Playboy Changed The World

vargasNow that Playboy magazine has renounced nudity, it’s become an easy target — a misogynist relic of the 20th century — more silicon than substance.  Perhaps.  I don’t know.   Like most people, I don’t actually read Playboy anymore, so I’m in no position to judge.  However, I do know this.  If you’re over 35 and not dead, you’re part of the massive impact Playboy has on our society.

Take a look:

The Playboy Interviews read like a history book of our times:

Malcolm X, Jimmy Hoffa, Federico Fellini, Fidel Castro, Orson Welles, Ralph Nader, Marshall McLuhan, Ray Charles, Germaine Greer, Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Carter, Barbara Streisand, David Frost, Marlon Brando, G. Gordon Liddy, Lech Walesa, Ansel Adams, Jesse Jackson, Carl Bernstein, Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, Yasser Arafat, Donald Trump, Martin Scorsese, Michael Jordan, Salman Rushdie and on and on and on.

In one single year, 1964, Playboy interviewed Vladimir Nabokov, Ayn Rand, Jean Genet, Ingmar Bergman and Salvador Dali.  And Playboy didn’t just follow what was trending; it tried to understand.  It interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965; Timothy Leary, when mainstream drug use was a brand new phenom in ’66 and Steve Jobs, immediately after getting booted out of Apple in 1985.  Plus, Playboy took some chances, like sending Alex Haley, the author of Roots, to interview George Lincoln Rockwell, the leader of the American Nazi Party.

Yes, Alex Haley wrote for Playboy and so did Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson and Gore Vidal.  There were others too, but the list of fiction writers is even more overwhelming:

Joseph Heller, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Ray Bradbury, Bharati Mukherjee, Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Ursula Le Guin, Martin Amis and, once again, on and on — including four Nobel Prize winners: Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Doris Lessing.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the boobs, Playboy would be considered a literary magazine — one of the best.

But what about those boobs?

Some of the most beautiful women in the world have voluntarily taken their clothes off for Playboy:

Farrah Fawcett, Olivia Munn, Robin Givens, Katarina Witt, Ursula Andress, Tia Carrere, Kim Basinger, Elle Macpherson, Kate Moss, Catherine Deneuve, Shari Belafonte and Raquel Welch among many, many others.  The numbers alone take Playboy pictorials beyond sleazy.  Besides, is there any great distance between Charlize Theron and Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” or Naomi Campbell and Goya’s “The Nude Maja?”  Argue all you want about objectifying women, but if you want a lesson in that go to the pages of Vogue or Fashion or Harper’s Bazaar.  Rhetorically speaking, is a pouting, uber-skinny supermodel a more acceptable female image?  Or is it just that she’s covered up their naughty bits?

At 62, Playboy magazine is old and grey and nodding by the fire.  In a one-click universe where the most outrageous porno is at your fingertips and few people are willing to wade through serious pages of unbroken prose, Playboy is passé.  Eventually, it will dissolve into history — the history it helped shape.  Like it or not, Playboy changed the world — no doubt.  But, mostly, it let us be adults about sex and it single-handedly transformed sexuality from Downtown smut to Uptown sophistication.  It made smart sexy, and that’s what made Playboy cool.

Margaret Thatcher and Ugly Politics

thatcherOkay, I’ve had enough.  I really thought that I could let it go and maintain the moral high ground by not acknowledging — forget responding to — the hate.  I can’t.  I’m not that fine a human being.  So…

We live in cowardly times, mean-spirited and smug.  We celebrate cheap shots and slink away from honest debate.  We attack those who can’t defend themselves while insisting it is our moral principles which give us the open warrant for this revenge.  We applaud bullies in our streets and on our social media and then wonder why they’ve crept onto our playgrounds.  In our society, many of us are not very nice, and because of that, history will probably judge all of us as vulgar.

The infernal optimist in me thought that we couldn’t sink much lower than making fun of 86-year-old Pope Benedict XVI for wanting to retire.  Old Christians are easy targets, but the same folks, so quick with the jokes, had already loudly refused to publish satirical Moslem cartoons under the guise of sensitivity.  I thought integrity was not a flexible commodity.  I was wrong.  As of last week, the vitriol circus three-ringing itself around the death of Margaret Thatcher proves the “progressives” among us have hit intellectual rock bottom and are now starting to dig.

