The Devil and Mr. Hefner

I was watching a biography of Hugh Hefner on the A&E television network this weekend and I found myself wondering when and where precisely Hugh Hefner became the enemy. When I say enemy, I don’t just mean those with conservative political ideas or fundamentalist religious beliefs who have always scorned porn in general and Playboy in particular. No, in this day and age, Mr. Hefner is just as often criticized by the ever more politically correct liberal intellectual establishment, and this was not always the case.

I’ve bought a few issues of Playboy over the years, and, I’m very scared of any male over the 18 in this country who hasn’t. I’ve always explained that yes, I bought the magazine when I was 20 years old for the pictures, but, I also did read the articles… which were generally quite good. I came across those issues not long ago (out of plain sight in my old bedroom at my parents’ house). After seeing them, I was reminded of not only the political ethic and insightful interviews, but also the artistic nude or topless photo layouts of models and actresses that you just won’t see anywhere else including Sharon Stone, Stephanie Seymour, and Cindy Crawford. So clearly, Playboy is not a cheaply produced, purely exploitative publication with a trite and overly suggestive name, like say “Bush League”.

Yet, what is Playboy and its philosophy? The Playboy ethic is all about taking a connoisseur’s approach to life — be it through considered political and social thinking, progressive politics, fine food, good alcohol, or an appreciation of beautiful women. In order to discuss this openly and factually, this means that Hugh Hefner has always been a staunch supporter of First Amendment rights. He’s also been very much in favor of sexual liberation in all of its various forms — let’s face it, if Mr. Hefner is going to have 7 girlfriends at his age, he’s not going complain much about anyone who wants to experience any kind of alternative lifestyle. Mr. Hefner has also always been a strong proponent of drug legalization. From a liberal’s point of view, this is all fine and good.

Where Playboy seems to run into serious trouble with the intellectual left can be summed up in three words: objectification of women. Looking at the average 22 year old C-cup beauty that constitutes the bulk of the Playboy Playmates, one can see why. In an age where women attempt to define themselves as something other than “seen, but not heard” in order to establish credibility in a variety of fields and endevors, the Playboy Playmate has got to seem like a traitor to her gender. Given the Marxist underpinnings of modern feminist critical theory, these women are seen as deluded members of the oppressed class of women who have been co-opted by a hierarchical, male-dominated society to serve the whims of men and forever perpetuate age old male ideas about women.

Yet I do not think that this is ultimately Mr. Hefner’s intent. Mr. Hefner is ideally in favor of a sexually expressive society. Visual imagery is part of sexual expression, and therefore he includes it in Playboy. As such, I suppose that the aim is to be sexual without necessarily being oppressive or degrading… though I don’t know if this is an achievable goal in the politcal or intellectual climate in the United States today.

I think that feminist thinkers have painted themselves into an interesting corner where sexuality is concerned. On the one hand, they seek to glorify a sense of female identity. To do this, however, they wish to break with the past by rejecting previous metrics for establishing feminity — female beauty and child rearing among them. Therefore a woman must tread an interesting line… she can glory in her personal beauty and express her sexuality only to a certain point and only in certain ways before she is reviled for being a traitor to her gender. Likewise, a woman’s ability to reproduce is simultaneously the defining characteristic in which she is supposed to glory AND the tool by which she is trapped and prevented from exploring the wider world beyond barefoot and pregnant.

(Can you tell I spent too many years in graduate school absorbing the ethos of a militant, lesbian, Marxist feminist belief system that embraced women for shaving their heads bald and getting tattoos, but reviled them for wearing makeup yet?)

In these murky waters, Playboy has played into its critics hands to some degree. The layout and the format of the magazine lend themselves to titillation. This is, I’m sure, due to attempts to compete with more explicit magazines like Penthouse or Hustler… whose goals lean a bit more toward exploitation than sexual liberation. The inevitable consequence, however, is that the Playboy Playmate is amply endowed (likely through augmentation) and is college age — lending credence to the idea that the flesh is indeed the and thing and the oh-so-false-and-useless Barbie-doll ideal exists. Likewise, the features seem to be largely geared to a college age male market… whose primary goal seems seems less Louis Jourdan from “Gigi” and more Tim Matheson from “Animal House”. No it does not help that we know a past Playmate’s preference in sexual position, instead of her feelings about something, anything more socially or culturally relevant.

