A year ago, in December 2015 Playboy magazine released its January/February 2016 issue. It featured 48-year old every-pubescent-boys-fantasy-lifeguard Pamela Anderson on its cover. This is a historic issue to say the least. It marked the end of an era spanning more than six decades, a magazine as infamous as the nude photos it carried in its pages; the Pamela Anderson issue will the last where Playboy will feature nudity.
Someone said it is a victory for feminism. Others, a win for “god” and the religious-type.
But what really happened?
In its own words, Playboy had this to say about its decision to cover up:
“Tens of millions readers come to our non-nude website and app every month for, yes, photos of beautiful women, but also for articles and videos from our humor, sex and culture, style, nightlife, entertainment and video game sections. We are, and always have been, “entertainment for men” – with award-winning journalism and fiction to boot.” (Source: (http://www.playboy.com/articles/no-nudity-announcement?utm_source=tw&utm_medium=social&utm_content=sexculture&utm_campaign=launchpost)
The keywords, really are: “tens of millions”.
Oddly enough, what won over nudity was not some feminism (We are, and always have been, “entertainment for men”) nor religious repentance. It was the desire to stay afloat in a changing world. In other words, it was the desire to continue making a profit.
No point blaming religion
Was it some kind of religious awakening which changed Hugh Hefner’s heart? Obviously not. Did our society become more moral? No, not with the proliferation of free pornography online. Simply, norms and taste changed, thus it does not make sense anymore to do nude magazine as Playboy did for decades. Hence, in order to survive, it had to change.
There is nothing religious nor moral about it.
So when I hear about certain kosher airline now defunct, or some hypermarkets segregating trolleys for ritually-pure products, or the fast food restaurant chain which bans non-kosher outside food, even birthday cakes; I do not blame religion. Just as I do not credit religion for Playboy’s change of business strategy.
I mean, why should we blame religion when a major conglomerate who will not think twice about exploiting people in all sorts of manners decided to comply with some values which coincide with a particular religion, all because of profit?
We have to be clear, otherwise we are missing the real problem here. Yes, religious people can be problematic at times, but the problem is not always because of religion.
There is a deeper logic at work here.
Some call it the logic of the market.
The logic of the market and religion
Yes, to be sure, there was religious language involved. But the pattern is clear here, some use political language (Make America Great Again), some nationalist language (1Malaysia, Brexit), and some etnonationalist language (Hidup Melayu! Or, Make White America Great Again), but again and again, the aim is the same: to triumph within this logic of the market.
Whatever it takes, really. Because the final aim is to make profit. All other things are penultimate if at all.
It is the same logic which says a house must be this expensive so that we have as many empty homes as homeless people. The same logic tells us we must spend and spend in order to fuel the economy so that it will not crash only for us to be crushed by the burden of debts. This logic insists on meritocracy but only for the poor and the working class. It decides that a product made by lowly paid shopfloor operators is priced higher than months of wages of those workers.
It is a logic which allows us to buy anything from better education to better exam grades. We can purchase fast lanes at airports, yes but also in hospitals. We can pay premium for VIP services in hotels or for favours in government departments, we can buy security and protection from and against law enforcers, we can buy human services, human organs and heck even human beings (not in some faraway land, think about human trafficking in Malaysia). Alas, we can also buy good conscience and religiosity.
Little wonder why there is so much depression in the world.
It is crazy that we even call it “logic”.
But the sad truth is this, very few people can imagine a way out.
Think about it.
Think about Hollywood movies about alien invasion or some post-apocalypse future where people became flesh eating zombies, or a dystopian world ruled by intelligent machines. We can imagine all sorts of crazy alternate universe, but still, the logic stuck. It underlies whatever society we can imagine. We have come to take this logic for granted.
One way to look at religion is how it poses a challenge to the present order of things. I mean, that is what “heaven” is all about right? An alternate universe where “[god] will wipe away every tear…and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
In other words, the best of our religious traditions imagined a radically different future where even the logic which caused untold pains and miseries will be no more.
Think about it.
2000 years ago, Jesus turned the table against currency speculators, called on banks to cancel debts, offer universal free healthcare and then flooded the market with unlimited free breads and fish. No wonder the people were furious and crucified him.
Or 1500 years ago, when prophet Muhammad preached monotheism and exhorted banks not to charge interests, the people of Mecca were aghast because it jeopardized their commerce, especially the lucrative religious trades around the Kaaba. If he merely preach a new god, I am sure the Meccans can accommodate, after all another god means a potential new market.
Do not praise Playboy, or an airline, or a bank or a fast food restaurant for being bible-compliant. It is not the victory of religion.
In fact, we should be worried that our rich religious traditions which are supposed to offer a radically different world is now so comfortable being in cohort with “the current world”. Instead of transforming this world for the better, to be part of the solutions – to bring heaven on earth? – we are happy to be part of the present scheme and therefore part of the problems.
It is going to be 2017, the world really needs to think very hard on these things.
I am not sure if there is a grand solution. But surely talking about it more and more, forcing the logic surface and challenging its limit even little by little may be a good start.
May 2017 be a bit more “illogical”.
New Year’s Eve