Monday, October 03, 2011

Playboys? Plowboys? Or Children of God? - Reynolds

About a hundred years ago, James Barrie's story of Peter Pan created quite a sensation, the story of the boy who didn't want to grow up, flashing through the skies of Never Never Land, playing exciting games in caves and forests, and battling on the pirate ship with the notorious Captain Hook. It became part of classical English literature. The play was revived for years each Christmas in London. A kind of sequel appeared a few years ago in the movie Hook. Peter, played by Dustin Hoffman (I think), has grown up and now must himself rescue his children from Never Never land. 
            In the late 1950's, a young man named Hugh Hefner began a magazine called Playboy.  The magazine has become one of the flashiest, fleshiest, most sex-cessful magazines of our time.  When I was at Mount Allison University, Playboy Magazine was the most common reading material among male students.  The "playboy" has become a symbol of a generation. 
            Back in 1963, when the magazine was young, Doris Anderson wrote an editorial in Chatelaine which is still worth reading: 
Once upon a time there was a young man called Hugh Hefner, who never really grew up.  Instead he created for himself a fantasy world filled with all kinds of expensive, grown-up playthings.  There were powerful, brightly coloured sports cars, complicated stereo sets, ski and scuba-diving equipment, jazz records and every piece of bar equipment ever invented.  This world included almost no books, no comfortable old chairs, no Beethoven symphonies or Mozart quartets . . . and no hint that men sometimes engaged in such square activities as gardening, woodworking, bowling and curling. 
The inhabitants of this world all looked alike. They were never more than thirty years old, never bald, never fat.  They always dressed in Madison Avenue suits and Italian shoes.  They didn't own any old clothes . . . and they never wore rubbers. . . . 
There were no women in this world at all.  There were only dolls called "Playmates."  The dolls were life size, with oversized bosoms, undersized brains, no clothes and no will of their own. . . .
Although the dolls in Hugh Hefner's world rarely talked, never made dinners, sewed on buttons, put on their clothes and went to church or PTA meetings, or took children to the dentist, they were important. They were there to help the playboys pretend that they were really grown up. 
Hugh Hefner might have kept this dream world to himself, but he didn't.  He put it between the covers of a magazine which he called Playboy and sold it to other would-be boys like himself who want to live in a kind of twentieth century Peter Pan world where they would never have to grow up.
The depressing part about Hugh Hefner's fantasy world is the fact that he found so many playboys to share it with and to buy his magazines. Even more depressing were the number of dolls who were willing to play the limited and comical role assigned to them.
The moral of this tale is a simple one . . . .  If you ever meet a genuine playboy, pat him gently on the head and tell him to go back to his paper dolls. Because you're not looking for a playboy with whom to share even so much as a good movie, let alone your future. . . .  You're looking for a grown up man.
(Chatelaine, Vol. 36, no. 3,  March, 1963)
Ms. Anderson's allusion to Peter Pan is true enough. He didn't want to grow up.  He wanted to remain always a boy. He didn't want to go to school.  He didn't want to do any "chores" like mowing the lawn or making his bed or keeping his room tidy. He flies back to the dreams and fairies and never ending games of Never Never Land. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child; I reasoned as a child, I thought as a child.  But when I became adult I put away childish things” (I Cor. 13:11).
Playboy developed what it called "the Playboy philosophy."  It grew out of the "fun" philosophy of the '50's and was actually an expression of hedonism, a kind of adolescent revolt against the traditional Puritanism of our society.   
Most of our society today seems to be living by "the Playboy philosophy."  Our god is the great god “fun” a word which originally meant to make a fool of or to cheat someone!  We have made entertainment our religion, whether movies, television, sport, or travel!  Our society is still in revolt against our Puritan heritage. 
The Puritans had what we might call "the plowboy philosophy."  We speak of "the Puritan work ethic!"  The Puritans emphasized hard work and thrift as virtues and condemned anything frivolous or luxurious from fancy clothing to Christmas. Pleasure itself was frowned upon as contrary to the strict discipline of the senses by which moral life was ordered.
The Puritan ethic still reverberates in the unconscious of many of us, and we must admit that one of the paradoxes of history (as Barbara Ward and others have pointed out) is that the industry and thrift of our Puritan forbears gave the capital base which made the luxuries of our contemporary life possible.  Without the plowboys of yesterday, there could not be the playboys of today.