Fall, five years later.

With Girlfriend S. away for a few days, I find myself reminded of what my life was before I met her. This feeling has been further compounded because I rented a movie I first saw about 4 years ago — Eric Schaeffer’s Fall.

I strongly identified with this film when I first saw it because the way that Schaeffer’s character, a cabbie named Michael, woos Sarah, a supermodel played by Amanda DeCadenet, who happens to ride in his cab one day. He does it with words — long passages of free form poetry sent to her by fax… some sweet and tender, some profane and explicit. This reminded me how I hoped to woo a woman as a younger man. I yearned to find that magic spell that would unlock a woman’s heart to me. I wanted to be more bohemian and ballsy, full of a bluster that can only arise from a contented knowledge of self, a keen understanding of others, and a lack of fear of disappointment.

I used to write more poetry.

What I want is a primitive cool
A cool cold as ice, cold as outer space,
blacker than bike leather,
And a sleeker than Harley chrome.

I want to walk that primitive cool;
Walk it down the street,
Walk it down to my bones,
And walk it under long dead stars.

I want to show that primative cool
In the ways I move,
the way I hold my head,
And the way I look at you and puff my cigarette.

I can be that primitive cool
Out on the road, out in the night
Outside my Self
But never, never when I’m with you.

I lose that primative cool
When I see your eyes
When I see your face
And when I feel your hand touch mine.

I need that primitive cool
Cool in my soul, cool in my heart
Cool when I kiss you
And cool when I hold you in my arms.

Because in all that I am
All that I was
All that I ever will be
With you I am lost…

And looking for that primitive cool.

I sometimes miss who I was then. His ideas and perceptions were grounded more in ideals and absolutes uncorrupted by experience. He saw relationships more in the way they are presented in books and film — in impossibly perfect shapes, carefully edited sensations, and selective cuts that eliminate the day to day noise to reveal the emotional subtext beneath. His was the romance of the grand poetic gesture… not the thousand small ways that are really necessary to say “I love you.”

Then again, he was doubtless naive… but only in the beautiful way that so many young people are. Perhaps it is a good and inevitable thing that he is gone, but sometimes it is fun to go back and visit.


I haven’t been writing much here this week. I’ve been busy. The programming project that bedeviled me prior to my vacation in late May returned with a vengeance after my return. The stress began to crescendo in the middle of last week. I finally achieved catharsis two days ago; the software I’ve been working on completed its first successful test.

Things outside of work have also been raising my blood pressure. I’ve been having computer problems at home — I upgraded the CPU, memory, and motherboard in my computer about a month ago and Windows wasn’t pleased with the change in living accomodations. This in turn, caused me some concern because the ability to work from home would allow me to reduce my work-related stress levels. So, after repeating the Windows support mantra “if you need to call, re-install” several times, everything on the machine at home is finally copacetic following a “from scratch” re-installation (I was beginning to think that the XP in Windows XP stood for “Xquisite Pain”.) Add wedding planning to the mix and the fact that Girlfriend S. is going to have to move somewhere in the next month (in with me? into an apartment?) and there’s a pretty high stress cocktail in there somewhere.

In the midst of all this coding during the day, cursing at Windows XP at the evening, and comforting a girlfriend who feels uprooted and very skittish about her Father’s grasp of how much a wedding really costs, I re-discovered the joys of caffiene.

Honestly, I try to stay away from the stuff. I think it all goes back to a few key experiences in college where I discovered that studying or taking tests while wired on caffiene just wasn’t the thing for me. Caffiene makes me jumpy… and doesn’t always assist in my ability to retain information. The one type of situation where caffiene does generally become useful is when I am actively involved in problem solving, rather than attempting to absorb information out of say, a book. In general, I tend to try to live a “decaffienated lifestyle” whenever possible, however. I don’t believe that I need the coffee/cola monkey on my back giving me headaches when if I can’t respond when it says “feed me! feed me!” I also think that if sleep is what is really needed, why mask the symptom? Regular morning coffee is not going to solve the problem.

