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The Crimson's Hubris

Run the Ad

By Michael W. Hirschorn

WHEN FRENCH playwright Jean Genet wrote The Balcony he noted that the best way to portray true good in the world was to force his audiences to confront true evil. Fake judges, generals, and bishops parade through a whorehouse, living out their petty hypocrisies and in the process exposing the so-called justice of the establishment as so many lies.

Genet was convinced of the immorality of the system, so he had no doubt that his audiences would react in disgust at the wanton decadence and hypocrisy of the establishment figures before them on the stage.

That point was apparently lost on those here at The Crimson who thought that refusing to publish a Playboy recruitment ad was the best way to attack immorality.

Some will argue that refusing to publish an advertisement is censorship. They are clearly wrong, for a newspaper must have control over its own pages, and it's certainly within The Crimson's prerogative, both legally and ethically, to refuse space to whomever it chooses.

Some will argue that refusing to publish an advertisement infringes on free speech. Not really, for advertising is not free speech, and, in any case, the Playboy ad is not an opinion. As one editor noted at Sunday's in-house discussion of the ad issue, one must be able to disagree with an opinion, and the counter-argument to the Playboy solicitation is "No, a Playboy photographer will not be at the Somerville Holiday Inn this week."

Yet, free speech is not a substanceless concept that we mouth whenever we want to prove that, yes, we really are democrats with a small "d." Free speech is the last defense of the just, for it is always the less popular, less acceptable opinion that gets quashed when freedom of expression is restricted.

This truism is not relevant to Playboy, for the magazine, thanks in part to news coverage generated by The Crimson's dispute and by prominent coverage on page one of this newspaper, is having "free speech" a-plenty. The argument is relevant to those who voted not to publish the advertisement, because they failed to see their own self-interest. Put simply, they did not have enough faith in our community to believe that female students would be as repulsed by the concept of posing nude for Playboy (and by the magazine itself) as women at The Crimson were.

IF, IN FACT, more than a handful of women do decide to pose for Playboy, then there are some problems in this society whose roots lie far deeper than The Crimson or Playboy and which would make The Crimson's little gesture seem trivial indeed. Does The Crimson really believe it can or should protect society from itself?

If anything, I believe Harvard women are turned off by the ad and will react strongly against the magazine and all it may stand for. Like Genet, I believe that moral goals are achieved by getting everything out in the open and allowing the people to see and react against evil.

Martin Luther King understood this dynamic when he trooped, cameras rolling, into the most reactionary, racist neighborhoods in Chicago and revealed the evil of racism as it had never been seen before. Were it not for King, those neighborhoods would have continued their ways and the nation would never have been forced to face the ugliness of its people. As a result of the efforts of King and others, the social consensus was changed.

And yet, the majority at The Crimson believed they were furthering a noble cause by quashing the Playboy ad. People who read about The Crimson's decision around the country--everything that happens at Harvard goes national--will get a good chuckle, as will the editors of Playboy, who will once again be able to make the fallacious argument that they are persisting despite the oppression of a bunch of Harvard prudes.

Meanwhile, those who argued to pull the ad, satisfied with their victory, have not bothered to take their case to the rest of the Harvard population. Ironically, now that The Crimson's pages are pure, no one seems terribly worried about convincing women who might want to pose that what they're doing runs counter to everything for which women at Harvard and elsewhere have been fighting for decades.

Moral crusaders should never be ashamed of the truth, because the truth will always work in their favor. The fight to rid society of pornography is a noble one, but it will only be won when and if enough Americans are forced to confront their own sexism.

That cause was not furthered by the actions of the majority, for they took the spotlight off Playboy and the women of Harvard and turned it on The Crimson. The editors are to be congratulated on their victory, but they must realize it was only a Pyrrhic one. Endorsed by David S. Hilzenrath

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