What do you think of when I say Playboy?
Do you think of hot pictures of sexy naked ladies? Bunnies in skimpy outfits swarming all over the Playboy mansion?
Do you think of Mr Hefner, the Ultimate Playboy himself, with his endless string of girlfriends, and currently being married to a woman over 50 years his junior?
Do you think of a multi-national corporate brand, with a readership of 5.6 million (I should be so lucky) employing over 500 people, and with 2010 revenue figures estimated at $215 million?
Do you think of the bunny logo, which has been used on everything from shot glasses, shoes, make up to margarita sets.
Do you think of cutting edge journalism and writing? Thought provoking topical interviews?
Do you think of controversial liberal views clashing with old school feminism? The exploited over sexualised images vs woman’s freedom of choice argument?
Or do you simply think of pool parties and pussy?
Playboy started life in 1953. Hugh Hefner mortgaged his furniture, raised $8,000 from 45 investors, and took a $1,000 from his mother (” because she believed in her son.”), to launch Playboy. The first issue, published in December 1953, sold over 50,000 copies, and featured Marilyn Monroe from her 1949 nude calendar shoot. Over the next 60 years, Playboy would go on to feature a veritable harem of beauties, and actresses, models, singers, sportswomen have graced the silken pages, including in no particular order, Ursula Andress, Kim Basinger, Drew Barrymore, Farah Fawcett, Nancy Sinatra, and the Baywatch girls.
As well as the tits and tassles, a major part of Playboy has been the Playboy Interview, an extensive (usually several thousand-word) discussion between a well known individual and an interviewer – historian Alex Haley, for example, served as a Playboy interviewer on a few occasions; some of his notable interview including Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. One of the magazine’s most famous interviews was a discussion with then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in the November 1976 issue in which he stated “I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”David Sheff’s interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared in the January 1981 issue, which was on newsstands at the time of Lennon’s murder; the interview was later published in book format.
The Playboy logo, a stylized profile of a rabbit wearing a tuxedo bow tie, was created by Playboy art director Art Paul for the second issue as an endnote,but was adopted as the official logo and has appeared ever since. Hefner said that the playboy bunny was an appropriate metaphor for the women featured in the magazine:
“Consider the girl we made popular: the Playmate of the Month. She is never sophisticated, a girl you cannot really have. She is a young, healthy, simple girl – the girl next door . . . we are not interested in the mysterious, difficult woman, the femme fatale, who wears elegant underwear, with lace, and she is sad, and somehow mentally filthy. The Playboy girl has no lace, no underwear, she is naked, well-washed with soap and water, and she is happy.”
After reading this, I found myself thinking about Playboy in the context of the world of porn and erotic publishing. It’s an interesting point of view – wanting to present women who are happy, someone the readers could actually see themselves with, and more realistic, than a sad unreachable “mentally filthy” femme fatale.
Playboy had its hayday in the 70s, with the best selling issue in November 1972 shifting 7,161,561 copies. Whilst still being sold internationally in dozens of countries around the world, Playboy has kept up with the trends and has a strong online presence. including a Playboy app, featuring a complete uncensored version of ALL of its archives and various Playboy websites.
If you look at your average porno magazine, it’ll feature women who’ve been airbrushed to ridiculous Olympian levels of beauty, looking vapid and empty. This is beyond exploitation and the naked issue, this is going into serious Stepford territory. How does Playboy feature in the veritable buffet of titilation? Well, being one of the biggest names in the business, it obviously has its critics. Playboy is banned in many many countries worldwide, is slated by various religious groups, and as had decades of the obvious backlash from feminist groups and people concerned about women being exploited.
But, there does seem to be a change in the tides, as the current Playboy CEO Scott Flanders said earlier this year, that in order to appeal to a new era of Playboy readers, “we’ve got to be female-friendly……We’ve got to create events that women are as comfortable attending as men. We’re moving toward what we’re calling the three G’s: God-given gorgeous.”
Print sales may be in decline, as technological advances means that the current generation of thrill seekers get their rocks off online (as Avenue Q reminds us “The Internet is for Porn”). However, for Playboy, thanks to keeping up to date with tech, business is still booming. As much as we keep pressing forward, I have noticed an interesting backlash against progression for the sake of it in recent years. Millions of people are growing their own food, giving up mass produced consumer products and making their own cards, clothes, furniture, forsaking cars and walking to work, returning to vinyl, and embracing natural beauty. Perhaps it’s inevitable backlash of everyone being so skint as we limp out of the recession, but I like to think it’s more.
To me, porn itself is not a bad thing, but the airbrushing, vacant looks, and general submissive attitudes and contexts the women portray really piss me off. The thing that no-one seems to remind people is that porn isn’t real. It’s porn. You don’t spend days playing Xbox and then think the world is actually full of zombies, or in a Halo shape. But somehow, the reality switch gets re-routed when it comes to sex.There are plenty of people out there who are concerned that we’re raising generations of boys into men who think porn IS real, and that women really do look and act like perfectly made up, constantly horny gasping panting mindless sexbots that come at the drop of a hat. (Big tip boys, we don’t).
Maybe the world has had enough of plastic perfection, and if we’re all going retro, and moving towards a more natural honest approach, the porn industry would do well to do the same. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a positive thing that the Mr Heffner wanted to represent happy healthy looking, more realistic girls in pictures. If the Playboy reboot manages to achieve this, it is something to be cheered.