Sin and Boredom

Wednesday, October 14, AD 2015




Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As, to be hated, needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

Alexander Pope

Then get bored by.  That is what I take away from this interesting piece of news:

Opening a copy of Playboy magazine on an airplane or at a hair salon may no longer have people raising their eyebrows.

Playboy will no longer publish images of fully nude women in its magazine beginning this spring. The move comes as part of a redesign that will be unveiled next March, Playboy Enterprises, Inc., announced Tuesday. The magazine will still feature women in provocative poses, but they will no longer bare all when the March issue is released in February, according to a statement from Playboy.

The onslaught of Internet pornography has made the nude images in Playboy “passé,” Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive, told the New York Times.

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7 Responses to Sin and Boredom

  • Donald,

    Reminds me a great deal of some thoughts by Reinhard Hutter in his excellent article here:


  • I confess that when I was a submarine sailor long ago I maintained a deep and abiding interest in Playboy magazine. Of course I do not excuse my behavior as morally acceptable (on the contrary!), but nevertheless such “literature” was quite common to be found stowed in the bunks of sailors underneath the sea for months on end. I thought that Playboy’s chief competitors, Hustler and Penthouse at that time, to be several steps lower in overall quality than Playboy itself. In fact, the photography in those magazines never appealed to me in the way that the classical photography in Playboy excited me, and I rarely if ever wasted my money on them. Having seen pictures of Greek and Roman sculptures of women all through my youth, and having seen some actual sculptures at museums, I found the Playboy of the 1970s and 1980s to be similar in taste and not a substitute for gynecological photographs (though what may exist today I do not know but can imagine). Yet in the end the photographs in Playboy were a means towards self-gratification and an objectification of women as mere objects of sexual desire. Once the good Lord finally took the baseball bat of drug and alcohol withdrawals to my sick head and got me into a 12 step program, both my sponsor and my confessor (a Franciscan priest at a monestary in Graymoor, NY) would tell me that such self-gratification was simply another way to get high, and one cannot be high and sober at the same time.
    As for Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione of Penthouse was worse I suppose. But more than his magazine, it was Hefner’s stylized life of wealth and “carefreeness” (is that a word?) in a harem glorified in all the popular news media that truly objectified women. Perhaps he was no different in having his harem than either King David or King Solomon were in having their hundreds of concubines. But while as a submarine sailor I liked his magazine, him I never did like. He could never remain loyal to one woman, and that is the whole point of his publication: why have any one woman when for a small paltry sum you may have a thousand women and be your own King Solomon. The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us how well that works out.

  • “Reminds me a great deal of some thoughts by Reinhard Hutter in his excellent article here:


    “To comprehend the spiritual roots of this crisis, we need to recall an all-too-forgotten vice, acedia, usually called “sloth” but better rendered as “spiritual apathy.” It is the very forgoing of friendship with God—which is the fulfillment of the transcendent dignity and calling of the human person—and the embrace of the self-indulgent deception that there never was and never will be friendship with God, that there never was and never will be a transcendent calling and dignity of the human person. Nothing matters much, because the one thing that really matters, God’s love and friendship, does not exist and therefore cannot be attained.

    Acedia creates a void that we try to fill with transient rushes of pleasure—primarily venereal pleasure—to ward off the ennui of life bereft of its very center. But the simulacra that promise the rushes of pleasure we seek betray us. They cannot fill the void created by the loss of our transcendent calling to the love and friendship of God. Rather, they only increase the craving to fill the void we cannot fill, breeding compulsion and intensifying spiritual apathy, thereby encouraging acedia’s most dangerous shoot to spring forth: despair.

    Christian spiritual wisdom has always regarded acedia as a vice that, unchecked, will eventually prove deadly to the Christian life. For spiritual apathy first leads us to despair of God’s love and mercy and eventually issues in a sadness that will always cause problems. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas observes in On Evil, “No human being can long remain pleasureless and sad.” People engulfed by the sadness to which their indulgence in spiritual apathy led them tend to avoid such sadness first by shirking and then by resenting and scorning God’s love and mercy.”

    A good article Jonathan!

  • If only pornography was truly taking a hit. The poisonous weeds Hefner planted live on more virulent than ever.