As a public figure, even in death, Margaret Thatcher’s policies should be (and are) open to vigorous debate.  For those who disagreed with her methods and results there are any number of well thought out arguments they could use to support their opposition.  However, I doubt if “bitch” is one of them.  Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t see abandoning my political position on the strength of that thesis.  At least, “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” — although about as original as most leftwing ideas — has a sophomoric air of carnival about it.  However, neither of these responses to one of the most divisive politicians in recent history is exactly a tsunami of intellectual prowess.  If this is all the left is bringing to the table, it’s no wonder they couldn’t convince the voting public that Margaret Thatcher was the personification of evil – on three separate occasions.  And this bringsthatcher1 us to the interesting question: What does one do with one’s political self-righteousness when the ballot box disagrees with them?  (After all, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government was democratically elected three times.)  Does one snarl and cry and demonize one’s opponent, or pout and call her names?  Or perhaps one tantrums through the streets in sanctimonious anger, smashing things, burning cars and injuring police officers?   Or maybe one merely gathers enough explosives to attempt to blow one’s opponent’s head off and thus alleviate the need for any further discussion?  In Margaret Thatcher’s case, the answer is all of the above — plus one more.  Many on the left just quietly waited until the object (she was an object by then) of their hate died and now attack her viciously and personally with no fear of repercussions.  Plus it should be noted that those who profess an absolute abhorrence of hate are among the first to cast a stone.

To those who disagree with Margaret Thatcher’s policies — with measured argument and open debate — I wish you well.  To those who rant their hate from the rooftops and “celebrate” her death: you are the embodiment of all that is dull-witted and crude in our times.  I want nothing to do with you or your politics; you’ve shown the world the ugly face of both of them.

The Victoria Cross

victoria2On a sunny summer day in 1857 (June 26th to be precise) a disciplined line of 62 officers and men lined up in Hyde Park, London, to await their Queen — Victoria.  She was coming to award them a new military medal — one which would, along with the Congressional Medal of Honor in America, become one of the highest military honors in the world – the Victoria Cross.  These men had just recently fought for “Queen and Country” in the Crimea, a nasty little war, distinguished only because it was the first “living room war.”  Foreign correspondents from Britain had been on the scene at Sebastapol, Balaklava and the Alma River.  They saw and they wrote.  Their stories told the British public about disease and filth, inadequate clothing, obsolete equipment and idiotic orders, but what captivated the country was the nobility and the bravery of the common soldier.

Even though the public now loved him, Great Britain had no way to recognize its ordinary fighting man.  There was the Distinguished Conduct Medal, instituted in 1854, and staff officers were decorated all the time, but for most soldiers, the best they could hope for (aside from not getting killed) was a mention “in dispatches.”  Several officials took up the cause.  Liberal MP Thomas Scobell brought a motion to parliament suggesting an “Order of Merit…to which every grade and individual from the highest to the lowest… may be admissable [sic].”  Meanwhile, the Secretary of War wrote to Prince Albert about “a new decoration open to all ranks.”  His letter was enthusiastically received by both Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, who wrote back to suggest the name be changed from “the Military Order of Victoria” to “the Victoria Cross.”  Victoria also took a hand in the design of the medal itself, changing the motto from “for the brave” to “for valour” and recommending that, even though it was to be symbolically made from ordinary metal, it should be bronze, not copper.

The drawings and specifications, along with Her Majesty’s “suggestions,” were given to the jewelers Messrs. Hancock of London,victoria where H. H. Armstead is credited with the actual design.  It’s unlikely that he was the one who decided to make the medals out of the bronze from Russian cannons captured in the Crimea.  It was probably just cost cutting, but at the time, this extra bit of symbolism was not lost on the British public.  Hancock and Company still make the Victoria Cross today from the same lump of bronze, safely stored in the vault of the Royal Logistics Corps, in Donnington.  The cannons, two 18-pounders, are still at Woolwich Barracks, where anyone can plainly see that these “Russian” guns are, in fact, Chinese.

Since that first sunny day in June, the Victoria Cross has been awarded only 1,357 times to 1,354 recipients throughout the British Commonwealth – which, given the number of wars and warriors over the last 150 years, is not a lot.  It has been won by 4 sets of brothers, 3 times by fathers and sons and 3 men have won it twice.  Incredibly, during World War I, it was won by three men who all lived on Pine Street in Winnipeg, Canada.  Pine Street is now named Valour Road.  The youngest recipients were Andrew Fitzgibbon and Thomas Flinn, age 15, and the oldest was William Raynor, 61.  Legend has it that, at the first ceremony, Queen Victoria, stretching awkwardly from the side-saddle of her horse, actually pinned the first medal through Commander Henry Raby’s chest.  Popular Victorian fiction says he didn’t even flinch.  A fitting beginning for the Victoria Cross.