Playboy is done with publishing photos of naked women. This is something one never would have predicted in 1995 and possibly as late as 2000. Rich Cromwell's opinions at The Federalist on the end of nudity in Playboy mirror my own. I never had a subscription, and he is a few years older than I. At this point, Playboy is the old man everyone is waiting to die to split up the assets. I am talking about Playboy but that might as well be Hefner himself. It is already dead. Cromwell touches on something about Playboy's political drift, and he is right, but I would add to that some points.
There was a time when Playboy would publish something no one else would, and it would be a gem. The best take on the Hunt brothers and their quest to corner the silver market in the '70s as the dollar faced collapse was in Playboy (Silverfinger). There is shitlib framing, but Hunt gets a better portrayal than anything he would get today. The Hunts were the Koch brothers but focused on sound money therefore "evil". Side note: I'd rather have the Hunts backing my bid against the USG system than the Kochs. Buried within that article is the completely forgotten historical point that the commodities exchange fucked the Hunts over because the very people on the other side of Hunts bets were the big banks. Hunt pulled asymmetric warfare on them, and nearly won. They had another article that was brilliant about online sex capabilities in '93 or '92. Playboy questioned how much people would pick the controlled illusion over true, sensual touch. Those articles were not steady enough, but the broad market was not reading a skin mag for the articles.
The old Playboy 20 Questions interview section would have a big name and occasionally a gold nugget would slip out. Playboy published Jimmy Carter's "lust in the heart" line. People took a little liberty with what they said when interviewed by Playboy. It was a platform for "edgy". Hell, Playboy was going to give you book excerpts. The first chapter of Mike Royko's classic book on Mayor Daley "Boss" was published in Playboy before the book was released. You were reading Playboy for the cheesecake, but they tried to put something intelligent or different in between the cornucopia of cigarette and alcohol advertisements. I leafed through one recently and wanted to start smoking Camels.
Just last week, I cited a chart from page 70 in the July 1989 issue. Think about that. I used a 26 year old chart from a Playboy issue to discuss a contemporary cultural issue. Gender and social issues changed rapidly during its time. Playboy gave up space that could have become a natural monopoly: safe space for men and well articulated thoughtcrime. Because of their market, they had a spot in culture to report or discuss things in our media fueled gender wars. They decided to go prog and toe the line rather than stake out an area for men. Another thing Playboy was rather intrigued by and reported regularly was technology. They saw in the early '90s that the world wide web would be a frontier for sex. They just absolutely botched the transition.
When I posted my version of Maxim, the same could be said for Playboy. I'd rather own Playboy to make it a Dark Enlightenment vehicle, but it'd be more expensive to buy. Men yearn for a male space discussing worldly issues from a man's POV. An alternative gender narrative was there for Playboy to broadcast: the '80s campus rape hysteria, sexual harassment lawsuits gone wild, the decline in male employment. Playboy never staked it out. Imagine a Playboy with the balls to interview the German kid accused of raping Mattress Girl. When the Internet video streaming capabilities reached full power and the government did nothing to push back, Playboy lost its smut edge. It'll just be another men's general interest rag like GQ.
Another thing that hurt Playboy was the the leaked sex tape. Even if you did not see it, you might have seen screen-caps. Even if you did not see it, you heard about it. Roughly a generation ago, someone might shoot a breakout pictorial or something sexy to reshape their image. Elle McPherson and Katarina Witt both appeared in Playboy. Different version of the same trick. Remove the sex tape option, and it's easy to see Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian doing a pictorial spread ("topless only for my mom" they'd say) in their desperate hopes of building a name. How long ago was the last Playmate that was a nationwide sex symbol? Pam Anderson? Anna Nicole Smith? Jenny McCarthy? That's 20 years ago.
Playboy wasn't killed by Internet porn alone. They should have purchased hardcore content performers under a different brand in the late '90s like how they did their video and PPV specials in the '80s and '90s. What kid who watched '90s scramble-vision could forget Playboy's "City Girls" series? They sort of did this with Jenna Jameson's company but botched the fact that the performers and pipeline of more performers matter more than the platform and delivery system. They could have used the magazine as an aspirational vehicle for the hardcore girls, but used the hardcore porn as a promotional vehicle for the magazine. Penthouse has actually done this with some success. Yes, having all smut one click away took the taboo factor away from Playboy, but something else helped kill Playboy.
The nexus of the sexual liberation Playboy pushed, the girl next door fantasy and technology helped slide the dagger in deeper. Digital pics, emailing, texting because of Internet amateurs, sexting and selfies. Playboy often tried to show you the sexy girl next door. How could their fiction ever, ever compete with the literal girl next door texting you nudes? How could a posed and airbrushed "coed" in the "Girls of the SEC" compare to the girl in Cascadilla Hall sending you an email containing a close up pic with her breasts on display titled "Cum Over And Study"? It is the same tease and fantasy, but this time, you could make it reality. Playboy got squeezed by the plethora of diverse porn on demand that you could consume without anyone finding out and shaming you and the innocent, girl next door pic sharing phenomenon.
I'm poking holes at Playboy, but it was a part of growing up for me. It was a piece of the adult world with Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, driving and smoking. For Internet age people, it is hard to understand what finding a Playboy was like for boys. It was like finding the Ark of the Covenant and a glimpse into a hoped for future. Once a friend's dad told us to clean out the apartment of a tenant he evicted for $20/each. I was 13. We cleaned the kitchen, the filthy bathroom, and took a break. The place smelled awful. The bedroom remained. In the guy's closet was a stack of 20 or so Playboys. We called a third friend to bike over with his paperboy bag so he could haul the cache of Playboys away so we would not be busted by my friend's dad. I could call up my friend today, and we'd still laugh at it. Now we'd be sending links of the newest tube site containing God knows what degeneracy.
Playboy was a little different. Playboy had so many stunners as centerfolds that even 13 year old me knew if I saw a Playboy just to go to the middle to see a "10". They were always wearing something sexy. Often, it was garters and stockings that to my disappointment, when I became an adult, were considered an obsolete form of undergarment. Bring back garters and stockings! Playboy could find the hottest version of whatever you were looking for, redhead, blonde, hispanic, black, etc. Seriously, they found the whitest looking black woman (not skin tone but bone structure and build) of all time, Karin Taylor, who is now a
Just teenage memories. Men of a certain era now know that those odd circumstances, hiding spots for magazines and that Playboy discovery moment are now lost shared experiences. That period of discovery and interest in searching for more lines up with young boys becoming young men. All go through it. Playboy's part in it is officially gone, and unofficially has been gone for years. My favorite centerfold: Nancie Li Brandi (Dec 1975), the staging, costuming and soft focus/light give the shoot a dreamlike quality. First Playboy I ever saw: the Jessica Hahn Playboy. Only Playboy I ever bought: the Baywatch Playboy from 1998. Proof this is all obsolete? We can find all of this and more today in a few minutes with Google. Then, we had to wait once a month. Even by 1998, the Internet was sending a tsunami of smut our way, rendering Playboy less a magazine and more a brand.
Playboy, thanks for the memories, but the glue factory is over there.