The Briefing 10-14-15
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, October 14, 2015. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Playboy drops nudity, reacting to effects of pervasive pornographic culture of America
A Chinese parable going back to the time of Confucius has a recurring theme that comes down to this: Good news, bad news, who's to say? Sometimes, you see a headline that appears to be good news, but the more you think about it, it's not good news, it's bad news, or at least it tells us something that should concern us very, very deeply about this culture.
Here's a headline from the New York Times yesterday morning, "Playboy to Drop Nudity as Internet Fills Demand." The news coming out at Playboy is that the magazine that had reached iconic status as a symbol of the mainstreaming of American pornography in the 1950's and 60's and beyond, Playboy Magazine is now no longer going to publish pornographic pictures, or at least no longer going to publish female nudity. That is a striking piece of news. The headline went viral on Monday night.
With people all over the world fascinated by the headline that told us that Playboy was going to cease doing what Playboy was famous for, which is publishing nude pictures of women. Yet, the closer you look at the story, the more clarifying the real story becomes. That is the ubiquitous, nearly universal access to pornography that now marks contemporary culture. To put the matter bluntly in economic terms, Playboy is no longer going to be publishing nude pictures, because nobody pays for a subscription to Playboy in order to get what they can now find on the internet for free.
That is the open acknowledgement of Playboy, and by the way it's not no one, but it's a significant minority of persons, even given the fact that Playboy once had a paid circulation of over five million, but that has now dropped to about 800,000 and the plummeting numbers tell the story. Nobody needs Playboy in order to gain access to pornography anymore. That's why the good news turns out to be bad news, because morally speaking, the good news that Playboy won't be publishing nudity is not a statement that somehow America is a less conspicuously pornographic culture, but rather the exact opposite, that now we are such a pornographic culture that no one needs Playboy in order to find pornography.
Ravi Somaiya writing for the New York Times yesterday says,
"For a generation of American men, reading Playboy was a cultural rite, an illicit thrill consumed by flashlight. Now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance."
Now, that's a paragraph that is packed with moral insight, even if it's coming from a very strange direction. We're being told here that the shift in the culture means that pornographic magazines, let's look at the three things that were said by the New York Times: They have lost their shock value, they've lost their commercial value, and they've lost their cultural relevance. Let's take each of those in turn.
They've lost their shock value. As a matter of fact, the article in the New York Times, articles in Slate.com and elsewhere tell us in terms far more graphic than I'm going to discuss on The Briefing, how Playboy simply couldn't keep up with the graphic content that is now available on the internet, and thus the shock value shifted from Playboy which was shocking in the second half of the 20th century, to being absolutely unable to shock in terms of the pornographic culture of the 21st century.
The second thing noted was that the magazines have lost their commercial value, and that's largely tied to declining print circulation sales, but beyond that, it's also tied to the fact that the brand no longer works. According to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and others, the Playboy brand and its iconic figure of the rabbit are now nearly universally recognized and that tells us something in the usual situation a nearly universal brand would be something with massive commercial value.
It turns out that Playboy now doesn't have that massive commercial value even if its symbolism is almost as iconic as the advertisements for Coca Cola or for just about any other commercial product. That also tells us something that is very revealing in terms of the ties between economics and morality. It's not always something that is easy to trace. Sometimes, you can look at sales figures.
For example here, the figure is related to print circulation, the pornographic magazines. When those numbers go down, you can think you are reading one moral reality, when actually you're looking at a very different picture. You're looking at the fact that that is no longer the main delivery system or the kind of pornography that still has a massive market, indeed a growing market.
The third thing noted in this article in the New York Times, is that these pornographic magazines have lost their cultural relevance. This is something we need to look at rather carefully. Because one of the things we need to know is that when a moral revolution is taking place, its leading edge is the leading edge of shock.
To use the language of the postmodern philosophers, that leading edge is the edge of what they called, "Transgression." Yet, what we're watching is the difficulty of transgressing in a culture in which transgression is becoming the norm rather than the exception. The cultural relevance that Playboy has lost is not just the cultural relevance or the fact that America is moved beyond the madmen era in terms of the notion of the sophisticated gentleman that Hugh Hefner tried to present in terms of his magazine and its iconic appeal.
