Monday, October 19, 2015

Burying Playboy

I come here to bury Playboy, not praise it.

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 trophy wife mommy blogger. That is why "Playboy Playmate" and bunnies had an aura or mystique.

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.

10 comments:

Alexandros HoMegas said...

"There was a time when Playboy would publish something no one else would, and it would be a gem."

I think that Professor Revilo Oliver remarked that the first article to appear about the israeli attack on USS Liberty was published by Playboy.

Toddy Cat said...

Funny that you should mention Johnny Carson and Playboy in the same context, but you're absolutely right. They were very different, of course, but both were part of the sophisticated, suave, sexy, intellectual adult world that young guys dreamed of being a part of, back in the 60's, 70's and 80's. It's hard to convey now, but this was a world of jazz, intellectual books, sophisticated women (possessing who knew what sexual skills!), cocktails, sports cars, etc, etc. Carson was the gateway drug (especially in cool B&W), while Playboy was the flat-out, mainline real deal. Of course, a lot of it was bull sh*t, and even more was my own hormone-fueled fantasies, but that adult world did exist back then, and I wanted to be a part of it, and fast...

You can say that all of this was unhealthy, and some of it probably was, but at least it made me want to grow up, contrary to today's kids, who seem to have no adulthood of any kind to look forward to. When grown men collect Star Wars action figures, and grown women remain stuck at age thirteen or so, what attractive vision do they have of adulthood, even a lascivious one, such as I had? I can't say that I'll miss Playboy, but still, you don't replace something with nothing.

stengle said...

Playboy couldn't last, and part of me is astonished it made it this far. But like many older readers here I was struck when growing up by the elegance of the women, the jokes, the articles, the stories (I am pretty sure I read one of my first Ray Bradbury tales in there, or if I didn't it was such a publication that I imagined that was exactly where I would find one.)

It represented a world to aspire to, and that was where it would eventually fall down because what the world began to aspire to turned out to be nothing much at all. In many ways characters like James Bond would echo it by wearing a bow-tie, drinking just what he liked the way he wanted and being assured at the gaming table while having a well-dressed woman take a very considerable, non-rape-allegation interest in him.

So much of that has gone now and perhaps will never come back. Maybe it was all illusion, but if you have to have an illusion then Playboy represented the best kind to have.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Thank you for the comments.

Adukts now being infatilized nd all things being sexualized made Playboy nothing special.

Suburban_elk said...

The stack of Playboys behind the utility shed in the woods, yeah that was for real. Ridiculously enough i passed by there this very day and was thinking about it. Yes, “men of a certain age” … and their memories. It is funny to think of how many stacks would have been hidden around town. There must have been hundreds, along with the forts out in the woods.

Yeah that brings it back. Including and especially about the rumours of the older sisters a few houses down, who apparently were doing all sorts of things with some of the neighborhood kids. I was skeptical and missed out.

But now not only are there no longer Playboys in the woods, there really aren’t any kids out there either. (Yeah i know that’s some tasteless stuff, but haha if i do say so.)

***********

The point about Playboy being positioned to carve out some much needed space for men’s issues is a very good one, very topical. A well known commenter is promoting his book about using game to get ahead (or at least stay afloat) at Encorpera, and there is a HUGE demand for some sane voices on these questions that are not being addressed.

And which questions might those be?

Any bright young go-getters out there, with full heads of hair, have at it. I would love to “say more” but it’s hard, … where do you start. Who are the people of these times and places? Who are we?

There is an aching aching aching need for some eloquence to address that Lack of Identity. Comic book heroes? Comic book heroes?! wtf.

Basically, Aragorn son of Arathorn and Duke Leto Atriedes are as close to common heroes are we have. Heroes are it, … hey man - they are what it is all about, like, you know?

Back in the old days - the 70s - there were heroes in our lives. Our dads. But somehow they dropped the ball.

That reminds me though, for my peer groups growing up then, about the stupid ritual game contest we had that was informal but repeated day after day especially in the summer, and though we would not have had a name for it, now it might be called My Dad is the Greatest (or at least better than yours), sitting around and telling of his exploits which seemed so large. Again and still, my take was skeptical and removed, and i knew that my next-door neighbor’s dad could not jump over trees. By the way though that guy was a intense athlete whose son was the little league city champ in wrestling, which around here was something.

PA said...

Until about 20 years ago, "Playboy" and "Rolling Stone" is where the intellectually restless went for candid commentary. Today, that place is alt-Right blogs.

Toddy Cat said...

"Today, that place is alt-Right blogs."

Very true, but you have to wonder if it's enough. I mean, most of these guys have real jobs and real lives, and can only produce so much. I mean, Roissy has to get laid sometime, SOBL has a job and a family, and the guys over at MPC have to.....do whatever it is that they do (probably best not thought about, in some cases...). Some of the aforementioned also have to work under constant fear of exposure, and the consequent ruination of their lives. Aside from anything else, it's not fair.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Toddy Cat - Yes, we do need broader platforms as well as time for our thinkers. I'm actually trying to recruit people to contribute an essay here or there at 28Sherman. It's why Grerp is here now once a month. I've got a couple others in the bullpen.

When I said I'd love to be in charge of MAXIM, I was using it as a way to share the links I read for male topic focused writers, but also how I would mold my staff for a men's interest magazine. I would love to run a thought crime media entity. I would love to be free of the demands of a job to focus 100% on writing. If I could, I'd finish the nonfiction book I've been stuck at word 15,000 for 18 months and crank out more long form, investigative piece essays (+5K words). I'd love to have the time to interview people for things. Essays like my ISIS piece on Social Matter were long, got me pats on the back from many different people but was still not 5K words and golly, it took me time and effort to research as well as think it up.

I work a breakneck pace here, and never ever cut back no matter how many times I promise myself I will. You can ask my wife, I am constantly recording memos of future post ideas on my phone when the moment strikes. I'd love to be freed from regular work to do so full time.

Toddy Cat said...

Don't think we don't appreciate it, SOBL. If you can get something going, I'll be proud to be one of your first paying customers.

T Maker said...

"Today, that place is alt-Right blogs."

There are various chans and spin-offs from chans.

4chan has been losing popularity for some time.

Some channers suggest migrating to Retroshare and TOX and similar platforms.