Of the three, Playboy seems the most ominous. It’s the Internet, of course. Men no longer have to buy Playboy to find out what women actually look like under all those clothes they wear. The Internet is full of free photographs of naked women, the great majority of them taken and submitted by themselves.
In the old days when I worked in South Africa, you weren’t allowed to see women’s bodies until you got married. Any book, film, or magazine with a naked woman in it was banned. The apartheid censors were rather cavalier in this respect. They even banned books without first reading them. For example, they took one look at the title of Anna Sewell’s best-seller, Black Beauty, and banned it immediately. It was actually about a horse, not a woman, and the censorship board suffered withering scorn when the news came out, but that didn’t stop them in their attempts to curb free speech.
Playboy was also on the banned list, of course, probably at the top of it. So when I found myself in Rio de Janeiro at the end of a transatlantic yacht race, I bought a copy of Playboy at a corner newsstand. I knew a man at the newspaper where I worked in South Africa who swore to uphold the traditions of free speech by hoarding a secret stash of Playboy magazines, which he rented out to trusted colleagues. He would pay me at least 20 bucks for it if I could smuggle it home. But I had a better idea.
I took it back to the boat, which the skipper was due to sail back home to South Africa with a new crew. I told nobody about it. I unzipped the cover of the starboard berth in the saloon, slipped the magazine into the bottom, and zipped it up again.
Weeks later, when the yacht arrived in Durban, I met the owner/skipper on board. In front of him, I unzipped the berth cover and there was my Playboy, untouched by human hand, pristine after thousands of miles of ocean travel. The skipper nearly fainted. “If Customs had found that they would have confiscated my boat,” he yelled. “Get it out of here.”
He obviously didn’t care much for free speech, so I took my Playboy to work, (after checking out the articles, of course) where I collected my money, and it joined the secret stash. Just another small blow for press freedom.
Free speech is not to be regulated like diseased cattle and impure butter. The audience . . . that hissed yesterday may applaud today, even for the same performance.
— William O. Douglas, Associate Justice, US Supreme Court, 24 Jun 57
“Is this the sound-effects department?”
“Good, send me a galloping horse immediately.”
“Well, the script calls for the sound of two coconut shells being clapped together.”
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