When It Rains It Pours

I'm beginning to feel a little sorry for Ohio University. First came the transition to a new president who clearly has every intention of leading us to that aurea mediocritas that places athletics ahead of academics. Then there was the drop in applications due to a riot during Halloween partying in the fall of 2003. We adjusted by lowering our entrance requirements, thus giving us one of the biggest but least capable freshman classes in years. Then came The Rankings. We dropped in academic rankings but rose in Party School rankings.

Now, the final blow. Playboy magazine has decided that Party School means more than drunken adolescent boys on Saturday nights, it means plenty of chesty babes to fill the pages of their porno rag, and they're recruiting up to 100 young undergraduate ladies from Ohio University to pose for their spring 2006 Girls of the Party Schools issue. It's been my experience that there really only two sorts of people who look at Playboy--boys who are too young to shave and men who are old enough to shave their ears. For both of these demographics the prospect of seeing college age women in various stages of undress is like a dream come true. (All they really need to do, though, is stop by campus on any sunny day in May and they'll see just about the same thing.) For most other sensible people Playboy has nothing to offer. When I was a kid people were fond of saying "I read it for the incisive interviews and cutting edge fiction," and they were only half joking. Bill Buckley was interviewed in Playboy, as were many other serious figures, and some of the fiction writing wasn't too bad. But nowadays only a moron would find the printed text in Playboy worth reading.

Ohio University officials have reacted rather predictably, saying things you would expect college administrators to say. One of them was quoted as saying that Playboy did not use any scientifically accurate measures to determine which schools are the Party Schools. One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry when one reads such things. If Playboy had just used a more scientific process, then OU might really count as a Party School! Another administrator griped that Playboy had just cribbed from the Princeton Review's list of party schools. I wonder whether the Princeton Review employed a viable scientific measure. Well, whether or not the Princeton Review was doing their job, surely Playboy was plagiarizing their work, and we all know how university administrators feel about that sort of thing. From now on, no more declaring a school to be a Party School unless you can show and explain your work.

Playboy's reaction, too, has been completely predictable. All the usual pablum about how these girls are all adult enough to make their own decisions, so if they want to be porn stars, who are these university administrators to say that they don't have the right to sell their bodies for money? It's not like college athletes don't do the same thing, after all. What do you think they've come here to school for if not to party and get naked? It's not like it's a place off higher learning or anything. My favorite line, though, came from the Playboy photographer, a guy whose name really is George Georgiou, who said that it's not like Playboy is making this stuff up--you don't need any scientific measures, just go uptown on a Saturday night and you'll know this is a party school. I guess you don't need to be a rocket scientist to get a job as a photographer at Playboy. Good thing, too.

The question of whether 18 year old girls are "adult enough" to make decisions like this is an interesting one. We know, from studies that really are scientific, that the brain's capacity to engage in complex theoretical reasoning isn't fully developed until we're well into our twenties. Making decisions about the best way to live one's life is a form of reasoning that is not only speculative and theoretical in some ways, but it is also practical, that is, it requires certain levels of experience if we are to carry it off successfully. My old pal Aristotle said it best, in his Nicomachean Ethics (I.3):
Every man is a good judge of what he understands: in special subjects the specialist, over the whole field of knowledge the man of general culture. This is the reason why political science is not a proper study for the young. The young man is not versed in the practical business of life from which politics draws its premises and its data. He is, besides, swayed by his feelings, with the result that he will make no headway and derive no benefit from a study the end of which is not knowing but doing. It makes no difference whether the immaturity is in age or in character. The defect is not due to lack of years but to living the kind of life that is a succession of unrelated emotional experiences. To one who is like that, knowledge is as unprofitable as it is to the morally unstable. On the other hand, for those whose desires and actions have a rational basis, a knowledge of these principles of morals must be of great advantage.
No college aged student is in a position to know--really know--that posing naked for a nationally distributed magazine is something that is really in her own best interest, let alone morally right in an objective sense. To say that these girls are "adult enough" is simply begging the question, since that is precisely what is at issue--are they, in fact, wise enough to make the right sort of decision in a matter like this? Simply asserting that they are becuase they are 18 years old just will not do. That is merely a legal definition, it is not a meaningful argument about their capacity to judge wisely. True, real adults also have trouble seeing what the right thing to do is. Money and hormonal reactions can be strong motivators even for the most experienced among us. To be at least 18 may be a necessary condition for adult thinking, but it certainly is not a sufficient condition. Aristotle was right about that.