Rather you have the fact that transgression is now moved right in the center of the culture. It's not only available in terms of pornographic magazine, for that matter it's not only available in terms of the internet, it's also available in what had previously been understood as mainstream entertainment. The mainstream products coming out of centers of entertainment production such as Hollywood are now featuring what would only be described as transgressive, and yet they're doing so packaged for the mainstream middle-class audience in America. That is perhaps the biggest lesson in looking at this kind of headline.
There are deeper issues here at stake and to the credit of the New York Times, it gets to several of them. At the center of this story is Hugh Hefner who was the founder of Playboy, and who in himself and in his enterprise tried to create this model of what he presented as the worldly sophisticated gentleman. It was never just a commercial model, it was always packaged in a larger context of a certain view of life. Again, we would call that a worldview.
The worldview of Hugh Hefner comes down to one word that he understood very well. That is the word, "libertarianism." He had a libertarian worldview in which he suggested, that there should be no moral or legal limits when it comes to many behaviors that are specifically sexual. In particular, Hugh Hefner tried to overthrow the understanding of sexual morality that was still prevalent in American culture in terms of the midpoint of the 20th century.
Hugh Hefner tried to overthrow the idea that monogamy was indeed the standard and the norm. He tried to suggest that it was the violations of monogamy, it was the transgressions of monogamy that would create this sophisticated lifestyle to which young men should aspire and all men would find enviable. It came, and it could only come in terms of an overthrow of an entire moral regime.
Hugh Hefner would never been successful if all he wanted to do was sell pornography. He was trying to sell a vision of life. He was trying to sell a worldview. He was trying to sell a personal image. He was trying to sell an entire package that is now discredited and dysfunctional in economic terms. There again, we get to the good news, bad news dimension. Because as the New York Times makes very clear, Hugh Hefner's libertarian worldview hasn't disappeared, it has also become mainstream.
As Somaiya writes,
"This development is not least because the world has gradually adopted Mr. Hefner's libertarian views on a variety of social issues."
Now, that gets to another one of the ironies in this story. Hugh Hefner was known for being on the edge morally speaking. He was known for being a champion of libertarian and progressive issues. He was known for trying to overthrow sexual conventions, and yet, at the very center of Hugh Hefner's vision, not only for his pornography, but for the vision of eyes he put forth was a highly sexualized understanding of women, that reduce women to being shear objects of male sexual desire.
It was an objectification of women that flew in the face of the other great development of those same years and that was the rise of American feminism. Yet, as we note, what really was demonstrated at least impart by Playboy, was the fact that people really weren't going along with that revolution as much as they claim. Even though millions of Americans said that they rejected the objectification of women, the sales numbers of Playboy during the last half of the 20th century betrayed the fact that many Americans were saying one thing, and yet they were in their lives demonstrating a very different set of moral convictions and moral priorities.
The thing for us to note in terms of this good news and bad news is that there is really no good news here. Not at all. What we are being told is that Playboy is shifting its business model because it has to, and not because there is a decreased appetite for pornography, but because pornography has become so mainstream and the line of transgression has moved so far beyond what Playboy can even reach, that Playboy doesn't have a place anymore.
It has lost its economic value, it has lost its cultural relevance. Just remember what the New York Times itself has told us, "It has lost its shock value." From a Christian worldview perspective, that is one of the most interesting issues. One of the issues or greatest concern about this good news, bad news situation, and that is, we had become a society that is almost impossible to shock in moral and sexual terms. At the end of the day, that might be the worst news in this bad news new story.
Planned Parenthood ducks moral issue of donating fetal tissue by not receiving reimbursement
Next, another major headline came out yesterday as found in the Washington Post, it read like this: "Planned Parenthood just stopped accepting payments for tissue donation." Sandhya Somashekhar writing for the Washington Post tells us that,
"Planned Parenthood announced Tuesday, it would no longer accept payments from companies that use tissue leftover from abortions for research, bending to pressure in the wake of undercover videos targeting the group."
That's the single sentence lead in the Washington Post yesterday.
What does it tell us? It tells us that Planned Parenthood is genuinely on the defensive. As you read the story whether it's found in the Washington Post or other mainstream media, the effort is being made by Planned Parenthood to say that this is a minor adjustment in their business model. They say they're doing so, because this never was a major revenue stream, it never was that big a deal says Planned Parenthood. Yet, the story actually when we understand it, is far larger and it carries a very different message.
