There was an industry before Heffner

Dear Editor,

So much of the analysis from columnists and letter writers I see in papers in Guyana continues to remind me of the management maxim from Murphy’s law: “Nothing is as simple as it looks to most people”. The comment from Mr Anthony Pantlitz is one such.

He blames Hugh Heffner for poisoning the minds of millions. And I suppose the church gets a free pass. He says Heffner, “could not have asked to be raised in a better home and family than the one he came from.” Maybe. But there are some dissenters.

An article from Christianity Today on Heffner’s death says as follows:

“According to the official biographies, Hugh Marston Heffner was the emotionally needy byproduct of Grace, a devout Methodist mother who never hugged him.

As Hefner puts it, ‘I was a very idealistic, very romantic kid in a very typically Midwestern Methodist repressed home. There was no show of affection of any kind, and I escaped to dreams and fantasies produced, by and large, by the music and the movies of the ‘30s.’”

The likely truth is that Heffner saw a marketing opportunity in the huge thirst for information on human sexuality that all of us experience as we grow up, which, because of the culture in which the adult society shrouds such information and finds discomfort in discussing with their children, thus leaves them to become informed by whomever might first shock them into reality.

This is an extension perhaps through our colonial experience of the Victorian culture that required the curved wooden legs of the table to be covered. They looked too feminine and revealed a lack of refinement. And perhaps the same culture that makes the church want to spiritualize even the passages of the Holy Bible that are there for our education such as the Song of Songs.

Mr Pantlitz ignores the fact that there was a porn industry of sorts that the technology of the day produced. CT continues: “The photograph had been invented in 1839, and the word ‘pornographer’ had entered the dictionary a mere 11 years later. Over the next 114 years, pornography was still very far from mainstream. The emerging soft porn carried the same stigma as the really dirty stuff, grainy black-and-white picture cards and stag reels made with old hookers and alcoholic johns. It was a vile business in an underground market. And because you had to show up to obtain it, participating in pornography meant publicly admitting that you were a pervert, even if only to a group of other perverts.”

The church is still uncomfortable with the subject of sex even though this discomfort has wrought havoc among its members. There is a book called The Christian psychosis written by a French psychologist some time in the early 20th century. He described all the victims among his patients including females who were tormented by their relationships with their priests and people whose lives had been made miserable by all manner of unhealthy views and criticisms of their conduct while growing up.

The Guyanese society has not escaped because our culture is largely the product of the same dominant culture. During the ʼ90s as a member of the Life Section Committee of the Insurance Association of Guyana, I proposed some ads to warn our people of the coming AIDS pandemic. One of the ads I drafted contained the words “When your iron will breaks down reach for a rubber”. The committee could not bring itself to approve those ads. But the trouble with refusal to match the challenge presented as it grows in urgency is that we are then forced to abandon our reserve. I wonder what the members of that committee must think of the ads that are put out for our children to be on guard against child molestation nowadays not to mention the AIDS warning ads.

There was an industry before Heffner. The prudishness of the society and general discomfort with sex and the consequent abandonment of the responsibility for teaching our children will always provide a market for the Heffners of this world.

Yours faithfully,

F Collins

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