That said, we all know that there are times when alertness is a requirement, not a nicety. The past few weeks have been just such a time for me. I have to say it felt pretty good to be wired. It had been a long time since I was productive when the clock struck 12 twice in one day. After being wired on a mix of caffiene and adrenaline for a while, I understand a little bit of why being bipolar must be a nightmare — when you are “on” the world is maybe not happy, but vibrant in all its many colors and subtleties. Falling down off that into a more muted, flat, numbed existence must be a shock and leave one with a lingering sense of longing about what things should be.

Of course, I’m now paying the price for all this. I feel like I haven’t slept for about a week. I have a hard time concentrating for more than brief periods. I am SOOO looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow morning, and actually having nothing to do tomorrow afternoon.

Yes, a lazy morning tomorrow will be nice.

got them HTML blues

They say that no good deed goes unpunished. If recent experience is any indicator, they are right. Girlfriend S.’s godmother works for the parish office at St. B’s Church nearby. Hearing that they were in need of a web site on the cheap and that they were talking about asking Girlfriend S. to design it, I decided to get involved. I should have known better, but, I’m an ex-altar boy and I have a soft spot for Catholic parishes in need of some IT guidance.

These people have NO clue, absolutely none. They want everything and they want it yesterday. They want a river of dynamic content that changes at the whim of every school and parish committee head. To help accomplish this end, they have designated K., one of Girlfriend S.’s relatives, as “web master”. Thing is, K. has absolutely no background in web page design, much less how to run an Apache web server on the Linux operating system. K. is a very nice person and eager to learn, and I have no doubt that she could master the fundamentals in time. Girlfriend S. and I have suggested that K. take some community college night school-type computer technology classes to get a little hands on experience.

Girlfriend S. and I thought that this sounded reasonable. Given that K. is a stay-at-home mom with three small children, I would think that she might like leaving the kids with her husband and get out of the house one evening a week. She gets a touch of cabin fever sometimes, being stuck at home with small children all day.

This suggestion does nothing to appease the powers that be at the parish, however. Today, the suggestion was made by one of Girlfriend S.’s other family members who instigated this situation that “K. is busy with three children and may be too busy to take classes.”This was accompanied by the question “why can’t she just watch you two put together the site so she can edit it?”

Oh, if only the web were that simple.

They’re not paying me enough to do this (yes, some money has changed hands) — but thank God for that. Since we’re talking a whole web site for an amount that would probably pay for a dinner for Girlfriend S. and me, I can afford to keep the situation at arms length. Since Girlfriend S. is related to some of the players involved, she has to be more involved. I will always be there to support her (emotionally and with computer expertise), but, I know she would like this whole thing to go away too.

First comes love, then comes marriage…

As I slowly come to grips with the fact that I will get married in approximately 12 months, I find myself thinking a lot about the roles of love, marriage, and monogamy in society and what people (including some diarylanders) have to say about it. As these ideas have seeped into my psyche and pooled in quiet and hidden places, I feel the need to also say my peace.

Ultimately, I think our collective perceptions of love and marriage have become too programmed by fairy tales. It is as if so much has been written and acted concerning “and they lived happily ever after, enjoying unbounded material prosperity in a crime free suburb, incredible personal energy thanks to the regular practice of yoga, Tae Bo and Pilates, and massive multiple tantric orgasms on a regular basis” that people have forgotten how much of a myth that really is. Somewhere I think too many people started believing that those images somehow correspond to reality. It’s like looking in your average women’s magazine and saying “ooh, everyone must look like that,” asking “why don’t I?” and suddenly feeling suddenly insecure because of the lack of artificially constructed normalcy.

If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that love is difficult and anything but “happily ever after”. Love is opening yourself up to another being and constantly and consistently putting yourself in vulnerable position with respect to this other person. It’s all about doing things for someone else, and making your life into a set of compromises that you can both live with. The hand holding, the three bedroom/two-and-a-half bath house in the suburbs, the loving looks into one another’s eyes, these are trappings, mere side effects. Real love is something much deeper and committed. It’s about building lives that intertwine and support each other. It’s about opening yourself up to the full range of possibilities offered by being with another person, even when things go very badly awry. Ultimately, it is a very beautiful thing… but in a way that doesn’t usually involve fuzzy closeups, overly cute pet names, or matching sweaters (thank God!). As such, I tend to feel that many people look at love, and can’t see the forest for the trees.