Paradoxically too, one of the most complete examples of the "plowboy philosophy" of the recent past found expression in state communism.  There was (and still is) a sense of dedication and deep-seated purpose in communism which is quite admirable.  Live for labour!  Work for the party, the dream.
I remember a movie many years ago starring Fred Astaire titled "Silk Stockings."  It was the story of an American playboy who seduces a dedicated communist woman into deserting the communist party for American hedonism by giving her silk stockings.  It was intended to contrast the wonderful American way of life and its silk stocking luxury, with the dullness and drudgery of life in Soviet Russia.  Actually it seemed to me a contrast between American silliness and Russian seriousness.
It suggested that our choice is to be a plowboy, or to be a playboy. And being a playboy would appear to be much more fun.
Children of God
Jesus' story of the two brothers, in what we call “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” is a study in the contrast between the playboy and the plowboy.  The "prodigal" was the playboy who wanted pleasure NOW!  In contrast the "elder brother" was a plowboy, out in the field working every day "for lo these many years!"  Never a party to break the monotony. The story makes it clear that the father wanted neither playboy nor plowboy.  He just wanted his children to start acting like his children, his sons who loved him and valued his love.
 Both the playboy and the plowboy are actually very lonely creatures, one with nothing but his play, the other with nothing but his work.
 We are apt to envy the playboy his seemingly carefree existence but forget how unhappy he really is.  Because he doesn't want to grow up, he can never accept that deep level of responsibility, the ability to respond, which is necessary to love.
 You perhaps know one of them, many acquaintances but no friends, a different girl every weekend but never a wife.  He can't accept involvement at that deeper level of knowing, beyond the paper-doll sex-object kind of relationship.  He never gets beyond the impersonal.  He never finds out what love is all about.  He never knows the thrill and satisfaction of knowing one person at a deeper and deeper level.  He never learns the fulfillment of life in that love which seeks no return or reward, which is the wonderful gift that comes to us with the birth of our children and is most like what the New Testament calls agape, the love of God in Christ.
 The plowboy too is lonely.  His work is an attempt to escape the loneliness.  There are many plowboys in our society who work themselves to heights of great financial success and power, but who can not relate to people in a personal way.  They may even marry and have a family, but their wives become ingrown and neurotic, and their children unhappy and rebellious.
 Interesting, in the movie Hook, Peter Pan has grown up.  He's become a plowboy, a workaholic, and now he must become a child again in order to rescue his own children from Captain Hook.
 Is not fulfillment in life, fullness of life, found in our relationships, not in the accumulation of things or the acquisition of power, but in friendships and family life, and ultimately in our relationship with God.
That which enables us to reach through the barriers of our loneliness, which enables us to relate to one another, is what we call love This is what the father sought from each of his sons. And this is the quality which both playboy and plowboy lack.
God has no desire to be a slave-holder.  God surely desires sons and daughters who know and understand His will and purpose, and in freedom joyfully accept their responsibility as children of God.  Jesus said, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what the master is doing.  But I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
We are called to be neither playboys nor plowboys, but friends of Christ and children of God.


Janet said...

It reminds me, after reading this why every fruit of the Spirit enables us to be who He desires us to be. There is a ditch on both sides of the road. Much wisdom and insight here. Thank-you for sharing.

Peter Black said...

Agreed. Janet's point re. "every fruit of the Spirit" is very helpful.
Alan, your great analogies provide stark contrasts, and your points offer instructive social commentary and spiritual insight. Thank you.

Diana Dart said...

Perceptive and meaty post. Sending my thanks and appreciation for your insight.

Eleanor Shepherd said...

These are profound insights on who our society encourages us to be and who we can be as children of God. I am thinking we need to do some of the same kind of analysis of the roles of women. While much has been written and discussed about our changing roles, as women, who are we fundamentally as mature children of God and how is that different from what our culture expects of us? Great material for reflection. Thanks.

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