Charles Winick, Author Who Challenged Views on Drugs and Gender, Dies at 92

July 20, 2015

By SAM ROBERTS
July 13, 2015

Charles Winick, a professor of anthropology and sociology who wrote a book bemoaning the blurring of lines between the sexes and who challenged prevailing views about the dangers of drug abuse, died on July 4 in Manhattan. He was 92.

His death was confirmed by his brother, Dr. Jesse Winick.

The author of 20 books and hundreds of articles, Professor Winick taught at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, but he augmented ivory tower philosophizing with fieldwork in some of society’s seamier venues.

Discussing his “The New People: Desexualization in American Life” in 1968, a Chicago Tribune columnist wrote that he “deserves, if nothing else, respect for self-sacrifice” because he “subjected himself to endless B movies, comic strips, mass magazines, TV series, fashion trade papers, rock music, fulsome best-sellers, second-rate musicals, and whatever other aspects of our pop culture he felt it necessary to observe in order to document his thesis that ‘unisex’ is here.”

Professor Winick feared that America, following the path of ancient Greece and Rome, had been devolving into a neutered society. He insisted that “equality does not mean equivalence, and a difference is not deficiency.”

“Archaeologists of the future may regard a radical dislocation of sexual identity as the single most important event of our time,” he wrote.

As evidence, he warned that “sexy automatized” Barbie dolls were bad role models for marriage and motherhood in the 1960s and affirmed in a 1994 edition of his book that “the increase of teenage pregnancy has roughly corresponded with Barbie’s popularity.”

He noticed that marital beds were getting wider and men were hugging more in public.

(Comparing the prolonged embrace between Bill Clinton and Al Gore at the 1993 inauguration with the cultural climate in 1968 when the book was first published, he wrote, “How unlikely it would have been for male hugging to have occurred at the Nixon inauguration.”)

A review in The New York Times concluded that Professor Winick’s book scored “some valid points,” but found “his forecasts of doom a trifle overwrought.”

His views on drug addiction provoked controversy. He said that opiates “are usually harmless, but they are taken under unsatisfactory conditions” (including malnutrition and infection), that most heroin addicts eventually outgrow their addiction, that many addicts with sufficient financial resources can function normally, and that those who cannot should be treated as patients with a chronic disease.

Tackling the previously taboo topic of drug addiction among musicians, he organized a public forum at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957, established a clinic to treat addicted musicians and participated in a discussion with Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and others that was transcribed and published in Playboy in 1960 as a precursor to the magazine’s interview feature.

“The substances they imbibed,” he later wrote of the musicians, “may have been instrumental in liberating these artists mentally from preoccupation with their life circumstances and subsequently may have provided the opportunity for these artists to tap into their utmost level of creativity.”

Professor Winick was also a pioneer in applying a sociologist’s tools to jury selection, advising lawyers on whom to choose or reject in murder cases against Jean Harris and Claus von Bülow and in First Amendment suits.

He also advised a presidential commission that recommended in 1970 that criminal laws against pornography be abolished — a suggestion that President Richard Nixon rejected.

Charles Winick was born in the Bronx on Aug. 4, 1922, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father, David, was a house painter. His mother was the former Sadie Brussel. During the Depression, he recalled, his parents and four brothers were featured in The New York Times Neediest Cases campaign, and the reporter who interviewed them in their two-bedroom apartment was so appalled by their circumstances that he gave them his own overcoat.

Professor Winick graduated from City College in 1941, before turning 19. Enlisting in the Army that year, he served first in London, assigned to military intelligence at Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters, and then at a secret post at Fort Hunt, Va., where German-speaking American soldiers were recruited to interrogate valuable prisoners of war, including spymasters, submariners and scientists (among them Wernher von Braun).

He remained in the reserves and retired as a lieutenant colonel and continued his education, earning a doctorate from New York University.

He married the former Mariann Pezzella, who co-wrote a number of his books and articles. She died in 2006. Besides his brother Jesse, he is survived by two children, Raphael and Laura Winick, and another brother, Martin.

Professor Winick first applied his analytical skills as research director for the Anti-Defamation League, the New York State Narcotics Commission and J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency.

His books include “Dictionary of Anthropology,” “The Television Experience: What Children See” (written with his wife) and “The Lively Commerce: Prostitution in the United States” (with Paul M. Kinsie). In “The Lively Commerce,” based on more than 2,000 interviews with prostitutes, he found that they were often suicidal and made little more money than they could doing clerical work.

But his recurring theme was the disappearing line between men and women. He recalled an amateur astronomer who told Albert Einstein that she studied Venus every night through her telescope. Einstein peered through the scope, but identified the planet as Jupiter.

“You certainly are brilliant to be able to tell the sex of a planet at such a great distance,” the woman said.

“It is increasingly difficult to tell the sex of many things, at almost any distance, in America today,” Professor Winick wrote. He said scientists had warned that radical changes in sex roles might lead to the end of the species.

“This does not mean that we, the New People, will fail to survive or we are unable to create a viable substitute for rejected lifestyles,” he concluded. “It does suggest that the new tone of life, a bitter, metallic existence, may simply not be worth the price of enduring it.”

Originally published by The New York Times