The Pleasure Police: How Bluenose Busybodies and Lily-Livered Alarmists Are Taking All the Fun Out of Life

Overview

Why in the world have the healthiest, wealthiest, safest and most pampered people in the history of humanity turned into a nation of pushy, whiny, misinformed nutrition nazis, teetotalers, prudes and abstainers? That's what David Shaw, an unapologetic lover of good food, fine wine, a great cigar and other sensual pleasures, wants to know. In The Pleasure Police, Shaw, the Pulitzer Prize-winning media critic for the Los Angeles Times, sets out after the neo-puritans, armed with a robust appreciation of life, and ...
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Overview

Why in the world have the healthiest, wealthiest, safest and most pampered people in the history of humanity turned into a nation of pushy, whiny, misinformed nutrition nazis, teetotalers, prudes and abstainers? That's what David Shaw, an unapologetic lover of good food, fine wine, a great cigar and other sensual pleasures, wants to know. In The Pleasure Police, Shaw, the Pulitzer Prize-winning media critic for the Los Angeles Times, sets out after the neo-puritans, armed with a robust appreciation of life, and that rarest of modern qualities, a willingness to look past hype and alarmism and rely on facts. Shaw is amazed and disturbed that so many people seem hell-bent on ruining the pleasures of everyone else. The religious right thunders on about what consenting adults do in the bedroom; the feminist left wants to make flirtation a crime; hysterical health advocates tell us to be afraid of eating anything except tofu and kale; a tidal wave of repressive anti-smoking laws are passed based on extremely dubious second-hand smoke research; charlatan diet gurus use guilt and quackery to create a forty-billion-dollar-a-year industry; total strangers feel free to comment on the alcohol content of their fellow diners' beverages. Shaw takes after these zealots with gusto, wit and just the right bit of malice. In his view, life is a feast, not an endurance test, and he takes great glee in mocking the absurdity and self-righteousness of the crusades of the pleasure police.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
President of Bard College for the past 22 years and musical director of the American Symphony Orchestra, Botstein brings his polymorphous intelligence to bear upon the nature and future of education in America. His readers will quickly understand what he means when he says, "It was not written in anticipation of agreement." Botstein starts by pointing out the irony of a contemporary America that possesses the means "to ensure the growth and development of the arts, science, and education" and its continual invocation of a mythic glorious past. The author sees this national pessimism and the decline of hope in a viable future, as a deterrent to our children's education. If today's adults cannot believe in their future, how can we expect their children to face 13 years of public education with confidence and excitement? Turning to the organization of our schools, Botstein argues that, physically, at least, today's children mature earlier than previous generations, and that the public school experience can be productively shortened to 11 rather than 13 years, with kindergartners starting at age foura suggestion based on the positive experience of Headstart. In closing his brilliant, controversial discussion, Botstein examines the American college, proposing a set of nine courses and common curricula to give all students a base of shared knowledge. Jefferson's Children is a book that must be read by everyone willing to hope and work for an American educational system that prepares each child for personal fulfillment and productive citizenship. (Oct.)
Library Journal
A Pulitzer Prize-winning media critic for the Los Angeles Times, Shaw covers himself in his acknowledgments by citing the personal rather than the scholarly nature of his book and by taking responsibility for any overstatements or misstatements. Some readers may find plenty of both. This alternately engaging and annoying book takes aim at undue alarmism and well-meaning intrusions that act to separate people from the most basic pleasures. Since life will never be without risk, Shaw argues, we would be happier and healthier if we could stop worrying so much and be allowed to enjoy our food and drink and to indulge in tobacco, sex, and even swearing if we so choose, provided we apply moderation and common sense. Such a task is made increasingly difficult by meddling activists and panicky news stories, a state likely to get worse with ever-intensifying media competition and the approach of the millennium. Should they get past his clumsy humor, occasional rambling, and blatant self-congratulation, most readers may well find themselves in general agreement with the author and may even feel an urge to invest in a nice red wine and a box of cigars. For general collections.Patrick Dunn, East Tennessee State Univ. Lib., Johnson City
Mary Carroll
Shaw, the "Los Angeles Times"' Pulitzer Prizewinning media critic, turns his attention to broader social trends in this attack on "those who try to persuade everyone that the glass is not only half-empty but cracked--and leaking a fluid that is either a deadly poison or a dangerous aphrodisiac. Or both." The pleasure police draw recruits from both left and right, from irreligious and religious puritanism; over the past several decades, they've "made life a less joyous journey for us all." Shaw ponders risks and reality in general, then the recent years' changes in our attitudes toward food, alcohol, tobacco ("his" drug of choice is the cigar), sex and gender, and censorship. Shaw is a graceful writer and deploys detailed personal experiences as well as opinions from a wide variety of sources to make his case. Because Shaw's position often places him in the moderate middle, he takes potshots at both extremes: Rush Limbaugh "and" Andrea Dworkin; cigarette makers "and" the EPA's questionable secondhand-smoke research. For readers weary of the hysteria and self-righteousness Shaw pillories.
Kirkus Reviews
Shaw raises important questions about balancing pleasure and responsibility in modern society but defeats his own purpose with superficial analysis and smug prose.