For one thing, it tells us that Planned Parenthood has held onto this even after this devastating videos had been shown and had held on to this trait and parts taken from aborted babies for months even after this reached national public attention. That tells us something. It tells us that this was not a minor part of Planned Parenthood's activities in terms of what it considered central to its mission.
If indeed these were such a small issue, insignificant in the larger operation of Planned Parenthood, then they surely would have dropped it. They would have repudiated it, they would have made this change almost immediately after Planned Parenthood had to admit in public, that the documentation that came out in these videos did demonstrate its chief medical officer. This goes back to the very first video, acknowledging with the crudest language imaginable that Planned Parenthood was trafficking in parts taken from aborted babies.
This comes just days after the house of representatives of the United States congress voted to create a special select committee to investigate this entire picture with Planned Parenthood at the very center of the controversy. As the story in the Washington Post continues, it tells us that Planned Parenthood, President Cecile Richards had written a letter to the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, in which she said,
"Our decision is first and foremost about preserving the ability of our patients to donate tissue, and to expose our opponents’ false charges about this limited but important work."
Let's look again very closely at that sentence. Here you have a use of language that is deeply revealing. You will notice the use of the language that is attempting to avoid the issue, simply donate tissue. Now let's go back to that first video. In that first video, you had the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood talking about the strategic crashing of unborn infant's bodies in order to preserve specific organs and tissues for maximum value in terms of the trafficking of those very baby parts.
Now you have the language merely donate tissue. One of the things we note on The Briefing recurringly is the use of euphemism, which means morally evasive language that does itself, when noted, become very morally revealing. That is certainly the case right now with Planned Parenthood. Even as they said they were doing so, "To expose our opponent's false charges," that's not at all what is taking place.
As a matter of fact, this has nothing to do with changing the history of what Planned Parenthood has been doing, has been caught doing, and has even had to admit to doing. There you have a shifting of the issue in which Cecile Richards is very clearly trying to argue, that in making this change, they are somehow exposing the false charges made by their opponents. If the charges were false, then they wouldn't be making the change.
We need to note also that they're not making the most important change. All they're changing is that they are going to forgo what they characterize as financial reimbursement for these organs and tissues, taken from unborn babies. They are still going to continue this, and that gets back to that senate in an even greater matter of moral concern. Cecile Richards said,
"Once again, our decision is first and foremost about preserving the ability of our patient to donate tissue."
That is the greatest moral problem here. We're not talking about the tissue of their patient's bodies, we're talking about tissue of another human being that is in their body, in the womb. That is a moral issue that is at the very center of this. If indeed the unborn baby is just tissue that belongs to the mother, then there is no inherent moral significance to that unborn child.
As we had pointed out repeatedly, to follow the logic of Planned Parenthood that supports abortion at any moment prior to the live birth of the baby, this would mean that a baby that is virtually full-term would still be just tissue in the mother's body. That is itself the most haunting part of this entire worldview.
In the tumultuous real world of politics, it's hard to say what the political impact of this change and announcement made by Planned Parenthood would be. The thing we need to keep in mind very clearly is that Planned Parenthood is not changing the moral nature of its work. They're not changing the fact that they're going to continue to kill unborn babies in the womb. This doesn't change in the slightest degree the fact that they're going to continue to traffic in these parts taken from unborn babies that are dismembered in the womb and then outside the womb.
It just means that they're going to forgo what they call reimbursement, which is otherwise known as a, "fee," in terms of the body parts taken from these babies. There is no question that money is a part of the moral picture that we are looking at here, but it is a severe evasion and it is simply wrong to see money as the essence of the issue.
When you put money on the one hand and the sanctity of human life in the other, the sanctity of human life is vastly and eternally more significant. That's one thing we, if no one else, must always keep in mind.
Liberal New Yorkers find appetite overcomes worldview when it comes to Chick-Fil-A
Finally, over and over again we come back to the importance of worldview and the fact that every single conscious human being operates out of a worldview, our Christian responsibility is to develop a worldview and to live consistently with the worldview that is genuinely biblical, compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ and driven by the worldview that would emerge from the understanding that the bible is indeed the word of God.
