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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

WRITER'S BLOCK: 'Hot' perhaps an acquired taste

Published: January 28, 2005
Section: Opinions

Last week, as I was dutifully partaking of my usual procrastination activity of scouring my buddy list for funny/entertaining/informative away messages, I came across a link in the profile of a friend who attends Boston University. The link read We are hot. Understandably, I was intrigued. Whos hot? I had to click.

Two photographs of anonymous bodies on their backs seductively removing their underwear splashed across a fiery red screen. Whoa. I totally wasnt expecting my friend to have a link to a porn site on her profile.

Or was it porn? Turns out, the link landed me at the web site for Boink the College Guide to Carnal Knowledge currently being produced by students at Boston University. At the bottom of the page was a disclaimer: for mature viewers 18+ only. Well, you can probably guess what I did next. I closed that window in anticipation of the lewd, salacious offerings that surely lay beyond, and proceeded to write this article completely defaming the magazine and any like publications.

Just kidding. Hey, Im both 18+ and mature. You bet I clicked Enter. All in the name of good journalism.

Last spring was the first time I heard about one of these so-called college sex magazines. At Harvard, two students were planning the release of H-Bomb. Although dubbed a lit and arts magazine by its founders, it was the proposed inclusion of nude pictures of students that stirred up debate in the administration. Although the publication has currently gained both recognition as a student organization and funding in part by a grant from the student government, the university denied approval of the inclusion of its name in the magazines title.

Despite the editors repeated insistence upon the nature of the photography as art and not pornography, the Harvard administration did not feel comfortable allowing the contents of the publication to represent the school or its mission.

Through some stealthy, underhanded methods involving a five dollar bill, a paper bag and a mask to conceal my identity, I obtained a copy of H-Bombs Spring 2004 premiere issue. Actually, I just borrowed it from my brother, who, like all Harvard students, was given a free copy in May of last year. From the cover, with its stark, high-contrast black and white photo of a male and female figure, it looks pretty much like any artsy lit magazine you might find on a college campus.

Opening it up, however, I started to see how H-Bomb is just a little different than the issues of Gravity or Lies that can be found on the bench just outside the mail room in Usdan.

In terms of text, H-Bomb includes everything from interviews with psychology professors to erotic poetry to features on the best brands of condoms. Paired with the text are many photographs, varying not only in degrees of nudity, but, in my opinion, degrees of offensiveness. Some are tasteful, others much more explicit.

As I read through the nearly 50-page magazine, it became more and more apparent to me that H-Bomb is an acquired taste, a taste Im not sure even the most liberal college students will ever find palatable. The founders of H-Bomb have set out to prove that smart and sexy can indeed go hand in hand. But, as is characteristic of so many forays into the world of modern, daring craft, H-Bomb has chosen to knock their reader over the head with their brand of art, both written and visual, that at times seems as if it is claiming aesthetic legitimacy simply because of its shock value. They say it isnt pornography. I beg to differ.

While I dont want to portray myself as the uptight girl who cant read the sophisticated nuances tucked ever so delicately into the pages of the magazine, I simply refuse to give in and declare H-Bomb as a worthy recipient of the money that Harvard affords it, or even as a worthwhile publication at all.

I am also convinced that my refusal to condone H-Bomb and other similar college magazines is not because looking at the nude photography makes me feel uncomfortable. I dont find the pictures to be gross! or disgusting! or disrespectful to women! But the blatant nature of some of the art does make me wonder at how weve arrived at such a sexually liberated place.

Despite the obvious attempts to represent sex in an artistic, abstract way, some of the images that the magazine features leave very little to the imagination. And whats scarier is the fact that BUs Boink editors consider H-Bomb to be conservative. Whats next? Soon well have full-scale photographs of college undergrads in the act of sex splashed across college-sponsored magazine spreads.

Liberal, conservative, virigin, full-blown sex addict, I dont care what ones personal morals may entail. It makes no difference what these editors dub the nature of their magazines pornography or as art.

By taking on such a project, they immediately shoulder a responsibility not only to their craft, but to their peers. Sure, Ive heard of freedom of the press, but anyone guided by common sense should know that this does not entitle them to a sexual free-for-all.

Sex is no doubt a popular topic of interest, but it is also one that should not be taken too lightly. Problem is, Im not sure how serious these new publications are. Are these groups of students truly concerned with how their work is perceived, or are they just having fun putting together something that is going to shock the hell out of mom and dad and their gray-haired math professor? Should we trust these publications to deliver credibility along with their artistic and literary value?

I dont know about you, but Im not taking any cues from a source that publishes pictures of a lingerie-clad couple prancing around with tiaras and magic wands. But hey, thats just me.