The Pleasure Police, according to the rather vague defintion offered by the Los Angeles Times media critic, have "narrow minds, unbending wills, [and] dictatorial ways" and, to promote their crabbed vision, would dictate most aspects of our personal lives. The fascinating irony raised by Shaw is that these "new Puritans . . . are increasingly trying to leech all joy from our daily lives" at the very time when, for many, living has never been better. Much of Shaw's discussion is thoughtful and informative, such as his history of the movements in opposition to smoking and alcohol. Unfortunately, the book's strengths are overwhelmed by its failings. With rare exception, Shaw's writing is unrelentingly smarmy and trite. Describing a new fat substitute which may cause gas, Shaw states, "Trading fat for farts will be the odor—er, order—of the day." Similarly, Shaw's frequent references to his sex life, his family, his hobbies, and his preferences are cloying and self-important. Moreover, Shaw's analysis is often distressingly shallow. Due to their ruinous effects, he opposes legalization of hard drugs. Yet, despite equally dire consequences, with regard to alcohol, Shaw counsels only education and moderation. And it is typical of Shaw's lack of definition that we remain unsure as to who these "pleasure police" really are. Furthermore, Shaw, despite his stated dislike of intolerant proselytizing, indulges in it frequently. He is amazed that his compromises and standards regarding private pleasures have not been universally embraced.

With no overriding theory to help us reach a useful balance between striving for fun and accepting responsibility, this thesis devolves into a superficial, rambling, cocktail party monologue.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385475686
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/1/1996
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 307
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Name Your Poison

I was twenty-one years old when I had my first drink.

It was bourbon.

It was awful.

The occasion was a small going-away party for the editor of my first daily newspaper. For some strange reason--maybe as a practical joke--the staff of five editors and five reporters unanimously selected me, the youngest and newest member of our little suburban paper, to be in charge of refreshments. I'd never done anything like it before and didn't have a clue what to do. But I'd read books and seen movies and heard stories about reporters and their legendary love of hard liquor, so I went out and bought a lot of Scotch and bourbon. But what do you eat with whiskey? I asked my wife to bake some brownies. That got a few chuckles at the party. But not as many chuckles as what I did with the Scotch and bourbon. Dimly recalling from some movie or other that most people liked their whiskey "on the rocks," I decided that rather than waste ice cubes and, ultimately, dilute my guests' drinks, it made much more sense to just put the bottles of whiskey in the freezer the morning of the party. Then I forgot I had put them there until my guests arrived.

"Omigod!" I said as the first few walked in. "I just realized--I froze the booze. Come in. Sit down. I'll get the bottles out of the freezer and put them in some boiling water. It shouldn't take long to defrost them--should it?"

I'm somewhat more sophisticated about both liquor and entertaining now. But I still don't like the taste of whiskey. In fact, when Lucas recently asked me to describe the taste of the Scotch that Lucy occasionally drinks, I told him it tastes like aparticular antibiotic he's taken--one that is so foul he can hardly swallow it. He now refers to Chivas Regal as "Mommy's medicine."

I occasionally drink a margarita at a Mexican restaurant, and I'm not averse to a Bloody Mary at brunch every couple of years but what I really like is wine. Over the past dozen years or so, I have become a wine lover--a wine drinker, a wine buyer, a wine collector. I have a twelve-hundred-bottle cellar in my home. I go to wine auctions. I take my own wine to most restaurants, as well as on airplanes. I ship cases of my wine ahead when I vacation in domestic resort areas.