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  • Kevin,
    Hugh Hefner’s magazine is “innocuous” and “sedate” compared to what one may possibly obtained on the internet in graphic videos. Indeed, one time several years ago I was searching for the web site of NUPIC – the Nuclear Procurement Issues Committee – and I got an entirely unexpected nude picture / video of Pamela Anderson. Sadly, what is seen can never be unseen.
    That said, the photography of Hefner’s magazine is extolled as art reminiscent of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures of nude women (and men). But by making nudity readily and widely accessible for private use, he has as you indicated planted a seed whose wild roots have descended throughout everywhere in modern society. The walls of the buildings in ancient Pompeii would be green with envy. There is no artistry imaginable in the perversions of today’s internet.

  • Paul, Exceedingly well stated. Also the sad reality that once seen, impossible to remain unseen. I was lucky to largely escape pornography as a teen but later travelling in Austria a magazine fell from where I retrieved a down blanket. The center page was one huge indescribably profane orgy scene that would compete with the dirtiest of filth, an yet, 30 years later I sadly can recall it with photographic memory. I don’t recall it often, but only when I try to describe how damaging porn can be.

Cultural Multiple Personality Disorder

Friday, March 4, AD 2011

Michael Potemera muses on the survival of two very different cultural institutions – Playboy and National Review:

I just caught the last couple of minutes of a cable-TV documentary about Playboy magazine, which featured a clip of Hugh Hefner opining about the huge cultural impact the magazine has had in its 50-plus years of existence. And it struck me as an illustration that, even in the realm of culture and ideas, it’s the supply side that makes the greatest difference. Two young men in the mid-1950s had vastly different ideas of what the American audience really wanted and needed, and ventured forth to create magazines that reflected these views. Hugh Hefner, convinced that America was too sexually conservative and really needed to let its hair down, founded Playboy in 1953. Bill Buckley, convinced that America was too politically liberal and needed to restore its older, small-r republican virtues that had been eroded in the Progressive and New Deal eras, founded National Review in 1955.

Now, think about how these ventures must have appeared at the time. Playboy was an outrage to conventional pieties about sexuality. National Review was an outrage to conventional pieties about politics. How much money would you have bet, at the time, that either one would survive for very long? “A dirty magazine? Won’t people be embarrassed to buy it?” “A magazine that’s to the right of Eisenhower and Nixon? Are there that many real fringies out there?” But the supply side takes a chance. And, quite amazingly, both ventures succeeded beyond imagining. Playboy bore fruit in the Sexual Revolution, which may already have reached its high point but shows little sign of receding. And from National Review emerged Reaganism, and conservatism as the broadly dominant system of political thought in recent years.

An extraordinarily prescient person, writing in the mid-1950s, might have predicted one of these triumphs. But anyone who predicted that both of the magazines, simultaneously, would have a massive, culturally transformative impact on our country, would have been dismissed as, at best, an extremely confused thinker.

But the truth is, we are a confusing country. We contain, in Walt Whitman’s sense, multitudes. Even as we prize national unity, we resist homogeneity; even as we embrace populist fads, we remain suspicious of conformism. It makes me wonder: Which two implausible — and apparently mutually contradictory — cultural ventures of our time will end up shaping the American life of the next half century?

Certainly fodder for further thought.  There is a superficial explanation to this seeming contradiction.  In a country that at the time both publications were launched numbered 200 million citizens, and where now north of 300 million live, it’s not unreasonable for disparate publications to attract very large audiences.  If you draw, say, 100,000 subscribers (and I have no idea if this is anywhere close to how many people subscribe to either publication, now or ever), that’s barely more than .o1% of the population.  So it’s easy to see why the same country can pack arena-sized mega Churches on Sunday while also making pornographic sites the biggest profit makers on the Internet.  To put it simply, there are a lot of people, and they’re going to like very different things.

But of course that really is Potomera’s main point.   We are a culture deeply divided, and that division seems to be getting more intense.  While the pron industry is doing quite well, conservative (traditional, Orthodox, whatever adjective you prefer) religious institutions are also faring quite well.  Gay marriage is gaining some traction while at the same time larger and larger families are filling the pews every Sunday.  Admittedly, there is some overlap as some of the commenters observe (not to mention that William F. Buckley wrote articles for Playboy at one time), but by and large we’re talking about – dare I say it? – two Americas.

In the comments section I wrote the following, and it’s hopefully worth repeating here.  One of the things to consider is the standing of both magazines within the movements that they helped launch. Playboy is considered tame nowadays, what, with the explosion of raunchier magazines like Hustler, and even more so with the easy availability of hard core pornography on the Web.

As for National Review, while there has been an explosion of other conservative magazines, institutions, and other media, NR remains one of the most influential journals of conservative opinion. Sure some might think it has gone “soft” in its own right (including yours truly, at least on occasion), but it is still no doubt more influential within its own sphere than Playboy is nowadays.