When it comes to matters of worldview, we need to understand that it comes down to an infinite number of decisions that human beings make, and among those decision are: How to eat, what to eat, where to eat, from whom to get the food that we eat. It turns out that worldview, when it comes to eating, can present some complications whether you're on the cultural left or the cultural right. That point was made abundantly clear in an article that appeared recently in the New York Times by Ginia Bellafante.
The headline is, "In the politics of eating, no chicken sandwich is sacred." It's a really revealing article and it's one of those articles that doesn't cry out as being a great moral significance, but the closer you look at it, the more important the moral issues become. Ginia Bellafante is writing basically about the quandary facing many liberal people in Manhattan as they're now facing a major moral decision. Do they or do they not eat the Chick-fil-A sandwich?
It turns out that Chick-fil-A has opened its first outlet in Manhattan and it turns out it's massive, the largest single unit in the history of the company. It's a three-story Manhattan location that is selling chicken sandwiches by the thousand. A lot of liberal New Yorkers are now facing a serious moral question, "Do they eat a sandwich from Chick-fil-A when after all, many of them declared themselves to be opposed to the worldview that represents Chick-fil-A?" That's not just related to issues of sexual morality.
"In recent days, the complicated politics of urban consumerism have been playing out most visibly, with the arrival of Chick-fil-A, a totem of red-state habits, in New York City."
She goes on to say,
"Created by a conservative Christian child of public housing, S. Truett Cathy, in Georgia, in the mid-20th century, Chick-fil-A has come under fire during the past few years over comments made by the founder’s son Dan Cathy, the company’s president, in opposition to same-sex marriage."
Bellafante goes on to say that,
"The remarks that became the center of controversy had followed revelations that Chick-fil-A's foundation had donated considerable sums of money to groups working to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage."
Back in 2012, Christine C. Quinn, she was then the speaker of the City Council in New York, spoke against the company, saying it wasn't welcome in the city. Similarly, John Sexton, the president of New York University, was urged to get rid of a Chick-fil-A stall that had had a presence in one of the school’s food courts. The liberal New Yorkers said they were resolutely against Chick-fil-A, and they didn't want it. The sales figures in Manhattan say, they do want it and they're eating the sandwiches.
As Bellafante says,
"When it comes to the morality of eating and how one's worldview dictates the decision one makes about food, it turns out, it's not just complicated by Chick-fil-A. It's complicated by whether or not you will eat in a chain restaurant, whether or not the restaurant in which you are eating has adequate ethnic representation in terms of the wait staff and in terms of the kitchen staff."
It comes down to the question as to whether or not a free-range chicken ranges freely enough in order for liberals to believe, that it is officially a free-range chicken to be eaten as such. Bellafante is intellectually honest enough to point out that whether you are on the right or the left, there are some eating questions that are still very difficult to make and it has to do with the fact that especially if you're buying into the moral vision of the left, you're buying into something that is not often actualized in terms of the options available to you.
For instance again, just how free-ranged must a free-range chicken be. When you're looking at other issues, you realize that people will often eat what they say they aren't going to eat precisely because their appetites overcome their worldview. Bellafante writes about the fact that there are urban liberals who are trying their best to go to farms and table restaurants but the question is just how close is the connection between farm and table.
Then again, as she says,
"What you find in many of these restaurants is that hostesses, maître d’s and members of the wait staff are rarely minorities, or for that matter, overweight or unpleasant looking."
As we have to come to the end of this story and the end of this edition of The Briefing, I have to come to the end of this particular article. I promise you, I am reading it exactly as it was written and published in the New York Times, and I quote,
"Recently, an animal rights group began warning the press about certain manufacturers of coconut water who were using monkeys to pick coconuts."
"No statistics exists detailing how many monkeys are bred and used for this purpose." A notice on the group's website warns.
"Still," says Bellafante, "We wouldn't want to dismiss an opportunity to worry."
While so many of the headlines we face, morally speaking really do represent earth shattering developments and issues. Here you have an article telling us that significant moral energy is being invested by many people in Manhattan as to whether or not they can eat a sandwich sold by Chick-fil-A and whether or not they can drink coconut water when the coconut might have been picked by a monkey. In terms of moral confusion, I'll just leave it with that.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to our website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boys College, just go to boyscollege.com. I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.