The Madonna and the Playboy Bunny
Tucked deep within the Christianity Today archives is brief article contemplating the unlikely union of two icons, the Madonna and the Playboy Bunny. Richard J. Mouw spotted these two symbols upon a single car some forty years ago and the experience, Mouw admits, threw him into a “frenzied attempt to absorb it into [his] theology.” Perhaps the uniting of these symbols was to provide an epiphany, a window into the “Spirit of the Age.” Assuming that something was to be gleaned from this odd pairing, Mouw began interpreting. Maybe this was cause to rethink H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture paradigm since here was the “Mother of Christ” and the “Pet of Hefner standing in relatively stable confrontation within a single organism, with neither one being quite dominated, or transformed by, or exalted at the expense of, the other.” Or perhaps this was emblematic of the evolution of the twentieth-century woman, from the servant Mary to the autonomous Playmate. And, in Hegelian terms, this thesis and antithesis were dueling to beget a synthesis that points “to some middle, even transcendent, way that at once embraces and rises above the conflict.” Possibly this was to be interpreted more broadly as a “prophetic-priestly clash,” Mother Mary embodying traditional morality and the bunny representing the New Morality.
Having delved into several possible meanings, Mouw concludes that this is “a case where the medium is the message.” These meaning-rich emblems are nullified by their substance, that is, “they are fashioned by…the same plastic-and-cellophane culture, a culture whose very plasticity allows for the real possibility that Madonnas and Bunnies are mass-produced in the same factory.” Mouw believes that such a culture sucks out the power of the sacred and profane to judge each other. And so it is that images constructed of such material can peacefully coincide.
The relationship between the medium and message is an important subject to consider (yet one often overlooked). Justin Taylor recently linked this video of an interview with Ken Myers (of Mars Hill Audio Journal) at Southeastern Seminary. The interview has a good, clear discussion on this medium and message subject (it begins at the 10:08 mark):