What that says about our society, and where it is trending, is perhaps more troublesome.

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6 Responses to Cultural Multiple Personality Disorder

  • Come again?

    Playboy in its day was a profitable commercial venture and its circulation was at its peak ca. 1971 around about 9,000,000. The circulation of the paper edition of National Review has scarcely exceeded 160,000 and it has ever been a philanthropic enterprise. Other than the New York Review of Books, magazines like National Review have not been commercially viable in forty years or some, and some have never been.

    I hate to break it to Mr. Lowry’s employees, but the Republican Party had within it a component given to vigorous opposition to the regnant liberalism of that age. Mr. Buckley was not the progenitor of that. Robert Taft was nearly the Republican nominee for President in 1952. I suspect you would also discover, were there any surviving survey research, that the liberal arts faculty of 1955 was far more variegated in its political profile than is the case today. Newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune continued to reflect in their coverage the priorities of their (commonly Republican) owners. Time-Life was not exactly a liberal concern. What William F. Buckley provided was a discussion forum for the general reader of a sort that had been present a generation earlier but had subsequently disappeared. What the nascent American Enterprise Institute provided was a mediator between academics and policy-makers.

  • “Newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune continued to reflect in their coverage the priorities of their (commonly Republican) owners. ”

    That may be true Art, but they endorsed Obama in 2008 and lost a huge chunk of their Downstate readership, including me.

    As to Taft, he had his points, but he was also illustrative of not only how impotent conservatism then was on the national scale, but even within the Republican party.

    Buckley in his salad days in the Fifties and Sixties was always more important than National Review, as he gave a young and articulate face to American conservatism that was badly needed.

  • The reach of National Review went well beyond its mere subscription numbers. Granted we sometimes tend to exaggerate the influence of this or that institution, but as Donald mentioned Mr. Buckley certainly was one of the key sparks of the conservative revival during the Cold War period. Also, a lot of magazines come and go, so the fact that NR has survived for nearly 60 years is a remarkable sign of vitality.

  • The reaction to National Review initially from a liberal journal was that America could use a good conservative magazine but that National Review wasn’t it. Liberals tend to be all in favor of conservatism, except for all and any current manifestations.

  • Potemra is making a point that can only be made in retrospect. Both magazines had a huge cultural impact that has little to do with their actual readership. Whether we liked it or not, both changed the world we lived in and that was true even for people who never read an issue of either. That’s a claim that neither Time nor Newsweek, both of which were vastly more successful in those years, can make.

    What I wonder is whether the two are nearly as contradictory as they seem. I don’t know if William f Buckley ever went to the Playboy mansion in the 1960s but it wouldn’t surprise to learn that he had. The two men had a lot in common.

  • The reach of National Review went well beyond its mere subscription numbers.

    Agreed. These publications are helpful, just as agencies like AEI are helpful.

    That may be true Art, but they endorsed Obama in 2008 and lost a huge chunk of their Downstate readership, including me.

    I was referring to the situation prior to 1955. What appears to have happened to metropolitan newspapers in the post-war period is that the lenses through which they viewed the world came to be ground and selected by their employees. One of the curios of the last two generations is that our political life came to reflect a social and cultural struggle between salaried employees who earn their living by manipulating words and images and salaried employees in just about every other trade, with wage-earners lining up on one side or another according to cultural affiliations.

    I think the same deal happened in academe. Tenure shifted the balance of power between the faculty and their superordinates and (like the newspaper owners) the trustees voluntarily ceded control with regard to all issues save budgetry and athletics. In 1940, the President of the College of William and Mary was a Southern Jeffersonian and the President of Colgate University was a trenchant opponent of the New Deal. You would be hard put (I am sure) to find anyone on the faculty of either institution who would hold to either view nowadays.

"Taken" Some Life Lessons

Saturday, July 18, AD 2009

I saw the movie with Liam Neeson entitled “Taken”, the other night. It is the ultimate ‘Dads protecting daughters’ fantasy. It plays on a whole lot of primal emotions- particularly the temptation to give oneself over to extreme violence to protect the lives and sanctity of one’s children. Every father wants to imagine himself capable of defending his beloved children from any and all threats- and the father in “Taken” was that ultimate fatherly force. He represented more of a divine Angelic father who slays spiritually evil forces, than a realistic earthly dad- and as such I was able to excuse the incredible violence as something of a parable of ultimate accountability for those humans who perpetrate the evils of human trafficking and slavery.

