Berkeley taking sides over public perusal of Playboy

September 20, 1991|By San Francisco Chronicle

BERKELEY, Calif. -- The latest firefight sparked by the implacable advance of the political correctness juggernaut has flared in one of the nation's most dependable strongholds of PC consciousness.

"It's really been horrible, really horrible," said Bette Kroening at her Bette's Oceanview Diner as she twined nervous fingers through her hair.

The trouble began Aug. 28 when a customer opened up a Playboy magazine. A waitress, offended by his choice of reading matter, asked him to desist or move to another table.

Furious controversy was thereafter stirred between feminists who argued that the magazine objectified women, degrading them into sex objects and prey for rapists, and First Amendment devotees.

These latter dwelt on the irony of thought police patrolling a city known the world over for its cultivation of free speech and thought.

Coffee houses and the WELL computer network, which the Berkeley intelligentsia uses more than the telephone to communicate, crackled with the pro and con.

"The thing has taken on a life of its own," said Kroening, 45. "I feel entrapped. It's like being pinned against a wall while a big wave pounds you."

After the customer, a free-lance writer named Mike Hughes, took his beef public, he dropped out of the picture, joining the waitress (identified only as "Barbara") on the sidelines.

"She doesn't want to talk about it," said Kroening.

That left her and Bill Redican, an editor and writer who is a frequent customer at the diner, in the cross hairs of the media, gathered here only recently to explore another PC development, that being the campaign in nearby Marin County to make the wearing of perfume in public places a punishable offense.

"It's another excess of the politically correct left," fumed Redican.

He has organized a read-in for Sunday at Bette's diner, the reading matter being free copies of Playboy donated by the delighted magazine, which is more accustomed to being pilloried in demonstrations than defended.

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