gloria Steinem, but it’s difficult to find a more feminist message than that.
I’ve tried my best to explain why I feel that this book is a relevant document for contemporary society, but let me make one last argument. Sex workers face a real stigma in our society because their work exists within the double standard. People like and enjoy sex, and they enjoy watching sex, however because no one wants to acknowledge their sexual desire sex workers are typically dehumanized, cast as sluts and perverts, and receive verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Reading Jenna Jameson’s biography in many ways is an act that liberates the reader from this behavior because it forces the reader to acknowledge that she is actually a human being. Pornstars are people, living breathing people with their own personalities, dreams, ambitions, desires, and problems and the sooner society acknowledges this then there can be real progress in combatting the stigma that leads to negative behavior that these people typically have to suffer from the self-righteous or sexually frustrated who usually make their lives miserable. It also helps society by letting people admit freely that they consume pornography as a product, thus opening public, and honest, conversations about sex and whether or not the porn that is being produced honestly conveys a healthy sexual response and behavior.
Here’s a few links to articles about porn-star biographies, either the individual books or else the larger trend of pornstars writing biographies. Hope you enjoy or else find them interesting:
**Writer’s Note UPDATE 8-23-2017**
Since this article was published the periodical WIRED, a technology based magazine, has recently written an article about the inevitability of children being exposed to porn and what that will mean for parents. If the reader is at all interested they can follow the link below and read the article, which, I would highly recommend.
"Nice Guy" Complex, American Creative Landscape, American Landscape, Bettie Boop, Bob Hoskins, body humor, Bugs Bunny, Buster Keaton, Calvin and Hobbes, Charlie Chaplin, Christopher Lloyd, Disney, Eddie Valiant, Film, Film Noire, film review, Hook, Humor, Jessica Rabbit, Judge Doom, Laughter, Literature, Loony Tunes, Mickey Mouse, mortality, Murder Mystery, Playboy, Porky Pig, Roger Rabbit, Sexual Rhetoric, The Pagemaster, Toons, Totalitarianism, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Wiley Coyote
Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse on the same screen will never happen again. The reality of licensing issues, as well as Disney’s general soullessness will prevent their beloved Mickey from ever appearing on screen alongside Bugs Bunny who’s fallen upon hard times in recent reboots. The other problem is the fact that the last time he was on screen alongside the infamous rabbit the following scene appeared:
Bugs Bunny: [Eddie is falling; Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, both wearing parachutes, join him] Eh, what’s up, Doc? Jumpin’ without a parachute? Kinda dangerous, ain’t it?
Eddie Valiant: Yeah.
Mickey Mouse: Yeah. You could get killed. Heh, heh.
Eddie Valiant: You guys got a spare?
Mickey Mouse: Uh, Bugs does.
Eddie Valiant: Yeah?
Bugs Bunny: Yeah, but I don’t think you want it.
[in a sing-song tone]
Eddie Valiant: I do, I do. Give it to me!
Mickey Mouse: Gee, uh, better let him have it, Bugs.
Bugs Bunny: Okay, Doc. Whatever you say. Here’s the spare.
Eddie Valiant: Thank you.
Eddie Valiant: [Mickey and Bugs deploy parachutes; Eddie pulls ripcord on parachute, and a car tire comes out] Aw, no! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!
Mickey Mouse: Aw, poor fella. Ha ha.
Bugs Bunny: Yeah, ain’t I a stinker?
I remember being a kid and watching this scene enraptured by the fact that Mickey Mouse could appear alongside Bugs Bunny, who was always my favorite of the two (he just had more character than Mickey) on the same screen. Even at that age I understood the basics of corporate copyright and that even though it would be awesome for the pair of them to star in a cartoon together, the adults in charge of such decisions didn’t want it because it would be complicated, cost money, and that you’d probably have to involve lawyers. I take some pride in recognizing that even at that age I realized that most lawyers were subhuman. Still watching this scene just the other day with my family I was amazed even then that such a moment could actually happen. That’s why the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Has remained not only one of my favorite films, but also one that leaves me intrigued.
Before I get to that though I need to address Jessica Rabbit.
My first introduction of the character wasn’t actually her vivacious performance in the film, but actually a few cartoons of her in one of my father’s Playboys. I’ve written before that I would often steal these magazines and look through them entranced by the naked women found therein, but between my careful studies of the centerfolds I actually really enjoyed the comics and artwork. Jessica Rabbit, before I knew who she was, was one of my favorites for two obvious reasons: the first was her two curvaceous breasts and the second was her ridiculous body shape, see what I did there? Since the film premiered in 1988, Jessica Rabbit has become a cartoon sex symbol before Japanese tentacle porn became a parody of itself. Straight men everywhere had collected hard-ons for Jessica Rabbit, and the following lines were memorized by puberty-stricken boys (like I was some painfully short time ago) everywhere:
Jessica Rabbit: You don’t know how hard it is being a woman looking the way I do.
Eddie Valiant: You don’t know how hard it is being a man looking at a woman looking the way you do.
Jessica Rabbit: I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.
The various boobs puns and physical jokes made Who Framed Roger Rabbit the secretly adult film that everybody enjoyed. The conflict became, as so often happens, with young men who couldn’t get laid turning her character into a fetish. Roger Rabbit, Jessica’s husband, is a dork and a nerd by any standards and so the relationship has become a kind of symbol for bitter men everywhere. The attitude of “Girls should like me because I’m a nice guy” has festered into something perverse and Jessica Rabbit became a prominent figure in this fucked up farce of manners. Jessica Rabbit, with her fleshy plump boobs, was the girl every guy wanted to get, and the boys who watched the film figured that because they were dorks like Roger that meant that they “deserved” a girl as equally attractive.
The problem with this mentality is that it’s bullshit.
