Wednesday, October 16, 2019

What Do Shakespeare and Playboy Have in Common?

The Western canon and Playboy centerfolds share the dubious honor of both being regarded as hegemonic male interests. But what do Playboy centerfolds and the Western canon have in common? Harold Bloom who recently died was a great defender of the Western canon amidst the onslaught of multiculturalism. In this Times obit ("Harold Bloom, Critic Who Championed Western Canon, Dies at 89,NYT, 10/14/19), Bloom’s The Western Canon is cited thusly, “What are now called ‘Departments of English’ will be renamed departments of ‘Cultural Studies,' where Batman comics, Mormon theme parks, television, movies and rock will replace Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and Wallace Stevens. Major, once-elitist universities and colleges will still offer a few courses in Shakespeare, Milton and their peers, but these will be taught by departments of three or four scholars, equivalent to teachers of ancient Greek and Latin.” Plainly Bloom was interested in excellence, a kind of great chain of being with brilliance and luminosity freed from existential compulsions to relevance, nestled securely at the top—in their ivory tower. But what would Bloom have thought about Playboy Centerfolds? Lovers of Shakespeare and Playboy can be strange bedfellows. What would he have said about Dalene Kurtis, the centerfold for September 2001, who was the first Playboy Playmate to appear with shaved pubic hair and Playboy’s Playmate of the year for 2002? Would he have been able to appreciate her beauty despite the fact her spread appeared during the same month as the World Trade Center attack? Being a male of his particular vintage, would he have been disappointed to find that Ms. Kurtis had shaved?

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