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.