The party school image may come and go--this particular incident may help, or it may hurt, OU in the short run. But it will damage these young girls for the long haul, and that is the real tragedy here.


Kathy Hutchins said…
Now would be an excellent time for Super Philosophy Man to run into a phone booth, don his non-sequitur-proof Philosuit and come to the heroic aid of all these addled young women with his Cape of Pure Reason and anti-Utilitarian Belt. But since they're all too dumb to understand you, perhaps you could take along a scrapbook showing the thousands of women who have been mortally embarrassed later in life by the disclosure that they bared their boobs for a girls gone wild Spring Break video.

And if that doesn't deter them, you could at least convince them to use a fake name.
Scott Carson said…
Oh sure, make me do all the work.

I've heard, though, that just about all the women in those "Spring Break" videos are actually professional "models". I suppose that's what some of these girls at OU are on their way to becoming, but one hopes that their mortal embarrassment will hit them a little earlier rather than a little later in life.

I'm reminded of the Matt Groening cartoon Life in Hell, where he has these two old geezers sitting in rocking chairs at the local home, and they're both completely covered with tatoos. One of them says to the other, "I see you were a complete asshole when you were younger, too!" Some choices made young really do haunt us later.
Scott Carson said…
Actually, now that I think about it, I suppose somebody could argue that, look, just because it's a bad thing to do that doesn't mean that we have any right to prevent them from doing it if that's what they want to do. People should be free to sin, otherwise free will means nothing.

That's a nicely libertarian argument, and in principle I don't see anything wrong with it. But under the constraints of Christianity I don't think it works very well. For one thing, as I noted in my main post, 18 is merely a legal definition of "adulthood". It doesn't follow that these kids really are adult enough to make such decisions, and Our Lord made it perfectly plain that anyone who leads a child to sin would be better off if a millstone were tied around his neck and his body thrown into the sea.

Part of the problem, I suppose, lies in giving the government the authority to simply define by fiat when adulthood begins. Surely anything is a bad idea when it involves ceding any kind of authority to government--these kids need mentors to help them make decisions like this, but it certainly shouldn't be the government. In fact, by telling them that they are already "adults" the government is effectively making the decision for them.
Darwin said…
You could indeed argue that the fact that they are eager to enter the historical record unclad ("Hey, have you seen Grandma's nude shot?") is proof that they are not yet sufficiently formed to make a good decision.

A somewhat circular argument, but if it is correct that choosing to expose yourself in print is stupid, then it follows that anyone who wishes to do so is in fact unable to make good decisions.
dilexitprior said…
On one hand people have free will and can sin if they so desire, but on the other hand, I feel that these young women could use some help informing their consciences. It's really actually quite sad.

I remember when I was in highschool and was taking "Law" in my senior year and a similar issue came up as a case topic. A nearby university sponsored a nude calendar displaying students as a fundraiser for the student union. I was horrified how many of my sixteen and seventeen year old classmates, particularly females, supported the initiative!

In my opinion, not only are the young women causing scandal and sin by participating, they are also setting themselves up to be used and abused, whether they recognize it or not. If a battered woman freely chooses to remain in a violent relationship, should we allow her if we know the abuse is going on? If a young woman presents herself as a mere object to be used for the sensual pleasure of man, allows herself to be used as a mere means to an end, should we not intervene?

I don't know. There's free will, yet we also must love our neighbour. What is the loving thing?
Rick said…
I wonder if a modified form of Kant's Categorical Imperative would help that I used with my high school students:

Never treat others as means to an end, if so you must be willing to do this universally?

Some students would say, "Sure, if someone wants to be used that is his or her business, it is a matter of personal choice." In terms of these you ladies from OU, I would ask them that if they agreed with the first premise, would it be okay if their fathers wanted to pose nude as well?

I can't speak for college students, but when I taught at a male only prep school I would ask the same question because I knew many viewed pornography. Now, most would say it was okay for a girl to pose nude or do porno movies until we got to the 2nd part about willing it universally. For some strange reason, no student ever said it was okay for their sisters or mothers to follow this path. I wonder why!

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