The relationship between Roger and Jessica was never about Jessica feeling that Roger deserved her, and in fact had these bitter men been paying attention they would have noticed this. Roger is a dork and a clutz, but he treats his wife with respect. Rather than worshipping her, or lavishing affection on her solely because she’s beautiful, Roger treats her as an equal. Roger doesn’t see a woman with massive breasts, he sees a woman whom he loves and respects and in this way Who Framed Roger Rabbit? managed to give one of the most missed feminist narratives in cinematic history.
Likewise many young men apparently missed a subtle important lesson later in the plot:
Eddie Valiant: Seriously, what do you see in that guy?
Jessica Rabbit: He makes me laugh.
Case and point: Just because you’re nice doesn’t mean you’re going to get the girl; you’ve got to do something that impresses her enough to realize your worth her time and humor certainly helps.
This review isn’t just about Jessica Rabbit’s breasts and feminism however, for while at first the film may appear just a wacky romp involving a once in a lifetime merging of licensing and corporate products, the film is actually one of the great murder mystery movies of all time. The reason for this success is really Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd. These two men hold a special place in my heart as actors because both men starred in films that helped shape my early mind and self. Christopher Lloyd shall always be the wacky librarian from The PageMaster, and Bob Hoskins will always be Mr. Smee from the movie Hook. While neither men achieved A-list celebrity status in their life they both managed throughout their careers as actors to bring something unique to their craft as well as their performances.
Bob Hoskins plays Eddie Valiant, a former police detective who’s retired after his brother was murdered by a toon in a place called Toon-Town. For the record his brother had a piano dropped on his head and no that isn’t a joke. It is but it isn’t, does that make sense? Down on his luck and struggling with alcoholism Eddie’s hired by R.K. Maroon, head of Maroon pictures to take photographs of Roger Rabbit’s wife. He discovers that Jessica Rabbit is playing Patty-Cake with Marvin Acme (the hand game, phrasing, though it really is just patty-cake) and when Roger Rabbitt find out he goes nuts. When Marvin Acme has a safe dropped on his head everybody looks to Roger, especially a character by the name of Judge Doom. The film follows Roger and Eddie as the two of them try desperately to prove Roger’s innocence and figure out “who dunnit?” Signs point originally to Roger, then Jessica, then R.K. Maroon, then finally to Judge Doom played by Lloyd.
Christopher Lloyd, as I said before, will always be the cooky librarian from The PageMaster, as well as the Pagemaster himself, and in many ways it’s disgraceful how underappreciated he is as an actor. Playing Judge Doom the man manages to outperform almost everyone apart from Hoskins, the pinnacle point being his brief monologue explaining why he wants to destroy Toon-Town and all cartoons period:
Judge Doom: [Explaining his plan to wipe out Toon Town] A few weeks ago I had the good providence to stumble upon a plan of the city council. A construction plan of epic proportions. We’re calling it a freeway.
Eddie Valiant: Freeway? What the hell’s a freeway?
Judge Doom: Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena. Smooth, safe, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.
Eddie Valiant: So that’s why you killed Acme and Maroon? For this freeway? I don’t get it.
Judge Doom: Of course not. You lack vision, but I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day, all night. Soon, where Toon Town once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it’ll be beautiful.
It’s difficult to accurately convey how hilarious this plan is unveiled, and while from afar it seems ridiculous the reason is because it is. The film is set in 1947, before the Eisenhower administration would begin the massive infrastructure project that would actually make this “freeway” a reality. The joke of course is that nobody would build this monstrosity because it would reduce the natural “beauty” of the Californian landscape, not to mention destroy Toon-Town which brings people true happiness. Judge Doom doesn’t care however for its ultimately revealed that he himself is a homicidal toon, the very toon in fact who killed Eddie’s brother.
The reader may at this point wonder what the real artistic merit of this ridiculous film could be? By the sounds of it the film is ludicrous and possibly sexist and so what value could there be other than the nostalgia factor of watching Loony Tunes and Disney characters intermingle?
This is a fair question given the fact that from afar this film may not seem to possesses much depth, but in fact Who Framed Roger Rabbit? explores an important idea: the American Creative Landscape.
Animation was not invented Americans, but it was certainly developed and processed by them. Men like Walt Disney through his Mickey Mouse and Goofy specials steadily introduced new possibilities for storytelling through animation. The physical stunts of Goofy remain a standard of physical comedy equal to actors like Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton. Much later when Warner Brothers would begin to fashion the characters of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, and Wiley Coyote, these standards and story structures would alter as the slapstick of ACME inventions and “Wabbit Season” became not just amusing shorts, but the defining images of a generation. Toons are an American invention and the landscape they inhabit typically involves the American landscape. Take Wiley Coyote, the man, or coyote really, who defined the term quagmire. His relentless efforts to capture the Roadrunner to satisfy his hunger always take place on the American highway, specifically the western plains of Utah and Colorado with its steeps and canyons. Bugs Bunny, still history’s greatest winner, came to embody the idea of America and what America stood for. It wouldn’t be until Jim Henson created Kermit the Frog that Americans would have a non-human that so embodied the American spirit. I may be gushing now, but all that I am attempting to convey is the fact that generations of young people grew up watching Loony Tunes and Disney movies, and so in many ways cartoons constitute a greater reality for people of my and previous generations than their own government or elected officials.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a murder mystery but it is also a reproduction of consciousness. Watching cartoons growing up, laughing at them, and internalizing these characters there’s a moment in the film that should create a necessary pause for reflection. Eddie’s stopped Roger from entertaining some drunks in a bar:
Eddie Valiant: You crazy rabbit! I’m out there risking my neck for you, and what are you doing? Singing and dancing!
