The January issue of Playboy arrived a few days ago. It’s been sitting on the kitchen counter where we dump our mail, as I haven’t had time yet to give the magazine the concentrated attention that it deserves.
However, Playboy’s mere presence has stimulated me to blogishly contemplate a somewhat surprising subject: morality. Of course, when I turn the issue’s pages my mind surely will turn in other directions.
But for now I’m interested in the feelings that I have whenever I walk by the counter and glance at the cover. Rightness. Honesty. Sincerity. Truth. I'll explain, since I realize that those four words are difficult to associate with a man’s Playboy subscription.
I had never subscribed to Playboy until last November. Then, in an act of defiance to the supposed “values voters” that exit polling indicated were responsible for electing Bush to a second term, I decided to invest $12 in a year’s worth of moral turpitude (a dollar a month, what a bargain).
Naturally I’d enjoyed looking at Playboy over the years. I’d say “reading,” but what man does much of that? Whenever I had the chance to pick up an issue, I’d eagerly do so. Thus all this time I was a Playboy fancier who wasn’t a subscriber.
It wasn’t the small subscription price that kept me from enjoying the magazine monthly. Rather, it was a split between two Brians. There was the me who liked to look at photographs of beautiful naked women, and then there was the me who was reluctant to admit to himself and others how much he liked to look at photographs of beautiful naked women.
The first “me” was honest; the second “me” was hypocritical. I could tell the difference between them when a Playboy ad would arrive in the mail, stimulated, no doubt, by my purchase of a single issue (August 2003) that featured Jenna and Heidi, two attractive contestants from the Survivor reality TV series. (Laurel and I are big fans of Survivor. I couldn’t pass up the chance to delve beneath the surface, so to speak, of this show.)
So whenever I’d get the mail and see a Playboy catalog, that would be the object of my attention as I walked back to the house. Scientific American. TIME. National Geographic. They could wait.
In short, I was a Playboy “reader” who didn’t read Playboy. Not because I thought there was anything morally wrong with doing so—there just was a discrepancy between the person I really was and the persona I wanted to project to the world.
I’d wonder, “What will the mailman think if I get a subscription? What if friends come over and see a copy lying around the house? Will this besmirch my reputation (such as it is)? Will I appear to be a fifty-something guy who likes to leer at young babes (which I am)?”
Eventually the ridiculousness of these wonderings hit home. I am who I am. If some aspect of who I am feels absolutely right to me when I’m alone in my subjective I-am-ness, then I shouldn’t worry about how it looks to those who see me from the outside.
Morality should spring from within, not without. As I noted in my “Talking with a churchless Christian” post, often we feel guilty about doing things that shouldn’t generate any guilt in us at all. The guilt is produced by social pressure (or more accurately, our perception of social pressure).
Religions frequently are the source of obsolete moral injunctions that continue to be accepted by people not because the codes mesh with their inner sense of right and wrong, but because it is more socially acceptable to run with the herd rather than follow your own moral compass.
I’m still a long way from being free of unproductive fretting about how other people regard me. But Playboy has helped me lighten my load of hypocrisy.
There shouldn’t be a big divide between what we feel is the right thing to do and what we’re actually doing. Nor should there be a marked divide between our private sense of morality and how we present ourselves in public.
This is why PostSecret is so popular, even though the postcard confessions are anonymous. It’s healthy to let out honest truth that has been held within.