A Different Kind of Maxim

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?


  1. Anonymous

    “the fact that one has primal desires does not entitle one to behave like a shaved ape without reproach”

    I think this is a great post and is a good illustration of something that’s been discussed here before — the benefits of simultaneously holding two thoughts in one’s mind at once.

    Hedonism advocates fail to see the benefits to individuals and social groups of limiting one’s more carnal outbursts.

    No one is surprised that many of us find huge gabumbas and lots of skin tittilating. But how sad when our tastes for the *higher things* of beauty and love fail to advance beyond 14 years of age . . .

  2. James

    I guess the question is whether these boys will outgrow Maxim. My guess is that most will. Just as most of the frat boys who spend half their time getting drunk and trying to get into the pants of the co-eds will grow up to be sober, gainfully employed adults, most of these fellows will go on to find three-dimensional women to mate with, raise children and the like. Most of the dirty hippies of the 1960s now bathe regularly, have short haircuts, and hold decent jobs.

  3. Misanthropyst

    I think you should take a deep breath and relax. The Republic is in fine shape, the youth of today will turn out OK, and not everyone has to be a clone of, well, someone else…

  4. Da Goddess

    I think I’d rather it be Maxim than some of the other stuff out there. Boys grow and change. So do their tastes. What is titillation during puberty doesn’t necessarily remain exciting later on.

  5. Anonymous

    It’s funny to read posts advocating “relaxation” as a response to smut.

    It’s not just that “almost porn” objectifies women or leaves men feeling guilty. The real crime of Maxim is not the pictures — it’s the crappy writing. It’s just such a waste of truly limited time.

    And if peoples tastes change so fricking much, why do I read daily about fat, old men molesting women who are underage.

    People don’t change that much. I have much the same sexual obsessions I did when I was younger. But I thank my friends for pushing me to ask for more of the people I date and pushing me to ask more of myself then to play the silly games I did when I was 15.

    Everyone knows there is something kind of sad about grown men publicly reading magazines like Maxim. It’s the best way a man can announce he’s lonely and frustrated by his inability to handle a mature relationship. He’s sad and suffering and desperately seeking love. And he’s unable to differentiate between sex and love.

    It also seems like some sort of natural progression of the victimology credo that transforms bad decisions into unquestionable truths. “I can’t help myself. I’m just a victim of my genes.”

    Further, if people disagree with this, could they please come up with a more critical response than “relax”?

  6. Allison

    “In short, I see the competition my sons will face for jobs and women and I have little worry.”
    Be very careful, and very afraid. Do you think that all those boys have defective parents? Can you be so positive that your boys will make perfect choices when they get older? Admittedly, odds are that boys raised by a conservative Southerner will turn out great. At least, thats what I tell myself as a conservative Southerner. Still, I look at young men like that and remember that they may have mothers who would be absolutely mortified at their behavior. Instead of relaxing, that image should make you all the more vigiliant. Of course, maybe I’ve taken it too far. My three-year-old loudly told a stranger in the checkout line at HomeDepot to take his cap off inside the building. I was shocked and aghast. My boy explained that he had to tell the man because “maybe his mommy never told him or he would know better”. I was speechless (an unusual state) and the man removed his cap without a word.

  7. Tony

    Finally, a playmate for Caleb. Any chance we can talk you into moving to our neck of the woods?

    The responses that immediately came to my mind upon reading your post remind me of the duality of man. I almost simultaneously thought:

    1. Exactly, what is satisfying now will have to be replaced by something “harder” later, leading to an escalation of the need for stimulation; and,

    2. (Butthead laugh) “Heh heh. She said ‘titillation.'”

  8. Gianna

    Hi Tony,
    I would say I’m definitely on the side of the ‘defender of mass culture’…!
    You write:
    “…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.”
    Well, “ugly” is obviously in the eye of the beholder just as much as “beauty” is. I don’t know “Maxim”, but I don’t think there’s anything shameful about sex (didn’t someone called God invent it, anyway?). So I’m quite happy for college boys to be looking at magazines full of naked women rather than looking at magazines of guns. The real problem is that, rather than being a celebration of female beauty and sexuality, many existing ‘girlie’ magazines have a tendency to be degrading towards women or misogynistic. But I suspect that was not what your point.

  9. misanthropyst

    “…were I to voice in their company the opinion that the optimal social policy for these boys is expulsion and mandatory military service…”

    Maybe “relax” is simply a polite way of saying, “Truly civilized individuals don’t force people out of school and into the military simply because they don’t share tastes in reading material and apparel.”