Roger Rabbit: But I’m a toon. Toons are supposed to make people laugh.
Eddie Valiant: Sit down!
Roger Rabbit: You don’t understand. Those people needed to laugh.
Eddie Valiant: Then when they’re done laughing, they’ll call the cops. That guy Angelo would rat on you for a nickel.
Roger Rabbit: Not Angelo. He’d never turn me in.
Eddie Valiant: Why? Because you made him laugh?
Roger Rabbit: That’s right! A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have.
An old expression goes “first kill all the lawyers.” In dictatorship there’s another adage: “First kill all the writers.” Power is a force and influence that holds sway over our reality because ultimately every human being attempts in some way to achieve it and hold fast to it; the moral degenerates of society that desire power so that they may stamp out their own failings despise laughter because ultimately power is reduced by laughter. The reason a society protects the rights of comedians and writers to tell jokes is because it allows the people, who hold lesser powers than the chiefs of state, to feel for a moment that they are equal. Laughing at Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush impression, at Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression, and Dan Akroid’s Regan impression humanized those men because people began to remember that politicians are human beings, fallible human beings. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is not a political film by any means, but this small clip is a reminder of the power that power holds over people.
Characters like Bugs Bunny, Goofy, and Bettie Boop are in many ways more real than Kings and Presidents because they have contributed more directly to people’s personal lives. Laughing at Wiley Coyote blowing himself was always more real than the Monica Lewinsky scandal as a kid because it had more pressing relevance. Laughing at the coyote’s failure was a way of coping with the chaotic, and at times, malevolent real world that was childhood. When I watched him blow up I didn’t think about being picked on because I was bad at sports, or that I felt like I wasn’t a good son to my father, or about the way my grandparents would fight. Laughter is the only way to combat the real absurdity of human existence.
For example, combatting the prospect of death, one can always fall back upon the old gags:
[Judge Doom about to “dip” Roger]
Eddie Valiant: Hey, Judge. Doesn’t a dying rabbit deserve a last request?
Roger Rabbit: Yeah, nose plugs would be nice.
Eddie Valiant: I think you want a drink. So, how about it, Judge?
Judge Doom: Well, why not? I don’t mind prolonging the execution.
Eddie Valiant: Happy trails.
Roger Rabbit: No thanks, Eddie. I’m trying to cut down.
Eddie Valiant: Drink the drink.
Roger Rabbit: But I don’t want the drink.
Judge Doom: He doesn’t want the drink.
Eddie Valiant: He does.
Roger Rabbit: I don’t.
Eddie Valiant: You do.
Roger Rabbit: I don’t.
Eddie Valiant: You do.
Roger Rabbit: I don’t.
Eddie Valiant: You do.
Roger Rabbit: I don’t.
Eddie Valiant: You don’t.
Roger Rabbit: I do.
Eddie Valiant: You don’t.
Roger Rabbit: I do.
Eddie Valiant: You don’t.
Roger Rabbit: [taking drink] Listen, when I say I do, that means I do.
[Roger smokes up, releasing himself from Judge Doom, and Eddie takes out the Weasels]
Ultimately no one knows who Judge Doom really was, or why he did the things he did, but in the end a gathering of Toons assembles when Acme’s will is discovered and it all ends with Porky Pig saying goodbye to the audience. Toons embody a plane of the human consciousness that is ultimately unknowable, but their power over us is undeniable and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is about exploring that terrain. On the one hand watching Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny fall together in one shot is about nostalgia and pathos, but on the other hands it’s an opportunity to look upon the physical gag of opening a parachute and finding a tire instead. It’s a cheap gag, and will make you laugh, but in that moment the world is reduced to a memory and philosophic opportunity.
Laughing at Eddie Valiant fall is remembering the joke, and for a moment parting with who we are to abandon ourselves to sheer absurdity. Reality is weird and even after thousands of years human beings really have no idea what is going on in existence. Faced with such overwhelming absurdity laughing at a rabbit get a fridge dropped on his head really isn’t that far away from recognizing your own mortality and laughing it off.
And so, as a great man once said:
Porky Pig: All right. M-m-m-ove along now. Th-th-there’s nothing left to see here. That’s all folks. Mmm, I like the sound of that.
Porky Pig: [turns to audience; iris closes in on Porky and “Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” plays on soundtrack]
Porky Pig: Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!
There wasn’t really an opportunity to include it in the essay but in one of my favorite Calvin Hobbes sketches the two friends are walking through the woods talking about absurdity and how odd it is that human beings laugh at it. If you pay attention there’s a moment of philosophic and comedic brilliance that could only ever be achieved by Bill Waterson. Enjoy:
Aristotle, Creative Writing, Discourse, Essais, Essay, Experimental Essay, Finnegan's Wake, Friedrich Nietzsche, James Joyce, Mark Twain Annual, Michel de Montaigne, Oxford Dictionary, Playboy, Prime Numbers, The New Yorker, Ulysses, Webster's Dictionary
Every time I begin a post for this blog I always find myself being bitten in the back of the neck by a loathsome yet annoyingly poignant pixie. This pixie, apart from keeping sentiment as far away from these writings as humanly possible asks me an important question as I struggle to spit out at least one or two sentences: Have you done anything new or important to the medium of the essay?
This I feel is an unfair question, principally because it’s so damn important.
Anyone who has had to suffer through a high school literature course (speaking as a graduate student in English I’m being honest, few teachers possess the skill to make the class seem really useful or enjoyable. Not that’s their fault, I mean, it’s high school after all) has had to construct an essay. I say construct because in all honesty, few of us actually wrote those things. Few of us really had an ability to analyze, even those few lucky fuckers who were making “A’s.” This will not be a terribly long essay, in fact it will be more akin to a regular blog post.
