Two on Hefner

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some stupid puns are impossible to resist!

[Editorial Note: While composing this post, I realized that using the obvious, four-syllable word to describe what I am discussing might make my blog unable to get past certain common filters. So I shall use the word "umptysquat" instead. Besides, I find it amusing.]

Via Arts and Letters Daily, whose blurb momentarily threw me for a loop by mentioning "the anatomical variety among bunnies," I found a couple of book reviews at the web site of n+1, a magazine that might be worth looking into. One of them discusses Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds, and the other, Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream.

I have always found whatever umptysquat I have encountered odd, off-putting, boring (more on that later), or just plain confusing, to the point that my curiosity about it has been mainly of an intellectual, or even anthropological, nature.

"Why waste time and money on magazines when there are real women out there?" might summarize my overall attitude, but there was always an additional rebellion against many of the subtexts I'd encounter. "Sex isn't wrong or shameful, so this isn't doing anything for me," would sum up much of this. And then there are the fetishes. Were I to take my own limited forays into umptysquat as an indication, I would conclude that I am the only man on earth who doesn't constantly fantasize about lesbian sex. Maybe I'm weird. Oh well.

Many of the attitudes about sexuality one encounters are, predictably, reflective of the views dominant in our culture, a major one being the Madonna-whore complex, which is the mind-body dichotomy as applied to sexuality. Human psychology and sexuality both being as complex as they are, it would certainly follow that much of the emotional fallout of our altruistic and collectivist culture would also play out as common, but warped sexual tastes, and views about sexuality.

So it was mainly boredom -- from a desire for more -- that really drove me away, and on many levels at that. Let's see.... What do I find more interesting? A random slut -- or an attractive woman I have taken the time to know? Sex with an endless parade of women I barely know -- or a shared life of physical and emotional intimacy with one woman I care deeply about? Notice what's missing from the umptysquat here: the fact that women have minds. (The efforts by Playboy to overcome this limitation as described in the first review were necessarily superficial.)

For a young man exploring his sexuality for the first time, this may be fine, but when I was growing up, Playboy wasn't even good for this because all the models looked the same.

In those days [starting in the mid 1950s --ed] Hefner liked his centerfolds "round, soft, and with a maximum emphasis on the beauty of being female." The Playmates of the first three decades follow this formula, flashing biteable bottoms and breasts. Things go downhill in the 1980s as breast implants became popular: the new boobs are globe-like and tactile only in the way that bowling balls are tactile. Some of them cast a glare, like cartoon balloons. Food metaphors no longer apply.

Something else (related) happens around this time: Playboy ceases to be about the erotic everyday encounter. Flesh and blood women turn to images; the "girl next door" becomes distinctly mediated. The bunnies were always mediated, of course, but something about the earlier photographs made you forget the medium and feel as though you were staring straight into the eyes of a luscious partner. Enthusiastic photoshopping has aided the transformation. Gone are the freckles and downy arm hairs of the predecessors. Breasts are surgically standardized; gym routines and spray tans produce identically toned and tinted bodies. Girls of all ethnicities blend together into one latte-colored woman, and the result looks computer-generated. When you try to imagine how the models might feel and smell, things like rubber come to mind. [bold added]
Exactly. If, as I do, you find beauty in actual women, including their inevitable departures from the Platonic "ideal" the entertainment industry wishes to foist on everyone, and you were trapped in the late eighties, you were out of luck even for window-shopping.

Having said that, sexuality is a very complicated phenomenon, involving one's deepest convictions (both in terms of how one views sexuality and in terms of what one responds to on an emotional and sexual level) and one's psychology (which can affect what optional things, such as what physical "type" one finds attractive, manifest as fetishes, or even affect sexual orientation). There is an enormous variety in what a rational, healthy individual can find sexually attractive. That strikes me as something to celebrate, rather than hide from behind the photoshopped pages of a tawdry magazine.

-- CAV

14 comments:

Jim May said...

Gone are the freckles and downy arm hairs of the predecessors.

This is something I realized when I was explaining to a friend why I like Minnie Driver in "Goodwill Hunting"; she had *freckles* that made her, and the intimacy of the scene, much more real.

