Sometimes on flights I notice young men in college gear (fraternity or university sweatshirt, raggedy cap with a bill folded mercilessly downward, a dullness of the eyes) looking at Maxim, the marginally pornographic, highly profitable fluff for boys without the guts to carry Playboy. This doesn’t bother me so much; it’s not my money they’re wasting in college, and their ilk are fairly easy to sort out in a job interview. In short, I see the competition my sons will face for jobs and women and I have little worry.
What annoys me are the reactions I imagine coming from people who pose as defenders of mass culture, were I to voice in their company the opinion that the optimal social policy for these boys is expulsion and mandatory military service, could they be trusted to take their hands off themselves long enough to learn how to salute. You know who I’m talking about. They are the people who adopt the air of a seasoned sociologist as they inform the curmudgeon that he should get over it, because all the curmudgeons before him were equally wrong about the decadence/stupidity/ill-fated paths of their fellow citizens.
Of course they weren’t wrong; free society is simply quite resilient even in the face of repugnant and unredeeming behavior. It survives in spite of its least worthy members. The defender of mass culture, however, rejects the very concept of moral behavior. He is down with the people (though he really isn’t; likely as not he can’t personally bear them any more than the curmudgeon he likes to out-cool at social events). Look, he says, young men want to screw beautiful women. You want to screw beautiful women. The fact that you denounce them for treating themselves to erections inspired by slutty pictures is merely evidence of your own repression, not the downfall of civilization.
Some of this is true, which is why the point embedded in the assertions sounds plausible even though it is incorrect. Most of us have a strong inclination towards sex. But we also (we Southerners, at least) have an inclination to bathe ourselves in the blood of people who insult us. It is only because of centuries of civilization that we restrain ourselves to the point that most of us find this idea — dare I say it — repugnant.
In other words, the fact that one has primal desires does not entitle one to behave like a shaved ape without reproach. I know that by itself one boy reading one trashy magazine is not a tragedy for the world. But it is a picture of tragedy, at best a vignette and at worst a piece of a larger tragedy, that mankind would spend centuries of toil and misery to evolve a political and economic system that affords a boy vast cultural and literary choices and the beautiful liberty to choose among them, and the best he can muster for himself is Maxim.
Will the world end because of his choice? No. The question the individual has to ask, however, is whether the world is a more beautiful or ugly place for his choices. What would your answer be?