Observe exhibit A, the usual blend of internet honesty: I am only writing this because it’s been weeks and people have stopped viewing the page as frequently as they used to.
Observe Exhibit B: poor USE of gramer, yu c?
Very well, I have been CLEVER, but have I really said anything? It’s one thing to simply say you are going to do something new with a particular form, it is an entirely different matter to actually accomplish it. James Joyce and Friedrich Nietzsche both PROPHESIZED with their PENS—to quote a great man who now has to do car commercials for money—that they would create works that would leave scholars puzzled for years. Anyone who’s read one page of Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake understands this.
The conflict with this FALSE opinion is that it reveals a great ignorance as to what constitutes an essay. As I said before in a previous essay (https://jsjammersmith.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/an-elephant-never-forgets/) the form has been attributed to Michele de Montaigne in his book Essais, which were general musings about life, politics, romance, culture, economics, pretty much whatever was moving outside his window that morning. Now while Mike may have made something NEW, I have been informed that the idea that he created the form is INCORRECT. Before I chase a rabbit let’s stay focused. Why do I need essays?
–An essay is the expression of an idea in prose form. Why don’t we also go to Websters and see what they say?
I like to get as many examples as possible so let’s try Oxford too.
Quoting definitions is a practice I have condemned, but as long as we’re defining words to start a conversation rather than dictation, we should be fine. Look at these definitions though and my point about the essay’s usefulness to our society becomes more significant. Rather than say a thought out effort consisting of: an introductory paragraph including a thesis, three or more body paragraphs building upon the thesis statement, and finally a conclusion, it says instead “an attempt.” The essay is an experiment, an opportunity to place words together and determine whether those words assume a meaning once they have been compiled and hopefully, but not always, EDITED for CLARITY.
What then could an essay be?
The LIST could continue but I believe I’ve gone far enough. Now looking at this list it strikes me that almost anything could be an essay. Does this then denigrate the relevance of the form to our lives. Will essays continue in this interpretation to be something valuable or meaningful to our society.
This question is irrelevant as it is idiotic. I’m not interested in expressing what will happen to the ESSAY, I am worried about if I am doing anything new or different with the form!
Experimentation then becomes the ticket. The CONFLICT becomes, does the author then simply experiment in hopes that the assorted mess of his or her creativity will amount to any real statement or message about the form of an essay, that they will in their time and effort create something new or different that OTHERS will assume possesses significance. My experience, and simultaneously my counter argument is that
while form and experimentation is good
for creating new ideas that forever alter our
PERCEPTIONS, making a real message is what matters,
A study of literature shows that, nothing is really NEW,
Or original. Everything, EVERYTHING, has been said or spoken before, the only thing that matters,
Is how the MESSAGE, Is Received.
The end goal of this blog has been to understand and appreciate literature, which I have come to understand as the discourse of human ideas and emotions. If the essay is the essence of our CONVERSATIONS, then shouldn’t they be great. More importantly, they should challenge us to continue to understand the conversation and see that while another’s experiment may be DIFFERENT, as long as we put forth an effort to TRY and understand the other side, there is still a point to making a conversation.
Unless you’re in line for stamps, in which case try this: http://www.stamps.com/welcome/
1984, A Modest Proposal, Animal Farm, Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion, Essay, Expose, Feminism, Gloria Steinem, Hugh Hefner, I Was a Playboy Bunny, Individual Will, Isabella St. James, journalism, Literature, mysogeny, Playboy, Playboy Bunnies, Playboy Club, Satire, sex, Sexual Fantasy, sexual idealism, Sexual politics, syphilis, Totalitarianism
It has been the concerted effort of this blog and these essays to demonstrate that the study of literature can be more than “recognizing the Pipe as a symbol for patriarchy,” and in my last essay I touched upon the idea of sexual domination (no, not the fun kind) through a study of Richard Wilbur’s poem Playboy. It’s important, when approaching an argument, to get multiple viewpoints and Gloria Steinem is a writer brings so much to the table already. It would be irresponsible then not to discuss what is in my mind one of the most powerful (and yes, wonderfully hilarious) essays, I Was A Playboy Bunny.
This effort of gonzo journalism (enacted before Hunter S. Thompson had taken that first snort and forever set the standard for the medium) has defined the career of Gloria Steinem, for it created such a profound statement concerning the reality of the porn industry at this time. Written as a journal, Steinem auditioned for a job at the then popular Playboy club in New York that had been running ads insinuating that being a Playboy Bunny was, in essence, the equal experience of celebrity and adventurer. Her actual experience speaks for itself and I will my best to sample a few pieces of the prose to gain a real idea of what this woman actually experienced. When the essay was actually published Hugh Hefner was less than thrilled to say the least. Steinem has commented in interviews (in a tone that masterfully employs sarcasm but retains that almost Voltairesque smirk) that it seemed to her that Hefner’s greatest criticism of her essay was that the job wasn’t glamorous.
The work begins with an advertisement and right away we’re struck by the sales pitch
Do Playboy Club Bunnies Really
Have Glamorous Jobs,
Meet Celebrities, And
Make Top Money?
Yes, it’s true! Attractive young girls can now earn $200-$300 a week
At the fabulous New York Playboy Club, enjoy the glamorous and
exciting aura of show business, and have an opportunity to travel to
other Playboy clubs throughout the world. Whether serving drinks,
snapping pictures, or greeting guests at the door, the Playboy Club is
the stage—the Bunnies are the stars.