I never had any interest in celebrity women as a teenager, likely for that reason -- it was more interesting to contemplate women I met in person around town. About the only (mild) exception to that was Justine Bateman on "Family Ties", and that had more to do with her genuine look than the character she played.

Gus Van Horn said...

Heck, even a woman who is not just unusual or distinctive by dint of something like freckles, but homely even by more-normal-than-Hollywood standards can make that homeliness special by sheer force of her personality.

When we were dating, my wife, who has a very pretty face, had these coke-bottom glasses she'd often wear, usually when working in the lab. One day, she was dropping me off at the airport and as I watched her leave, I found myself even thinking that THOSE were cute. (That doesn't mean I didn't like contacts much better!) Not really an aspect of how she looks, but it's part of the same point.

madmax said...

Gus,

I'm going to go at this from a different angle, although I'm not disagreeing with you and Jim. But I have always loved physically perfect women; ie those with the right hips to waist ratio, perfectly flat tummies, perfectly spherical breasts, harmonious facial features (of any racial standard), long lean limbs. In essence, I have always loved Playboy Playmates precisely because I considered them physically perfect women.

There was a discussion recently on HBL about what constitutes beauty from a purely sensory level. I think the two of you have probably read this. As I understood the discussion, beauty does have a "take all the possible features common to all and find the best combination of all of them" element to it. So for that reason, I always felt that Playmates and top models have always represented the physical ideal. Of course this says nothing about character or personality as contributing to beauty which of course it does in a real life context.

Harold said...

"I have always loved physically perfect women; ie those with the right hips to waist ratio, perfectly flat tummies, perfectly spherical breasts, harmonious facial features (of any racial standard), long lean limbs."

*cough* *cough*

But seriously, Peikoff recently had a show that featured this topic.

Gus Van Horn said...

Actually, I had not read the HBL thread on beauty, as it arrived shortly after a long trip out of town. I never got around to reading it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

That said, there remain a couple of things regarding the physical aspect of sexuality I am considering here.

First, there remains the matter of personal preference. Some men love freckles, others very dark or very light skin. Some men love red hair, and others dislike it. On those things the choice is entirely arbitrary.

Second, what one finds sexually attractive (as opposed to just beautiful) can be profoundly affected by one's psychological development. An extreme (and common) case is homosexuality. I doubt that anyone would choose to be gay if the choice were open to him, and yet, at some point in a gay person's psychological development, a preference for the same sex emerged.

Culture can also have a profound effect. For example, in some cultures, including the West before this century, thin women were NOT regarded as the ideal. (And I guess you could count me as a "Renaissance man" there.) I would certainly say that a preference for a more or less curvaceous figure is probably also optional.

I would hold that the pop cultural fascination with waifs as opposed to more natural, feminine figures is more an example of a cultural effect on sexuality (and standards of beauty), and not an example of objective beauty. (That said, the Playboy ideal is on the thin side for my tastes, but is not what I'm talking about when "waif" comes to mind.)

Gus Van Horn said...

Harold,

Regarding Peikoff, which date was that podcast? (Speaking of which, I am glad to see that someone has organized them (and given them unique file names) by date.

Gus

Harold said...

"Harold,

Regarding Peikoff, which date was that podcast? (Speaking of which, I am glad to see that someone has organized them (and given them unique file names) by date.

Gus"


The 26th. It was the last question he addressed. It was more about the relationship aspect that you kinda mentioned and not so much what people find attractive. *Shrug* I know that's how many O'ists feel about it.

Gus Van Horn said...

Merci.

Jim May said...

Gus: I knew a woman back in Canada who was not attractive by common standards; flat as a board, largish butt, slightly irregular teeth, unremarkable face.

But if sexuality were a radiation, she had several hundred watts of it. I know for certain it wasn't just me; most men (and some women) picked up on it rather quickly when they met her in person.

My only explanation for it would be that it was in her personality (very open, friendly and approachable -- and also very self-assertive and intelligent) and her absolute comfort in her own body and sexuality.

With regard to "perfect" women as madmax is describing, I simply don't react to such women in the same manner. I tend to see them more like art works rather than real people -- to be seen from a distance, only.

Real women, on the other hand, can be experienced in a far more multidimensional fashion; I was easily able to imagine the smells and tactile sensations of being in bed with Minnie Driver while watching "Good Will Hunting", in a fashion I couldn't if it were some "perfect" woman (though I should give full credit to the lighting and camera work).

