Annals of Dumb: Playboy Edition/misplaced facticity edition

Via Huffington Post I discover that Playboy‘s Mexican edition has committed the predictable folly of placing on its cover a strategically partially dressed young woman to whom has been attached the caption “Te Adoramus Marìa.”

To no sentient being’s surprise this has aroused ire amongst the faithful, the more so because the edition came out the day before the celebration of the Day of the Virgin of Guadeloupe.  The predictable round of apology and disclaimers has begun and this will pass as another minor skirmish in the eternal war between desire and faith…or whatever pompousity commentators will come up with to mark the occasion.

But what got me was not the cover, nor the very nice young lady depicted, nor  her garment, meant, I think to evoke a kind of demure prayer shawl but looking like nothing so much as the tablecloth you pull out when the children are going to be sitting elsewhere.   No, it was this line:

Playboy magazine apologized for a controversial cover featuring a scantily-clad woman resembling the Virgin Mary, Reuters reported. (Italics added)

Resembling?  Really?

I could go all serious here, and storm at the feckless fact-averse who cannot seem to face the notion that we don’t know who Mary was (not to mention the uncheckable sourcing  backing up the claim of a particular sexual status), and hence have no clue about the appearance of one amongst all the  young mothers – to -be in the Roman province of Galilee about two thousand years ago.

It may be conventional to depict Mary as a young, often dark-haired beauty, and the woman on the Playboy cover matches that broad description — but then so do lots of people who do not greatly resemble each other. (Think, e.g. of Halle Berry and Sarah Silverman, just to take two folks off the top of my head.  And thanks for The Great Schlepp, Sarah, as long as we’re here.)

But rather than go into some long discourse on this as an illustration one of the ways in which claims of established fact by the faithful take forms unintelligible to scientific rationalists–and vice versa,  I figured out how I could boil the whole argument down to  the old Catskills punch line.  Looking at the Playboy cover, all I could think was,

“Funny.  She doesn’t look Jewish.”

Image:  El Greco, “The Assumption of the Virgin,” 1577

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3 Comments on “Annals of Dumb: Playboy Edition/misplaced facticity edition”

  1. Ian Preston Says:

    If I said someone looked like Santa Claus, or Sherlock Holmes or Fred Flintstone, then people would know what I meant without taking me even to believe that these were real people. They’d assume I was pointing to some resemblance in facial features or clothing to conventional representations of these characters. Why is this case different? I can see what the Reuters reporter is getting at and I think it has more to do with how the cloth is draped over the head than with her “dark-haired beauty.”

  2. Tom Says:

    If you are saying that the Virgin Mary is understood to be a fictional character or a cartoon, then yes, you’re right. Demure looks and modest beauty can be sign as mere signifiers just like a deerstalker hat or stone wheels on a foot-powered car.

    But of course Mary isn’t seen as a cartoon by the people who are offended by the supposed “resemblence” of an apparently reproductively healthy young woman. She’s a powerful symbol — which is why many are offended by what they see as the mockery of that symbol, and to some she was in fact a fully historical figure, a perfect woman exactly as described in the Bible and the accumulated hagiography since.

    That matters, to the extent that it is important at all because of the confusion of argument coming from the religious literalist side of religion v. religiousity as well as the religiousity v. science debate. Each claim that someone like “resembles” some particular Mary is a kind of affirmation of that literalist view of a physical and historical reality to each detail of the legend. That, from my more secular and certainly non-Christian point of view, seems to me a bad thing, but even from within a fully committed Christian stance, it would seem to me to be inviting trouble to invite the claims of history and the evidentiary pursuit of specific knowledge to make claims that a given living woman resembles some utterly undescribed person 2,000 years in the past. It invites parody and ridicule, which hardly seems to be the desired goal.

  3. Spiv Says:

    You forget the level of crazy revolving around “the cult of mary.” The early depictions of the immaculately concepted Mary are thought to be inspired by Gawd Hisself, and hence the modern ones by extension. Therefore: accurate to life. Same with Jesus, even though in the earliest depictions Jesus S(h)aves: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_teacher.jpg

    I think it’s all about context. If I see a picture of a guy on a park bench with longish brown hair and a beard I don’t think of a man from Galilee, but put him in robes and pose him a bit and you’ve got yourself a controversy.

    I think the calling card, although I’m probably giving far too much credit, was the title: “Te Adoramus Christe” is the assumed reference. It seems impossible to not think they were not making a allusion of this one.

    Not that I think they shouldn’t be praised for celebrating the striking beauty of the human form, but the implied context might be in slightly poor taste this time.


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