A quick observance of the rhetoric is enough to know that the writer aims only to titillate without generating any reasonable thought. The word glamorous appears twice, and throughout the essay Steinem observes the employees, higher ranking employees, continually employ this term to describe what turns out in fact to be nothing more than a stressful nightmare. Every word in the first sentence is capitalized (a trick that should be restricted to the field of literature for it accomplishes nothing in non-fiction prose) followed by a short snippet that sounds as if it was manufactured in a cheap snake oil salesman’s limited imagination. Followed by the invitation to consider the employment, we’re introduced to a promise of significant pay (even by today’s standards) and then the suggestion that employment at this establishment will allow a young woman the opportunity to be become world traveled. Best of all is the final remark in which the word glamorous haunts the reader yet again as it indicates “Bunnies are the stars.” My god who does not wish to be a bunny? To a young and impressionable mind that does not yet understand the concept of “the sales pitch” this advertisement would seem to appear to be an invitation to a kind of immortality. Achieving the position of “Bunny” then, is not only an affirmation of beauty (take note “attractive young girls,” there’s always thatcatch) but also a stepping stone or rite of passage ushering oneself into the position of woman. The desire to be recognized and admired is a recurring human weakness brought about by the power structure of society. Young women (and young men, I was going to be a rock star till I discovered I had no musical talent or real ambition) desire attention, because popularity has been demonstrated by our culture to indicate worth.
But let us return to Ms Steinem(get it…because she helped found Ms Magazine?…oh forget you that’s funny). The language employed within the essay is as well crafted and demonstrates a real satirist wit for it knows exactly when and where to offer the right information. Upon receiving the job she tells us that she is given a book referred to as “The Playboy Bible.” She samples a few pages from the text for us and the impression we get from the actual Bunny-customer relationship speaks volumes.
There is a problem in being “friendly” and “pampering” the customer while refusing to go out with him or even give him your last name. The manual makes it abundantly clear that Bunnies must never go out with anyone met in the club—customer or employee—and adds that a detective agency called Willmark Service systems, Inc., has been employed make sure that they don’t. (“Of course, you can never tell when you are being checked out by a Willmark Service representative.”) The explanation written for the bunnies is simple: “Men are very excited about being in the company of Elizabeth Taylor,
but they know they can’t paw or position her. The moment they felt they could become familiar with her, she would not have the aura of glamor that surrounds her, the same must be true of Bunnies”
Yet again that word glamor appears. I forewarned in a previous essay about the phrase, “let us consider the definition” but for the sake of this argument let us at least concern the etymology. Glamorous is rooted back to a Scottish word gramarye, which roughly translated amounts to “magic, enchantment, or spell.” Hopefully you should see where this is going. The Playboy Corporation continually advertised the glamor and myth of the Playboy universe to both men and women, but we observe that once women have entered into the system the myth alters. Steinem further reports to us
If the idea of being merchandised isn’t enough to unnerve a prospective Bunny, there are other directives that may. Willmark representatives are to check girls for heels that are too low, runs in their hose, jewelry, underwear that shows, crooked or unmatched ears, dirty costumes, absence of name tags, and “tails in good order.” Further: “When a show is on, check to see if Bunnies are reacting to the performers. When a comic is on, they are supposed to laugh. Big Brother Willmark is watching you.
The lat line is Steinem’s and demonstrates her ability as a dissenter as well as an excellent journalist. The allusion to Orwell’s text 1984 does not miss the mark at all for it becomes clear that should a woman decide to become a Bunny, rather than achieve the glamor spell and enjoy the perks derived from it, they find themselves prisoners to it. Much as Winston Smith, the gloomy anti-hero of the Orwellian Nightmare, is not free from the ever-present eyes of Big Brother, so it appears a Bunny is not free from the cronies of their employer. They must be on guard constantly, desperate for the maintenance of their physical appearance, but most odious of all is the thought crime aspect. Bunnies must react to performers, in accordance with the mass mood. A woman in this position is already too concerned whether her tail is clean, whether her seems are straight, or whether she has worn the right heels with the correct costume. What business does this woman have trying to follow a stage presence? It becomes clear that the Playboy club is managing a miniature totalitarian state designed to please only the male customers hungry for the spell of “glamor.”
There is enough here to further observe the dehumanization of women by the ever recurring moniker of “bunny” rather than human, but let me continue a little further before we get to this point. Following her actual employment at the Playboy club she informs her reader that she was required as a waitress, pay especial note to that part, to have a physical examination including a Wasserman Test. For those who do not know what this is, it is a test for syphilis. Steinem attends the appointment and asks the point of such an exam.
“This is the part all the girls hate,” said the doctor, and took blood from my arm for the Wasserman test. I told him that testing for venereal disease seemed a little ominous. “Don’t be silly,” he said, “all the employees have to do it. You’ll know everyone in the club is clean.” I said that their being clean didn’t really effect me and that I objected to being put through these tests. Silence. He asked me to stand to “see if your legs are straight.” “Okay,” I said, “I have to have a Wassermann. But what about the internal examination? Is that required of waitresses in New York State?”
“What do you care?” he said. “It’s free and it’s for everybody’s good.”
Once more the veil of glamor begins to fade. It seems, as the essay goes on, that what Playboy is most afraid of is vaginas. What difference should it make that a woman is unfortunate enough to have a venereal disease, if the Bible of the organization prohibits Bunnies from fornicating with the customers, and there is an established security Gestapo ensuring such behavior is banned, then what good could possibly be derived by having women’s lady parts checked out? Once again we return to the idea of glamor and sexual politics. There is no good reason. Playboy’s directions (erection puns spring to mind and I have an outstanding limerick for this but I shall abstain for now) demonstrate only an effort to sell the myth of sex where there is none. The female employees of the Playboy club are lured in by a promise of opportunity and excitement receiving only corns, back problems, self-esteem nightmares, and barely enough cash-in-hand to pay a taxi let alone pay for a plane ticket to travel the world. In short the entire system is a mockery, a spell designed to entrap any that may come close enough, and indeed, the Playboy presented seems to posses the ravenous strategy of an angler fish luring its prey with its bioluminescent headpiece before devouring it whole.