I almost don't want to ever meet "perfect" women, lest the picture be ruined. This is because my experience of "perfect" women strongly colors my evaluation of them in general.

This is because beautiful women in this culture tend to have ruined, spoiled-brat personalities. Their experience growing up teaches them that manipulating others by means of being "cute" (as children) or "hot" (as a young adult) is how to survive in the world. Such creatures usually don't give guys like me the time of day if we aren't rich, so I am inclined to return the favor.

And now, of course, having lived in Los Angeles for five years, I tend to dislike "Malibu Barbies" on sight.

Of course, that's not always the case -- if I meet such a woman, objectively beautiful *and* with a healthy personality, the attraction snaps on almost immediately.

Gus Van Horn said...

"[B]eautiful women in this culture tend to have ruined, spoiled-brat personalities."

I think that's true, and might partially explain why so many celebrities don't have stable marriages. A good relationship takes work, which many of these people haven't had to put into getting into a relationship, and the option of seeking greener pastures is far easier, too.

Anonymous said...

"This is because beautiful women in this culture tend to have ruined, spoiled-brat personalities. Their experience growing up teaches them that manipulating others by means of being "cute" (as children) or "hot" (as a young adult) is how to survive in the world. Such creatures usually don't give guys like me the time of day if we aren't rich, so I am inclined to return the favor."

I agree with this entirely. But I also think that feminism has played a role in this as it has largely turned men into docile wimps. A bold, self confident man is rarely if ever portrayed by the popular culture. All we get from Hollywood are moma's boys, Neurotic weaklings, or nihilistic madmen.

"...a woman, objectively beautiful *and* with a healthy personality..."

This is always the ideal of course. Its just that for me the standard of beauty is physical health and that will not look like a waif or a huskier woman, but a girl with enough muscle mass *and* curves along with that collection of harmonious (and "soft") facial features. For the most part, that description fits Playboy's girls to a T. That's why I defend them as physically beautiful. No doubt though, girls that pretty in this culture are more often than not completely unbearable.

Sadly, the mind/body split rules the modern world.

Madmax

Gus Van Horn said...

Regarding the nihilistic madmen, a friend of mine long ago made a very perceptive comment on that subject, which ties in to your comment on masculinity being incomprehensible to/under attack by moderns: Many women (especially when young), not knowing what a man really is, confuse "asshole" with "independent".

justin said...

I can't disagree more. When people talk about "real" women, in my opinion, they are promoting mediocrity and "average" as better than ideal; this is the opposite of Objectivism which is idealistic. Ayn Rand admired beautiful women herself. What constitutes a beautiful woman when it comes to physical appearance is rather arbitrary, it is as individual an aesthetic sense as is music. To claim naturally "thick" is better than skinny as a model is ridiculously arbitrary — this "look" was created in the first place through the evolutionary process called "sexual selection" over the course of hundreds of generations by the males of each race. Thus you see a multitude of thick white and black girls, but much fewer thick yellow girls. The men of each, on average, had a different hierarchy of values when giving the choice between round butts and large breasts vs the correlated risk flabby bodies overall. If you honestly in your heart of hearts find freckles not merely acceptable but attractive, then by all means find a female who has them as well as a brain that pleases you. But don't assume that you are "better" for appreciating "homely" more than the subscribers of Playboy do. That's little better than making fun of a wealthy man in a nice suit because you are happy with your frugal $99 JC Penny's special.

Gus Van Horn said...

To claim naturally "thick" is better than skinny as a model is ridiculously arbitrary... Thus you see a multitude of thick white and black girls, but much fewer thick yellow girls.

And so we get to my point, which is that to claim that skinny is "better" than thick is just as arbitrary.

"If you honestly in your heart of hearts find freckles not merely acceptable but attractive, then by all means find a female who has them as well as a brain that pleases you. But don't assume that you are "better" for appreciating "homely"...."

Who said I was claiming to be "better"? And conversely, if taste in women is arbitrary, why are you turning around and implying that freckled women are somehow objectively ugly?

You should also re-read the parts about homely women. My point is more subtle than the common, altruistic rebellion against personal preference: The beauty of a woman involves her personality, sometimes to an astounding degree.