A Playboy’s Passing

Hugh Hefner died yesterday of natural causes at age 91.  The founder of Playboy, Hefner was a lightning rod for criticism in the ’50s and ’60s for publishing a magazine that featured nude photos of women.

playboy-mansion-for-sale-comes-with-hugh-hefner-socialHefner’s life and career had a definite arc to it.  He founded Playboy in 1953, with an inaugural issue that featured photos of Marilyn Monroe, and built a media and nightclub empire that saw Playboy‘s circulation peak in the 1970s at more than 7 million.  When I was a kid in the late ’60s and early ’70s, just about every American boy had heard about Playboy and hoped to get a chance to thumb through the magazine one day.  But the number of competitors grew, Playboy clubs closed, and the circulation of the magazine declined, falling to about 800,000 in 2015.  At one point, Playboy even decided briefly to stop publishing photographs of naked women, then later reversed that decision.  In any case, Playboy‘s claim to have a grip on the national zeitgeist has long since vanished.

Hefner also was an interesting cultural figure, because he consciously set out to “brand” himself as the smiling sexual libertine with his ever-present pipe and his smoking jacket, constantly surrounded by pretty young women.  He was successful in creating a well-defined public persona, and in many ways, he was a forerunner of modern media techniques that have since been adopted by many other American cultural figures.  As time passed, however, the aging Hefner and his retinue became increasingly out of step with modern attitudes toward gender, and his branding also seemed to morph.  By the end, Hefner and his silk pajamas and captain’s hat and tiger skin rugs were a kind of curious anachronism, like a vestige of the Mad Men era that somehow still existed 50 years later.


The Arc Of Playboy

Playboy has announced that, beginning next March, it will no longer feature photographs of completely naked women.  Sure, there will still be a “Playmate of the Month” — whether there will be a centerfold is still up in the air — but the pictures will be of the PG-13 variety, with women in provocative poses.  It will be part of a redesign of the magazine, which will continue to feature interviews and articles and fiction and a sex columnist but will have more content about liquor and more visual art.

Playboy is struggling to remain relevant in today’s internet world, where photographs of naked women, and beyond, can be found with a few keystrokes.  First published in 1953, Playboy has long been credited for helping to usher in an America with a less puritanical attitude about sex — but its high point passed by decades ago.  Its best-selling issue, which sold more than 7 million copies, was published in November 1972.  Its circulation is down to about 800,000 now.  Other magazines that featured similar content no longer exist.

I haven’t seen a Playboy in years, but I remember the ’60s and ’70s, where Playboy was sold in drugstores from a little rack, separate from the rest of the magazines.  Sometimes the rack was behind the counter, but sometimes it was tantalizingly placed out in the store itself, potentially available to inspection by curious teenage boys who’d heard about it from other kids at school.  Would they have the nerve to pick up a copy and quickly riffle its pages, hoping to catch a peek at a bare breast and not be yelled at by the shopkeeper or humiliatingly seen by a Mom in the neighborhood?  Those days are long gone.

I’m not wistful about the arc of Playboy‘s rise and decline; I’ve often thought that Hugh Hefner is one of those people who has skillfully managed the media to obtain better press and more attention than his actual cultural significance merits.  But Playboy‘s decision to yield the field to the porn sites is an interesting development.  Playboy‘s website stopped displaying nude photos some time ago, and it reports that the average age of its website visitors declined — the teenage boy effect, perhaps? — and its web traffic increased.

Now they will try that experiment with the magazine, and we will finally learn the answer to an age-old question:  do people actually read Playboy for the articles?

Osama’s Porn Stash

Could Osama bin Laden have been a secret porn freak — in addition to being one of the world’s most notorious terrorists?

Reuters is reporting that the U.S. Navy Seal raid on bin Laden’s compound not only produced a dead Osama, it also uncovered a cache of pornography.  The article quotes officials as saying that the stash consisted of “modern, electronically recorded video” and “is fairly extensive.”  The officials said they do not know whether bin Laden himself acquired or watched the porn, which may have been delivered by couriers.  There also was no information about what kind of pornography was involved — which could be instructive.  Was it Playboy-type T&A stuff or at the more violent, hard-core end of the pornography spectrum?

Interestingly, the American officials are quoted as saying that, in our investigations of other Islamic militants, it is not uncommon to find pornography.  What does that tell you about our terrorist foes?