This Fecund Swamp

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to write about my city with the same aplomb with which I started. Frankly, after all the reading I have been doing about Hollywood, and California in general, the less enthusiastic I feel about singing its praises.

I’ve always had a stormy love-hate relationship with Los Angeles, but no other place in the world has ever felt like home to me. And I do mean in the world. I started traveling at the age of six months, and did so continuously up until I was in my late teens, covering four continents and living for extended periods of time in Asia and the Middle East. As a young adult, I wandered all over the United States, road tripping cross-country, settling for a time in the Pacific Northwest, even venturing into the deep South a few times. There are many places I love, have visited numerous times, and have fantasized about moving to, have even moved. Yet invariably, I return to LA. But why? The funniest thing about it all is that only a few weeks ago I was waxing nostalgic about old Hollywood, and I still feel it. But when I examine my own experience, and compare it to the reading I have been doing, I understand that much of my nostalgia is rooted in a corrupted mythology which has ingratiated itself into the world, and which I was born right into. Rather than resolving the divided feelings I have about my birthplace, my research has only sharpened the edges of the divide.

How appropriate that it was Hugh Hefner who finally saved the Hollywood sign. Not once, but twice now! I didn’t even realize that he had already helped revive it before, back in the 70’s. Still, Hef and I go way back. I spent much of my childhood and most of my adolescence in the San Fernando Valley, which is considered the porn capital of the world. The house I grew up in was like a warehouse of the stuff. One of my earliest memories is of going through a stack of Playboys at about age 5. If I had been the enterprising type, I could have charged the neighbor kids admission to our garage. Instead they just streamed in and we all examined the pictures carefully and with great solemnity. I went through a brief period of drawing reclining naked women disguised as hilly landscapes, which resulted in a short spell of popularity among my fellow fourth-graders. And in the seventh grade, charged with the task of creating a giant paper mosaic of the Medusa’s face as part of a larger class collaboration, I knew exactly where to go to gather enough flesh-colored bits of the glossy stock I needed to fully realize the vision. This didn’t go over too well at home, as certain parties were very unhappy to discover this desecration of their hallowed collection. But I did get an A on my project (although I declined to name the source of my materials).

Now, while I don’t think mine was a healthy environment for a young girl to be raised in, I don’t fault Mr. Hefner himself for his glorification of nubile young women. In fact I think of him as a modern day Dionysus, reveling in the glory of the Maenads. If you trace back before time and look at those wild, ivy-clad women brandishing snakes and magic staffs, you see the origins of humanity, so elemental that even the gods worshiped them and the raw energies they embodied: life and sex and death. It is his followers who do not understand this – the men who have been brought up to believe that women are disposable items for their acquisition, who worship Mr. Hefner for what they perceive to be his power and status. They don’t understand that women are the goddesses who make the world turn, and that it is their altar at which the Hef himself worships. I am not surprised that he, of all people, has been the one to see the real value of the land on which the Hollywood sign rests. I think back to my childish landscapes, not so childish after all, an unconscious celebration of the fecundity of this land and the nature of my surroundings.

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6 thoughts on “This Fecund Swamp

  1. I’m glad he saved the sign (again). I’ve always thought the old guy had more in him than just his surface sex and glory persona.

  2. The first time, he teamed up with Alice Cooper (!) to rebuild the sign 5 feet shorter then the original and with reinforcements so it would be sturdier against the wind.

    I just looked up Hef’s biography and added it as a link. In it the author refers to him as a “force of nature.” Isn’t that what I was just saying?

  3. Its amusing to see that the men who are normally considered to be chauvinistic, piggish or otherwise misogynistic are often the men who see the true beauty and value of women… and many women, on different levels, need that sort of dynamic in order to feel appreciated, as well. Its such a fine, weird and twisty line.

    • I don’t think there’s anything inherently misogynistic about publishing or looking at pictures of nude women. It’s all in the presentation. I believe it’s an overcompensation on the part of uber-feminists and others in the society who look upon it across the board as a “dirty” action. The fight is over 2000 years of the oppression of female sexuality as a whole and the deliberate splitting of women into the virgin/whore dichotomy as a method of controlling the population. The reason Hef is such a polarizing figure is that he took sexuality out of the gutter, saying, “Here are some nice wholesome females who also happen to enjoy their sexuality, and it’s OK for us to enjoy it too,” at a time when even married women were supposed to feel shameful about letting their own husbands see them naked. I do think it’s amusing that very often the same women who complain about sexism and exploitation are slaves to fashions which are all about revealing the body, or happily post their own nude pictures on the internet. You will find far more exploitative and misogynistic imagery in an average jeans ad of today than you ever would in a typical issue of Playboy. I can’t necessarily say the same of other magazines. But in addition to restoring a healthy appreciation of sexuality to the National conversation, Hef has always been an important supporter of the arts and freedom of expression. I think his publication is a way of picking up the statue of Venus and putting her back in the temple. The real problem that needs to be addressed is why humanity has accepted the religio-political dogma stating that the only temple worthy of such a sacred worship is the toilet stall.

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