Global brand Playboy is reportedly in the process of severing ties with its Portuguese subsidiary after the national version of Playboy magazine published a controversial cover featuring Jesus Christ on a bed with a topless, tattooed woman, allegedly without first having attained approval from the international headquarters.
The cover of the July 2010 edition features a glowing, long-haired Jesus Christ, kneeling on a bed, holding a topless, heavily-tattooed model, who is lying inanimate in his arms. A photo spread within the magazine shows Jesus watching two models in a lesbian clinch, standing next to a prostitute, and looking over the shoulder of a woman reading a book.
But Playboy’s Portuguese publisher, Frestacom-Lisbon Media Publishing, said that the photo shoot was meant to be a “final tribute” to the recently deceased, Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago. It claimed the controversial photo-shoot was meant to pay homage to Saramago’s ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’.
It denies having been notified by the international Playboy offices to halt its operations.
A spokesperson for Frestacom-Lisbon Media Publishing, which launched Playboy Portugal in March 2009, told Lusa News Agency that the idea behind the “strong pictures” was to send an “equally strong message, which does not need captions”.
In a press release, Frestacom stated “Apparently some people have still not captured the real essence and concept of the magazine” and said it was “shocked” by the amount of “attention that was immediately given [to the cover], to the detriment of a deeper analysis”.
Frestacom vice-president Gil Teixeira and Playboy Portugal magazine director João Araújo both told Lusa that the publication’s continuation “is not at stake” and that work is ongoing on the next edition, “as normal”.
It further stated that “so far, no notification has been made by Playboy Enterprises”.
Meanwhile several reports have emerged that confirm the head office’s displeasure at the thought-provoking picture.
Theresa Hennessy, Playboy Enterprises’ vice president of public relations, was widely quoted in the media, including the Daily Mail and msnbc.com, as having said “We did not see or approve the cover and pictorial in the July issue of Playboy Portugal,” and “it is a shocking breach of our standards and we would have not allowed it to be published if we had seen it in advance.”
She reportedly confirmed, “We are in the process of terminating our agreement with the Portuguese publisher.”
Known as one of Saramago’s more controversial literary works, ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’ is a fictional re-telling of Jesus Christ’s life, depicting him as a flawed, humanised character with passions and doubts.
The novel stirred much controversy amongst some critics, especially among the Roman Catholic Church, accusing Saramago of possessing a “substantially anti-religious vision”. But it was praised by other critics as a “deeply philosophical, provocative and compelling work”.
In 1992, the Portuguese government, under Prime Minister Aníbal Cavaco Silva, ordered the removal of The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from the European Literary Prize’s shortlist, claiming the work was religiously offensive. Saramago complained of censorship and moved to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain.
In 2002 the Portuguese Nobel winner had the Israeli government fuming after comparing Israel with Nazis, likening the country’s actions with those which occurred during the holocaust.
The Portuguese writer, who hardly ever used capitals or punctuation marks in his novels, said in 2002 that the suffering inflicted by the Israeli army on Arabs in Palestine was comparable to that suffered by the Jews in the notorious Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz during the Second World War.
Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. His books have been translated into 25 languages.
He resided in the Canary Islands until his death on June 18th this year, at the age of 87.