Unlike many of my wine-drinking friends, I don't drink wine just to drink wine--to sip it, sample it and compare it to other wines sipped and sampled. I like making those judgments, but what I really like is drinking wine as a complement to food. I like the way food and wine taste together--the way a rich white Burgundy enhances the flavor of steamed lobster and the way a robust, almost chewy red from Bordeaux accentuates both the taste and the texture of a thick, blood-rare New York steak. I have friends who finish dinner, then open a new bottle and start drinking, tasting and talking all over again. I also have friends who rave about German Rieslings that are "great for sipping on a summer afternoon, while you're reading a book," and still others who wax positively poetic about the charms inherent in a big, hearty Cabernet Sauvignon from California. Not me, not me, not me. First of all, when I'm through with my meal, I'm through with my wine--even if I have a half-full glass left in front of me. Nor do I usually sip wine while reading books. (Well, maybe a glass of port with a cigar, but that's a different matter--and, in part, the subject of the next chapter.) As for California Cabernets, well, I find most of them too heavy and too alcoholic. They don't complement food; they overpower it. That's not why I drink wine.

Unlike some drinkers--beer and hard-liquor drinkers more than wine drinkers--I don't drink wine for the impact of the alcohol. I don't have a drink after work to unwind or before bedtime to help me sleep. Sure, I enjoy the slight buzz and the sense of well-being I get after my first few swallows of wine at the dinner table. But that's only momentary--and secondary. The real buzz I feel in those first few swallows is an appreciation of the flavor of the wine--and, more important, an anticipation of the gastronomic pleasure to come. I have absolutely no desire for escape, release, intoxication, feelings of omnipotence or whatever it is that makes some people want to get drunk. I have several friends who feel differently. One of them, Colman Andrews, is now the executive editor of Saveur magazine, which recently published an excerpt from Benjamin Franklin's list of 228 words and phrases "overheard in taverns to describe the condition of being drunk." (Franklin, you may recall, is the fellow who once pointed out, "There are more old drunkards than old doctors.") A couple of years ago, Colman wrote a story for the Los Angeles Times Magazine titled "In Defense of Getting Drunk." The title was more provocative than precise, since Colman said that when he spoke of getting drunk, he didn't mean "falling-down/throwing-up/screaming-and-flailing-or-sniffing-and-sobbing-out-of-ontrol drunk." What he meant, he said, was drinking to "a state of pleasant inebriation."

"A lot of people who drink, and genuinely enjoy drinking, sometimes drink too much (because they genuinely enjoy drinking)," Colman acknowledged.

Why do they enjoy drinking? Why does he enjoy drinking?

Colman, who once wrote, "My body is not my temple; it's more like my bar and grill," said in his "Getting Drunk" story that he drinks because "I like the way alcohol smells and tastes...I drink because I like the trappings of imbibing, the company it keeps--the restaurants and cafes and bars and (usually) the people who gather in them. And I drink, frankly, because I like the way alcohol makes me feel. I like the glow, the softening of hard edges, the faint anesthesia. I like the way my mind races, one zigzag step ahead of logic. I like the flash flood of unexpected utter joy that sometimes courses quickly through me between this glass and that one."

Colman said he only drinks excessively when the mood and the circumstances permit. He doesn't drive drunk, work drunk or get drunk every night. He hasn't abused, abandoned or neglected his wife and two young children. His drinking does not cause any problems for anyone else, and he is probably doing no more than minor damage, if that, to himself. So whose business is it if he drinks to excess on occasion? Isn't it perfectly appropriate for him to adopt the attitude implicit in the title of the classic Billie Holiday song "Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do"?
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: A Personal Prologue, of Sorts 1
1 Risk and Reality 17
2 You Are What You Eat 49
3 Name Your Poison 90
4 Of Panatelas and Pariahs, Secondhand Smoke and Second-Class Citizens 127
5 God and Man - and Woman 161
6 Men and Women Are Different 213
7 Bluenoses and Blue Pencils 245
A Selected Bibliography 287
Index 295
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