Steinem’s essay is an essential piece of literature for, like Animal Farm, it is a warning against idealism, and much like Johnathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, it’s a scathing satire against bullshit. Much like the animals on Manor Farm, numerous young women bought into the Playboy myth hoping to become something more than themselves. Much like the Irish selling their children to be devoured by the English so were many girls, for lack of a better phrase, devoured by the myth of Playboy and the ravenous men that flocked to it hoping to get laid. A lifetime of anonymity in the mundane is enough to drive even the most intelligent of people into positions in which they may compromise their virtue and integrity simply for the sake of celebrity.
This leads me to another young woman, who took a step further than Gloria Steinem, though not for the same reasons.
Isabella St. James is a model and actress that was born on the wrong side of the Post-World War II Europe. Her family emigrated from Poland arriving in Canada before eventually reaching the United States. Her memoir Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion will most likely never be considered astounding literature, but it should survive as an important social-sexual document for finally debunking the Playboy myth. St. James may be “blond and stacked” as the contemporary adjectives fit, but reading this book it becomes clear that the woman possesses a firm intelligence and character(she also holds a law degree from Pepperdine University). Through her memoir she paints a clear and unapologetic picture of the modern Playboy system that women find themselves in. The Playboy club has ceased to become a cultural hub in our lifetime, and instead the perceived hotbed of hedonistic bliss is the Playboy mansion. This haunt(the ghosts of Hefners dignity and sexual ability may spring to mind when this verb is employed) serves a s a retreat in which celebrity of every make, creed, color, and class distinction frolics to in hopes of scoring some of the glamorous “vibes”. The mansion then captures a certain wonder in every man’s mind but St. James unravels it quickly.
I just could not understand why Hef did not care as much about the general appearance of the interior of the Mansion as he did about the outside. I suppose he was more focused on the beautiful women surrounding him then he was on his actual surroundings. Maybe it’s because the Playboy Corporation wants to maintain it in its “original” décor, to keep it the way it was during Playboy’s heyday so that after Hef passes, it can become a museum. Hef has said repeatedly in interviews that he would like the Mansion to be purchased by the Playboy foundation and used as a Graceland-type of attraction. He wants to perpetuate the legend and mythology related to Playboy.
The second to last statement revolts me as a passionate fan of Elvis(a great man who died on the can, rhyme intended), but if I can maintain my objectivity, it becomes clear that the mansion as it stands is nothing more today than a shadow of its previous self. As so many things in life the exterior promises more than what is actually capable. Those hunting for hedonistic bliss will instead find only an old house where people used to fuck, a lot. St. James throughout her work carefully paints small portraits of what life is like in the mansion and a few lines stand out in mind.
We asked for darker carpets but we were refused. He liked our rooms to look like little girl rooms, white carpet and pink walls.
As soon as Holly moved in, she began an intense sexual relationship with Hef. She was the only one who had sex with him regularly and replaced his main girlfriend, Tina, in all of the bedroom duties. My guess is that she knew what she had to do to stand out and she did it.
Hef did not allow any Girlfriends to work. I think he did not want us to be independent.
What was strange to me is that Hef would gladly pay for any plastic surgery, necessary or not, but he would not help me with school loans.
Hef created a new persona for himself. This new guy was Hef, the Playboy, the suave magazine founder whom girls loved and was sexually free being. His entire identity is related to the magazine. It had brought him not only his riches but also an active personal life. He says Playboy brought sexual liberation for women because it told the world that nice girls like to have sex too. Hef likes to talk about how Playboy gave women freedom, freed them to be sexual. I think he means that it made it easier for guys to get laid.
Anyone interested can find numerous such passages as these and by the end of the book the “myth” of Playboy is thoroughly dead (The most humorous line in the text though is perhaps the passage in which sexual prowess of the old stud is described as “A cold fish”). Which brings us to the final act.
The tragedy of the Playboy myth is that it accommodates only men. Women may be invited to participate in the “glamor” that rest about this outdated institution like so many cobwebs, but it becomes clear that the institution, and this is most revolting, and even society itself will accommodate only those women deemed attractive enough. Playboy from the very beginning has been an attempt to cast a spell over the idea that sexuality is something equally expressible. Guising itself as sexual liberation, the movement of Playboy reveals only a system in which women are monitored and controlled sexually while men enjoy themselves. I Was a Playboy Bunny will continue to be a crucial document for our culture as long as the sexual politics that are in play continue to eschew favor to one sex over the other. It is not my intent to damn sexual expression, anything but, but observing the testimony of the women leaving the establishment it becomes clear than an authoritarian sentiment governs the entire system.
Playboy possess commandments for their employees, rules and regulations concerning behavior, idealistic invitations that promise opportunity yet offer only domination over independent will, and paltry sustenance to those who seek to enjoy the benefits of an oasis of hedonistic joy.
One last passage from Steinem should bring us to a close
I also learned from the musicians at the piano bar that there was something called “Playboy’s Theme.” These are some of the lyrics:
If you boy’s a Playboy
Loosen your control.
If his eyes meanders,
Sweet Goose your gander’s,
Just one more ornery Critter,
Who goes for the Glitter.
So if you’ve been over-heatin your oven
Just remember that the boy is a Playboy,
And a gal that makes a fireside lovin man of the boy,
Gets him to stay.
Never talks to him but sweetly,
When he plays it indiscreetly,
Never takes the Play completely,
One of the diverse duties of Willmark men is to make sure that this theme is played at the beginning and end of every musical show every evening—like “God Save the Queen.”