  10. Seth Richardson

    Despite the uninformed or otherwise robotically acquiescent(to the party line) opinions of many of today’s so- called “liberals”, military service is not merely a venue that indoctrinates the young into the realm of armed conflict and the inherent killing of other human beings. While warfare is the ultimate purpose of their training and therefore of the specialist skills they acquire, whether as “grunts” or “tech weenies”, and indeed that of any military force, there are biproducts of their basic training that constitute a foundation for the rest of their respective lives, be they soldiers, sailors or civilians:
    They are taught to function efficiently as members of a team, they are taught to think, analyze, prioritize, embrace and surmount difficult challenges and they acquire self discipline. Such an education is much more beneficial to these aimless, self indulging young people in the long run than that which they receive at a university they only attend because mom and dad are paying their tuitions and supporting them for a few extra years. An awful lot of these young people of which you speak address that extension of parental largesse by taking the paths of least resistance through college, adopting majors they believe they can
    get through with the least amount of hard work, their lives after graduation not even a factor as they’ve never before had to fend for themselves and haven’t a clue as such.
    I say, conscript these young folks and send ’em off. They may be reluctant in a profound way or downright angry, but when they return to the quagmire of modern civilian life, they will find themselves much better equipped to function within its infrastructure.

  11. misanthropyst


    1. I agree as to the value of universal and mandatory military service, both for the individual and for society. It would lessen some of the dreadful split between those who serve this country and those who are accumulating all of the benefits of living in this country.

    2. But that doesn’t have anything to do with this topic, which has to do with a reverence for small-town bigotry and social control…

  12. Tony Woodlief

    “A reverence for small-town bigotry and social control”?

    At first I thought the admonition to “relax” was a slightly silly rebuttal. Now I can see it has its place.

  13. Alan Sullivan

    I like your thoughtful posts, and the personal or familial detail you incorporate. Better yet, though, is your acceptance of equally thoughtful rebuke from your readers. There’s nothing left for me to say here, except that I agree with the inaptly named “misanthropyst.”

  14. Sigivald

    Aaron: When and where was “the elevated” not a minority taste?

    I can’t think of any time and place where “elevated” tastes were those of the majority. (Considering what is often considered “elevated”, I don’t hold this against the majority in the slightest, either.)

  15. Nymus

    I life in a country which has conscription services and so every male does millitary service for a year and frankly put when I compare your statements about what millitary traning does with the reality I donnot know if I should laugh or scream.

  16. Max

    Hrrmm..I dunno. I’m a college boy (and a frat boy). I’m in Navy ROTC. I read Maxim. Then again, I read Maxim when I’ve finished the Economist and the Weekly Standard.

    I don’t think one glimpse of Maxim-reading is enough to tell what the optimal course for any given college/frat boy should be; there’s probably more there than you realize.

  17. Da Goddess


    1. Exactly, what is satisfying now will have to be replaced by something “harder” later, leading to an escalation of the need for stimulation; and,

    Not necessarily. Sometimes the shock value of TABOO is outgrown. However, there will ALWAYS be a group that will never outgrow that type of stimuli.

    What matters most is that one not over-react. Reverse Psychology 101. Like not getting too bent out of shape when a child swears, testing the boundaries of a parent’s limits. A gentle, “well, that didn’t sound too nice. Are there other words to describe your feelings better?” goes a long way. (My daughter once told me a little girl called her a fu**er head. I asked her if that made her feel good or did it make her feel bad? She said it made her feel bad. So I replied, “then it sounds like words we probably wouldn’t want to use because we don’t want to hurt someone else.” It was the last I heard of that kind of language.)

    2. (Butthead laugh) “Heh heh. She said ‘titillation.'”

    Yes. Yes, I did.

    Abutment. See? I’m equal opportunity.

  18. NCFriend

    What about young men 15 years ago who were big fans of Guns n Roses when they were a hot symbol of mass culture? 🙂

  19. Celeste

    As a long-time female subscriber to Maxim, Stuff and FHM, I don’t see any of the three as a symptom of the decline of our society. Maxim, Stuff and FHM are merely the Wink, Peep and Tease of today, and in fact are hardly racier than their 1940’s counterparts.

    I’ve read Cosmo and Glamour and Jane and the other rags directed at women, and given a choice, I’d hand a 12 year old a copy of Maxim before I’d let them read any of the former mags; Maxim is more tasteful.

    I’d be willing to concede that openly reading such material in public is a symptom of our societal decline, but Maxim is hardly groundbreaking in terms of smut or objectification of women.

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