Tony Woodlief of Sand in the Gears is dismayed that Maxim is popular and that adolescents read it:

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.

* * *
. . .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.

* * *
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.

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.

It is the common reaction of those over, say, 30 to condemn the kids for their shocking behavior. I certainly engage in it from time to time and, indeed, didn’t wait until I reached 30 to start. I used to mercilessly tease my under-20 male soldiers who wore earrings in their civilian attire. I don’t “get” rap music (which, incidentally, has ben around 20 years or so now), tatoos, body piercings, and all that. But I do know, intellectually if not viscerally, that most of the kids will grow up to be, well, adults.

There is little doubt our culture is more coarse than it was 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. It is also much more free, tolerant, and prosperous. I suspect some of those kids Tony is seeing on the airplane with their copies of Maxim will go on to be brain surgeons, entrepreneurs, inventors, and society’s leaders. Some will never grow out of it, like Bill Clinton. Others will, like George W. Bush.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. joy says:

    Um, that’s just a tad bit one sided, don’t you think? Girls can be just as obnoxious as boys can be. (I attended a women’s college, just trust me on this…) I don’t understand why both you and Tony are placing the blame on the coarseness of today’s society on the shoulders on young men as a whole.

    If there weren’t women who bought into the “Girls Gone Wild” or MTV Spring break ideal, then the boys would only have their pulp fantasies. The real problem is when these fantasies are presented as reality. (i.e. Spring break in Cancun)

  2. James Joyner says:

    True, although I’m hoping they don’t change. 😉

  3. joy says:

    Oh good, then that must be I don’t have to feel guilty about catalog shopping at a store like abercrombie.

    You asked for it! ;-P