One can imagine this paltry tune playing, braying asses sing along to it and Bunnies are forced to smile and hum along while the bones in their feet re-arrange to spiked heels. And at any moment Hefner will stumble in followed by their successors, the “ingeniously” re-named “Girlfriends,” and like Squealer announce that this song is no longer necessary. The revolution has been accomplished.
I can only wonder how much longer the spell of “glamor” will linger before those reaping the rewards find themselves the laughing-stock that they are.
Let’s start this essay with a poem shall we?
High on his stockroom ladder like a dunce
The stock-boy sits, and studies like a sage
The subject matter of one glossy page,
As lost in curves as Archimedes once.
Sometimes, without a glance, he feeds himself.
The left hand, like a mother-bird in flight
Brings him a sandwich for a sidelong bite,
And then returns it to a dusty shelf.
What so engrosses him? The wild décor
Of this pink-papered alcove into which
A naked girl has stumbled, with its rich
Welter of pelts and pillows on the floor,
Amidst which, kneeling in a supple pose,
She lifts a goblet in her farther hand,
As if about to toast a flower-stand
Above which hovers an exploding rose
Fired from a long-necked crystal vase that rests
Upon a tasseled and vermilion cloth
One taste of which would shrivel up a moth?
Or is he pondering her perfect breasts?
Nothing escapes him of her body’s grace
Or of her floodlit skin, so sleek and warm
And yet so strangely uniform,
But what now grips his fancy is her face,
And how the cunning picture holds her still
At just that smiling instant when her soul,
Grown sweetly faint, and swept beyond control
Consents to his inexorable will.
Playboy, by Richard Wilbur
There was a time when, like this young man, I enjoyed reading Playboy magazine. That time has since passed. One should not leap to the conclusion that this love died when I recognized myself as a feminist for I still hold in my possession a thick tome entitled 50: The Playboy Book which collects the various centerfolds, artwork, cartoons, and snippets of interviews (the last respectable component of that once, dare I say great, periodical) that brings me both personal joy and occasional intellectual engagement. It should be noted as I write this that my wife, that I hold most dearly in my heart, is most likely contemplating the “accidental” destruction of this tome but let us resume the examination.
The above poem presents in my mind a delightfully male experience while ending with a powerful feminist sentiment. I was five years old when I first discovered one of my father’s Playboys. Stealing the magazine to my bedroom I studied each “portrait” as a contemporary art graduate student might study the work of Raphael or Francis Bacon. Each color, line, contour, and crevice became something new in my psyche. Something to be considered, further studied, and eventually understood. I returned the Playboy only to steal it several more times over the course of my development. (There’s yet to be a word created for the inevitable confrontation between father and son when your actions have been discovered; it is terrifying with a soupcon of personal achievement since your father has now recognized your libido making you “a man.”). On a personal note what fascinated me most about the female
form was not the great curvaceous mounds of flesh later to be assigned the sublime name of breasts, but in fact was the territory below them that I later discovered was the source of so much male fascination and discomfort: pubic hair. (On yet another side note, to this day I have never fully understood men’s intense devotion to scoring “pussy” and then simultaneously becoming repulsed should anyone even consider mentioning menstruation; why spend so much time thinking about something you want to know nothing about). Studying these women’s bodies at such a young age I could not possibly consider sexual intercourse with them, but their airbrushed perfect forms arranged so in sync with their surroundings made me recognize the atmosphere of sex and feel with such intensity the possibility for bliss. Every man will encounter the image of a naked woman, and hopefully it will be as pleasant as mine was. In my mind I do not believe there is anything tawdry or obscene in observing and appreciating nude bodies, whether they be female or male (and in fact I would always prefer children to encounter soft core pornography by accident such as Playboy before being exposed to horror films, call me what you will I will not apologize for this). The poem succeeds in capturing for us, that definitively male moment in which we discover the erotic enticement of voyeurism.
Were that such joys did not regress into something sour.
When I was eighteen years old I received the inevitable enticement in the mail. 12 issues of Playboy at half the retail price. Rock & Roll, Bill Murray movies on Friday night, and Playboy seem to be the defining moments of American male youth (or at least they used to be). My parents paid for my subscription (my mother’s smile and warm giggle remains a hysterical reaction to me now when she said “Hey Playboy sent you the subscription card”) and at least three months later the black wrapped magazine arrived. Ripping through the protective seal I stared upon the cover. Looking back at it now I envy my previous self. Anna Faris is on the cover, her blond locks puffed out. She’s wearing a pink two piece. The subtitles promise an article on the rise of Guns N’ Roses (a band which, at that time, was shaping my life alongside the master work of SLIPKNOT). The Interview was with Dana White, the current head of the UFC and the centerfold (that supposed paradigm-changing-social-movement-inspired magnum opus according to numerous sources, most of which originate from Playboy employees themselves) was Valerie Mason.
Playboys came and accumulated and over time something began to happen. The magazine stopped being exciting. Where was the thrill of observing the female form. It was gone. Interviews became the one solace as adds dominated, the articles ceased becoming inspiring, the artwork and arrangement of the magazine inspired migraines, and month after month I was reminded that Hugh Hefner was surrounded by beautiful women and I was a long-haired nobody listening to rock music and going nowhere. (Though let me be clear, the intense love of rock music remains in my mind my one the few redeeming values of my existence at this time in my life, apart from my writing).
The image of the boy refusing to tear his eyes away from the page as he swallows up the arranged and approved position photograph is definitively male, and while the initial appreciation is nothing to feel ashamed for the continual hunger allows for festering to take place. The picture assumes a “cunning” will overpowering the model, nameless it should be noted, and the inevitable shudder must be felt as “when her soul,/Grown sweetly faint, and swept beyond control/Consents to his inexorable will.” It is at this moment when a power play has assumed the “dangerous pornography” has assumed precedent over sexual exploration.
