If a hippyish leftie got into a time machine in 1979 and transported himself to today, he’d be completely bamboozled.
He would find himself in a world where his kind of people – woke, right-on, left-leaning folk – have become the enemies of liberty rather than the cheerers of it.
Where people who consider themselves edgy want less freedom, not more.
Where self-styled counterculturalists are anti-sex, anti-nudity, anti-free-speech and anti-fun.
Where woke kids want more censorship and more social control and will hound into oblivion anyone who has the temerity to disagree with them.
Imagine the bewilderment of this time-warped hippy as he discovers that censorship and prudishness and the public shaming of people who dare to think differently are still very much in vogue. Only they’re now enforced by supposedly switched-on lefties rather than by pointy-hatted priests and helmet-haired ladies-who-lunch.
When Penthouse Australia was born, 40 years ago, it was only 1979, but it feels like a completely different era.
The 60s and 70s were a time when people on the left of politics, at least in the West, tended to favour freedom of speech and social and sexual experimentation.
Kids who didn’t want to live in the same stiff, severe world their parents had experienced in the 40s and 50s started to rip up the old rulebooks.
At Berkeley University in California, in the mid-60s, students agitated against campus restrictions and demanded that everyone should have the right to express themselves freely.
In London, the 1970s kicked off with an obscenity trial against the raucous, Australian political magazine Oz and ended with the newspaper Gay News being dragged to court for publishing a poem about a Roman centurion having gay relations with Christ.
In both cases, liberals and leftists were at the forefront of defending free speech.
In the words of the heroic barrister who stood up for Oz, John Mortimer, this was about “our freedom to think and say and draw and write what we please”.
So many alternative movements in the 60s and 70s were driven by precisely this freedom – from the beatniks to bra-burning feminists, from the sexual experimenters to the punks.
So, it isn’t surprising that it is in this era that Penthouse Australia is born. The pushing of social boundaries, the expansion of liberty of thought, the culture of sexual daring... all of this opened the space for new, edgy, free-wheeling commentary on the world.
It created a space for publications that might have sent Tory bores and holy men into meltdown, but which allowed everyone else to think about sex and morality and life in a totally new way.
How things have changed.
Take Berkeley. Now woke students start riots not in defence of freedom of speech, but against it. They start fires to prevent so-called ‘alt-right’ people from speaking on campus.
Now counterculturalists don’t stand up for the right to offend, as the defenders of Oz and Gay News did. They rage against offensiveness; they claim words can wound; they insist that the sight of a scantily clad woman on the front of a lads’ mag will cause women to experience such an epic collapse in self-esteem that such mags must be hidden in black bags.
Now they don’t defend sexual openness. They fear it. They think everything from wolf-whistling to women in bikinis on billboard adverts is evidence that we live in a ‘rape culture’.
They think they’re rad but really they continue the censorious work of those sex-scared conservative campaigners of old.
Think about it like this. In 1979 it would have been a Christian lady with a blue rinse who raged against Penthouse and its pets and its articles. Now it’s likely to be a woke feminist with a purple dye-job who denounces this magazine as an unacceptable facilitator of ‘toxic masculinity’, blah
These people, across these four decades, are making the same argument using different words. Both believe that anything THEY find offensive must be banned. Both are arrogant, intolerant, censorious blowhards who are a menace to the free and open exchange of ideas and images.
It is shameful what has happened to the left. A movement that once wanted to expand human liberty now wants to shrink it.
Our approach to these woke inquisitors should be the same as it was to the censorious bores of 1979: “You don’t like our magazine? Then don’t fucking buy it.”