Monogamy, well, monogamy fits me. I’ve spent over 5 years listening to all the best intellectual arguments recounted from books such as Dossie Easton’s tome The Ethical Slut detailing how monogamy is an antediluvian, prehistoric, and antiquated custom designed to oppress everyone into rigidly defined gender roles. I’ve also heard how wonderful it supposedly is to be able to go up to someone at a party and ask “isn’t my girlfriend (or boyfriend) just a really great fuck?” Neither appear to be a path for me.

Now I am aware that I carry around the notion that sex is an intimate act as a rather heavy piece of cultural or evolutionary baggage. Yet I would not have it any other way… for myself at least. I find that the best friendships grow and develop over time, and are held together by something deeper and more profound than casual circumstance. As a consequence, I would rather have five friends I can really count on than a stadium full of casual acquaintances. This sensibility is even more acute where lovers are concerned… and I find it difficult enough to nurture one relationship where true intimacy is available and possible on a fairly regular basis, much less more than one.

As for marriage, it’s a social contract. I can’t deny it. When I think of the huge sums that will likely be spent to make the activities that happen the day I get married, I realize more than ever that this is about societal expectations and regulations as much as anything else. It is not just about the solemnization of a commitment between two people, and is often about a lot of things other than that — inheriting power or property, cementing allegiances, or establishing social position.

Yet for all that, I feel it is important to stand up and declare your intentions sometimes. I tend think that publicly announcing the decision to join your life to that of another has got to be one of them. That a large party has become attached to this event is both a great thing, and sometimes a necessary evil. It is not something absolutely implies a move into a boring ranch house , or a $22K party. I tend to believe that people have a much more diverse notion of what constitutes a wedding, a marriage, or a life than have existed in the past.

Now I know that these views fit into a decidedly convention portrait of society. I do however think that they fall more into the realm of willful and enlightened choices for myself, than mere behavioral programming. I cannot recommend then to everyone… yet I think they must work for at least some sizable group of people in the world. Other circumstances and perceptions force other choices.

And oh yes, the payoff for all this? I think companionship has got to be it. Definitely. As someone who largely separated from his blood relations by a few thousand miles, I seek companionship and someone to make a life and share the moments.

Hidden connections

I’ve often heard about “Six Degrees of Separation” — the statistical idea that any two people in the United States are separated by at most six intermediaries. While I have enough background in discrete mathematics and combinatorics to understand how statisticians could come up with this result, it always seemed a bit like the Theory of Relativity — something more read about than experienced. That all changed after I got know Girlfriend S. for several months.

It actually turns out that Girlfriend S. is acquainted with people who know people of my acquaintance using two wholly unrelated routes. First, let me lay out the connections:

  • One of Girlfriend S.’s oldest and dearest friends is JA. JA. and S. met in Kindergarten and have been dear friends ever since (JA. is going to be the Maid of Honor at our wedding). JA. has a brother A., who is very active in the production of comic books. I also have a friend, JL., with whom I used to occasionally hang out in high school. JL. is also active in the comic book trade as an indie comic book writer. Since A. works on the comic book for a very well known superhero, I wrote JL. to see if he’d ever heard of A. or was familiar with his work. JL.’s response was more or less “I haven’t read any of his work since he was doing Xerxes (indie comic name changed to protect the innocent) but I know him personally and he’s a fine fellow.”
  • One of Girlfriend S.’s closest friends from her college Sorority days is JN. JN. has her Master’s in music, in vocal performance. Through the machinations of fate, JN. has ended up living in M., a small town about 100 miles from where I grew up, where her husband teaches music at the local liberal arts college. I grew up living next door to JG., a local opera singer-made-good who spent much of the 1980’s working in the great opera houses of Europe. JG. has returned to the land of my birth where he now gives lessons and is starting his own repertory company (why they don’t make him music director of the local Opera is nuts, but I digress). When I met JN. and we compared notes, I discovered that JN. takes lessons from JG., thus completing the second connection with Girlfriend S.

To put this into perspective, let us consider the respective locales where Girlfriend S. and I grew up. Girlfriend S. grew up in a large metropolitan area of the United States, and I grew up in a small to medium-sized city about 3000 miles away. That’s all the way at the other end of a continent folks. Yet, she knows people who know people I know. I find this amazing that it occurs not once, but twice.

I guess the world really is small after all.