Playboy Magazine rippled the American underbelly one year ago when it announced that it would no longer publish photographs of naked women. Yes, Playboy Magazine was covering up. What was the world coming to? Or, rather, what had it come to? In an age of online on-demand pornography, with every possible perversion only a click away, this move by the former industry leader was paradoxically calculated to boost sales by reigning in the smut which had grown so rampant—even commonplace. One year later, Playboy is getting naked again. COO Cooper Hefner, son of notorious founder Hugh Hefner, made the announcement on Twitter saying, “Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem.” And there you have it. It is bad enough when the pornolithic Playboy is forced to capitulate under the pervasiveness and popularity of Internet pornography. It is worse when it is forced to return to its filth with a forthright expression capturing the capitulation of an entire culture. If you can’t beat them, join them. The new cover of Playboy echoes Hefner’s thesis with, “Naked is normal” and an au naturel model. And he is correct—there is a nakedness that is normal for a culture that has lost its innocence. How singular and sickening to think that that which was once the sign of human innocence is now the sign of its corruption.
Pornographic nudity is normal nowadays—the erotic depiction of human nakedness that arouses and titillates sexual desire by providing artificial access to what is morally inaccessible for the sake of stimulus and self-gratification. The pornographic, and the nudity it revels in, is a sensationally skewed experience of beauty, sex, and the sacred, as opposed to those works of art that ennoble through a nudity freed from eroticism, hearkening back to the original, sacred beauty and dignity of the human condition and the human body. Pornography is the norm, however, when it comes to nudity, and the encounter of pornography is also normal. This is a simple unavoidable truth because pornography is simply unavoidable. To suppose that people, especially young people, even from solid families, are not exposed to pornography in some form or another is naïve. The presence of pornography is a given, as it is widespread, strategic, and insidious. Pornography is inescapable because it is immediately accessible. It is always a click or a flick away, and hence it is everywhere. That is the reality that must be faced before it can be fought. And it is a battle that must be fought, even if only to reclaim and preserve a vestige of innocence. Little more is the claim of humanity after all.
Though beginning to be questioned as a public health threat, pornography is perhaps the prime destroyer of the innocence proper to certain years of every person’s life. Before Adam and Eve lost their innocence by original sin, naked was normal in a very different sense for it was not even noticed. It was not just normal, it was natural. When they gained the knowledge of good and evil, they also immediately knew, with the clarity of that distinction, that they were naked. They were exposed by sin both spiritually and physically. And they were ashamed and afraid. This engendering of shame and fear, this loss of blissful innocence, is experienced in every one of their children throughout the ages as reason dawns and the tragedy of the recognition between good and evil is grasped. It is by this dangerous and devastating knowledge that sin becomes profusely possible. Though man is fallen and no longer able to retain the unadulterated innocence of his childhood, it does not require that he be guilty. Men and women can yet preserve an innocence that is befitting a holy people of God—an innocence that guards against the occasions of shame, an innocence that rejects the tendencies of fallen nature and strives to struggle with its effects towards perfection. The preservation of that vestige of innocence is the mark of virtue, and it is not a relic to be dismissed or taken lightly.
The perversion of nakedness both symbolizes and embodies the diametric opposite of this essential struggle. It marks a certain fulfillment of the serpent’s promise at the tree, of the eye being opened and all things being laid bare—the tree that was “fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold.” Pornography involves the absolute embrasure of fallen nature with an abandon that is so wild it has even learned to excuse and eradicate shame. Shame has become just another thrill that thickens over time. The serpent did not wholly lie—the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened. But what they saw was sin and shame. In these days, an eerie reversal has taken place. The eyes of men and women are still open by the inheritance of fallen nature, yet they have lost the vision of shame through a mind-bending, conscience-crushing hedonism that has effectively rendered the distinction of good and evil indistinct in a stupor of sin as opposed to the simplicity of innocence. It is in this state of affairs that Playboy proclaims with a shrug that naked is normal, and surrenders to the sensualist spate with a will more hell-bent than ever before. Playboy is playing to the principle of a relativistic subculture that holds pornographic nudity and the hyper-sexualization of the female body need not be shameful.
The core of the parody called pornography is the blatant blasphemy of love. The desecration and profanation of love and its most sacred act is the deepest sign of an innocence that has been trampled underfoot. Unless people awaken their hearts through discipline and dominion to the truth again, they will never know anything that can truly fulfill either in this world or the next. Pornography is the lie of the serpent—it is a barrier to the reality all are commanded to know as inheritors of Adam and Eve’s stewardship and our Maker’s Image and Likeness. The first step to being a good steward, though, is to have a healthy respect for the things of the earth and heaven; which respect forbids exploitation for pleasure’s sake (which is a working definition of a playboy). For those who truly love the realities that God made, pleasure—or rather, enjoyment—is derived by virtue of the reality loved, even in the state of broken innocence. The loss of innocence does not necessitate ignorance. Men and women did not become like gods as the serpent seduced, but they remained children of God, able to find the voice of the Father in their hearts. It is the heart that reveals what is worth loving and worth knowing intimately. No category of pornography can offer intimacy for pornography does not access the real with love. Pornography reveals nothing even in its nudity.
Why didn’t Playboy’s marketing maneuver work? It seems men didn’t read the magazine for just the articles after all. Perhaps the succession from a 90-year-old Hefner angling for more traditional pornography to a 25-year-old Hefner angling for more competitive pornography had something to do with the reversal. Could it be that interest and intrigue are gone from subtlety? Must appetites be gorged if they are to be engaged? Has the age of porn pride finally dawned? With the rise in scrutiny and criticism on the effects of pornography, there is a rising defense as well. Censorship supports the rejected idea that pornography is detrimental for men and debasing to women. The cry for uncensored celebration rings loud. Let women put themselves on display if they choose and make a buck through their bodies at the same time. It’s all in good mutuality, to name a venomously vague vogue. By returning to nudity, Playboy joins the bandwagon (and the market) of condemning the prudish hatred and hiding of what should be flaunted.
Pornographic nudity robs people of their innocence through the elimination of the mysteries of the heart, severely impairing their ability to be awed or find joy in the beautiful. Fantasy and blasphemy results in a loss of desire. Appetites surfeit and sicken. Men wallow from debauchery to depravity. Playboy realized something of these cultural effects after 63 years in the business, but failed to find a satisfactory profit on the fringe of the meat market. Back they came to reclaim the ignominy of what young Hefner calls a “lifestyle brand” with a shamelessness that is all too telling. Naked is normal for those who have fallen from that nakedness which is normal no more.