Over time my appreciation of Playboy diminished because the women assumed less and less real reality to them. They were pages to be quickly devoured and forgotten. Playboy, much to my disgust, annoyance, and repugnance, continues to this day to include childhood photos and profile personalities with their centerfolds as if to emotionally connect the viewers to this fraud of a feminine form when in fact all it does is create the juxtaposition of childhood and erotica (an odious combination which borders on child pornography in my mind). Why must these photos be present? The traditional argument has been that Playboy provides numerous women modeling opportunities when this is simply not the case. The standard behavior of many Playmates is to have the pictures taken, receive the “bounty” of cash prize, and then book it in hopes achieving whatever it was pushed that them to pursue such a path and dreams in the first place. It is not enough that Playboy attempts to provide these women with a “soul” and a “past”, but the back of the centerfold also provides a glimpse at what is surely the greatest pulp and piffle manufactured by a porn industry. Playmates are encouraged to provide a few personal facts about their character (because what self respecting masturbator doesn’t appreciate character in the object of his desire). Many of these have clearly been written by an outside party to cater to the ravenous intent of the lonely desperate for some form of human connection. The name is at the top of the page, promptly followed by bust, waist, hips, height, and weight respectively (but we want to hear about your personality too) followed by ambitions, Turn-ons, Turn-offs, “My philosophy of life” (this adage tends to annoy me because it unravels the power of philosophy by reducing human experience to a few manufactured platitudes and clumsily employed irony that would make anyone sick), and the rest are merely attempts to create a pseudo-connection between the object and her audience to encourage the purveyor that the object they are ingesting with their eyes is in fact an independent woman who you could honestly meet on the street. And then bang.
All of these ultimately amount to a cheap and contemptible experience that does little to create a genuine sense of what sex is. The body plans possess all the personality of a high school geometry text-book, and the racial diversity of Playboy is surely one the numerous ignored civil rights issues of our time (the few latina women present in the magazine are perhaps the whitest women you will ever see outside of Iceland). Playboy’s self promoted centerfold is perhaps the most detestable aspect of the magazine and one of the chiefest reason I have abandoned a subscription to it (not entirely true, I’m currently receiving the magazine again. I considered giving it a second chance and this remains one of my greatest mistakes for the magazine has abandoned what little charm it ever possessed).
But doesn’t Playboy, my invisible contester butts in as always, I’d be nothing without him or her, provide an opportunity for men to retreat and feel confident in themselves.
Playboy has sold the “myth” of itself, as any good car salesman sells you the truck that has no starting fluid, windshield wipers, or even a damn engine. I will grant the magazine that at the time of its publication they were instrumental in at least encouraging the conversation for open displays of sexuality without fear of social or legal reprisal. However Playboy has since paraded itself as one of the top dogs in the “Sexual Revolution” that took place in this country during the 1960’s, when in fact their influence has encouraged only a prolongation of domination in pornography. There are no men in the centerfolds that may appeal to female viewers. In fact almost every presentation of men within the magazine are portrayed as, clothed for one thing, an alpha male of contemporary society or else a horny imbecile. Some may argue that this is merely an attempt to provide men escapist entertainment from the grind of their daily routine, which would be fine were it not for the fact that the rhetoric of Playboy is not just an escape, but a lifestyle to aspire to.
Playboy is no longer selling a magazine that encourages men to wear suits, drink martinis, and live a sexual life without shame(odd how it is only ever in apologies or defenses that such a similar lifestyle is encouraged for women), it is now a fully functioning corporation intent upon the selling of videos, a television channel, assorted merchandise including flasks, lighters, and even perfume in an effort to be branded, as my mother and sister so charmingly put it when the topic arises, “Smut with Class.”
Therein lies a conundrum of Playboy. The women are objects to be observed and appreciated, they are decoration no different from the couch, liquor cabinet, or the golf clubs tucked between the red-head’s legs. The young boy observed in Wilbur’s poem assumed tremendous weight as we consider the position of pornography in our daily lives. A child today is expected to see at least 100 images of pornography by the age of twelve (that is a conservative estimate by the way). These images are surely nothing like the centerfolds our fathers and grandfathers (and yes mothers and Grandmothers) will have witnessed. Women can be gangbanged, performing blowjobs, receiving vaginal or (as is more often the case these days) anal penetration, all while wearing outfits stolen from a twelve years olds dresser cabinet and fucking in bedrooms modeled to purposefully demonstrate severe youth. In such extreme cases surely Playboy cannot seem so bad.
While I will admit that I would prefer my son or daughter to stumble upon an image from Playboy than from a hardcore website (it’s far easier to explain a naked woman riding a horse than bukkake), it is still a presentation of sexuality that is skewed. Until this power-play masquerading as open-mindedness has been resolved we the readers of this pornographic magazine will remain, as Wilbur said it best, “High on his stockroom ladder like a dunce.”
Writing this essay I struggled with my own feelings for there is an impulse to merely shrug and say, “It’s just Playboy, what harm could come from it?” That impulse must be fought. It is ridiculous to suppress the libido, for I am a mammal and a human being subject to error and impulse. However, if that impulse must come at the cost of individual will and misogynist domination then I cannot in good conscience remain silent. I believe Playboy magazine can be appreciated in the first sentiment expressed in the early stanzas of Wilbur’s poem, for that discovery of sexuality is one of life’s greatest joys. However the implied domination that arises and profits from the control of the rhetoric of sexual expression must be contested, for in that way the magazine, and others like it, can dictate our sentiment and ideas concerning procreation. When we are told the behavior of our impulses, rather than naturally feeling them, then we have lost a fundamental aspect that defines our species.
Wilbur’s poem reveals a definitive twentieth century impression of sexual experience. Are we satisfied by the impression?