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3 Responses to "Taken" Some Life Lessons

  • I think you make a key point here about how deeply pornography is connected with the breakdown of the family and the exploitation of women in our society.

  • Can you tell me what definition of “consumerism” you’re applying to the sex-slavery industry which is thousands of years old?

    It seems a stretch to me, but I’m interested to hear.


    Clementine Hall
    Saturday, 13 June 2009

    “Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
    Distinguished and Dear Friends,

    Thank you for your visit which fits into the context of your annual meeting. I greet you all with affection and am grateful to you for all that you do, with proven generosity, at the service of the Church. I greet and thank your President, Count Lorenzo Rossi di Montelera, who has expressed your sentiments with fine sensitivity, giving an overview of the Foundation’s work. I also thank those who, in various languages, have wished to express your common devotion. Our meeting today acquires special meaning and value in the light of the situation that humanity as a whole is experiencing at this time.

    Indeed, the financial and economic crisis which has hit the industrialized, the emerging and the developing countries, shows clearly that certain economic and financial paradigms which prevailed in recent years must be rethought. Therefore, at the international congress which took place yesterday your Foundation did well to address the topic of the search for, and identification of, the values and rules which the economic world should abide by in order to evolve a new model of development that is more attentive to the requirements of solidarity and more respectful of human dignity.

    I am pleased to learn that you examined in particular the interdependence between institutions, society and the market, in accordance with my venerable Predecessor John Paul II’s Encyclical, Centesimus annus. The Encyclical states that the market economy, understood as: “an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector” (n. 42), may be recognized as a path to economic and civil progress only if it is oriented to the common good (cf. n. 43). However, this vision must also be accompanied by another reflection which says that freedom in the economic sector must be circumscribed “by a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality”, a responsible freedom, “the core of which is ethical and religious” (n. 42). The above-mentioned Encyclical appropriately states: “just as the person fully realizes himself in the free gift of self, so too ownership morally justifies itself in the creation, at the proper time and in the proper way, of opportunities for work and human growth for all” (n. 43).

    I hope that by drawing inspiration from the eternal principles of the Gospel it will be possible, with the research inherent in your work, to elaborate a vision of the modern economy that is respectful of the needs and rights of the weak. My Encyclical dedicated to the vast topic of the economy and work is, as you know, due to be published shortly. It will highlight what for Christians are the objectives to pursue and the values to promote and to defend tirelessly, if we are to achieve a truly free and supportive human coexistence.”

    Consumerism, as I use it, is not the positive business economy that is supported by Catholic social doctrine, but the destructive misuse of business models that overemphasize the commerce angle at the expense of the human beings who are on the giving and receiving end of some business transaction. It is the inadequate juridical framework that allows for such things as pornography and adult entertainment businesses to flourish under a false idealism associated with “Free Speech” and corporations being legally defined as “persons” with rights we normally associate with actual human beings. These modern-day abuses of what true freedom is really all about, help foster the modern situation of sex-slavery/human trafficking. The legal pornography helps to fuel the destructive fires of lust in boys and men of all ages, the freedom of advertisers to use sexual appeals to the lowest common denominator in human- particularly male human nature- also makes the pursuit of sex seem to be an overriding concern in everyday life. The rise of female entrepreneurs in the adult video industry and prostitution lends to the notion that women are getting good money for lending their bodies to men for illicit sexual purposes- so there is no victim in the process, when in actuality everyone involved and women in general and humanity at-large is harmed by the social sins associated with the weakening of public morals, and the encouragement of promiscuity with all the physical and spiritual damage that that entails.

    One could say that “consumerism” is that approach to economics and business that tries to separate the Christian Humanism of which the Pope speaks, with the freedom of individuals to pursue many kinds of “businesses” which contribute to the market demand for young girls and boys to be available for sexual exploitation- which is what drives the sex-slavery “market”. I found this to be the case when I attended local city council meetings where the topic was responding to the demands of adult entertainment business owners to have certain areas of town zoned for adult entertainment lest they take the city to the higher courts, where the findings have been in favor of the adult businesses via the “free speech” rationalization. The small cities must come up with ample sites for adult entertainment or else they risk heavy legal fees to challenge something that right now favors the purveyors of porn in the higher courts. Even though the numbers of speakers from the community who were outraged and against such businesses was very substantial- the juridical framework isn’t developed to address the morality questions in these areas. If we have the human person as our primary consideration in determining how to regulate businesses and their affairs, then this would be something more or less easy to fix. But our system is not set up with the common good/natural law as the guiding light for legal renderings- which is what is lacking in the juridical frameworks so often called for by the Magisterium.