Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Rabbit and Me

 Truth be told, I’m rediscovering Playboy magazine.

For men of my generation, we have seen Playboy travel an amazing arch of rise and decline.  Of revolution and chauvinism.  The magazine that defined hip, and revealed the mysteries of woman under the bed-covers of wide eyed boys, failed to survive the sexual revolution it created.  I predict that it will be extinct in a few more years at best.  There are already signs of decline in terms of contribution.  

For a modest fee, you can access the entire archive of Playboy from the ‘50s to the present at  And yes, whatever all, I really do read the articles. Many of my literary heroes and influences first saw the light of day in Playboy.  Writers like Ray Bradbury (“Fahrenheit 451”, now a staple in high school lit classes, first appeared in serial in Playboy), John Updike, Chuck Palahniuk, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Isaac Bashevis Singer and others got their first shot at the big time between the fulsome bosoms of the girls next door.   Playboy gave Lenny Bruce his last shot at respect, George Carlin and John Lennon and others had famous Playboy interviews.   George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party in the ‘60s, was interviewed by an obscure black writer named Alex Haley.  

 In the 60s and 70s the Playboy Clubs in Chicago and Los Angeles were the soul of chic.  They featured the best Jazz musicians and the edgiest comedians, including black comedians in the age of segregation, Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory.  They were genuinely the spear tip of progressive thinking and remained so through the years.   Playboy was yet, yes, misogynistic in its cartoons and jokes, and while celebrating women’s sexuality, and arguably helping to free it,  it also made fun of it.  This would prove unforgivable to feminists, but in the end Playboy was really sunk by the Internet.  

Online a guy could stealthily cruise pornography for free, sex displayed in every conceivable contortion, and some inconceivable ones.  I think it was this kind of pornography, rather than Playboy’s relatively softcore, that coarsened sex for a generation and may have encouraged misogyny in its modern forms and most lately in Presidential politics.  Things that would have sunk political careers instantly in the past are tame now.  This has also affected us here and what we do.

I’ve often felt that the commercial success of Fifty Shades of Grey and the cultural legitimizing of “mommy porn” took a lot of the fun out of what we do.  When I first began here many years ago, Lisabet admonished me to get a pen name and guard my identity carefully.  This was dangerous, transgressive stuff that could get you in a world of trouble.  We were the literary equivalent of punk rockers and for writers like Remittance Girl and Mike Kimera there was a defiant pride in their twisted craft.  They knew they were good.  And then our work came out into the daylight, it seemed somehow tame, or at least tamed.
I give Playboy two more years.  I don’t care what anybody says, I’m gonna miss the Bunny.


  1. A respectful response to Hugh Hefner's death (even without mentioning it). Since he finally moved out to the big Playboy mansion in the sky, I've read nothing but negative commentary about him and his legacy. I think your treatment is a good deal more fair.

    Yes, the Playboy empire exploited women, but as far I as I know, never glamorized violence against women. That's left to today's pundits.

    And you're totally on target with your comments about the Internet. One could argue that free porn has cut the market for erotica writing, too.

  2. Thanks for the fascinating look at Playboy's history. I knew vaguely about some of the writers who got their start there, but not about the comedians. (It might have been just as well if Bill Cosby had skipped the bunny clubs, though. Sorry, a low dig, I know.) In my early days as an aspiring science fiction writer I knew that selling a story to Playboy was universally thought of as the pinnacle of achievement.

    I agree with Lisabet that free porn has cut the market for erotica writing, too. Just wait until virtual porn comes along and kills the current kind of free porn. Hmm, that might make a story, if anyone bothered to read stories these days.

    1. I've written stories about virtual sex but I don't expect to be around to see it.

      I think somebody must be reading somewhere, at no time in history have books been so plentiful and cheap. Maybe the problem is there's just too much to choose from out there.

  3. My first 'letter to the editor' was in response to that George Lincoln Rockwell interview. It never got printed, but I certainly was motivated to write.

  4. I still need to read that. Rockwell was seriously pissed at being interviewed by a black man but that's what Hef intended.

  5. I really disagree that Internet porn is what killed/is killing Playboy, and also with treating Playboy's pictures as somehow better/more artistic than other available porn/erotic imagery. I think the problem is inexpert use of the airbrush.

    I fondly remember reading Playboy when I was younger. I particularly remember a centerfold featuring Jaid Barrymore that floored me, and the articles have always been good. About 7 years ago, I decided to get my own subscription, thinking I'd enjoy the sort of content I remembered.

    The pictures, however, were completely not sexy, in my opinion. The models were so intensely airbrushed that I found them disturbing. (Oh my God, where did her leg even go!). It was distracting and weird-looking.

    I'm happy to pay for porn. It's true that there are plenty of people who like getting it free, but I pay and I know other people who pay. I know, for example, very artistic kink photographers who take beautiful shots of people in shibari, that sort of thing. I just think Playboy isn't that good at this point. It's not edgy enough if it wants to be edgy, not very good art if that's what it's trying for--just doesn't have a clear vision of what it's trying to do. I don't think all that can be laid at the feet of the Internet...

    1. It's true it wasn't all internet, playboy in recent years lost it's magic and I have to believe it could have been saved. There's so much going on today with politics and nationalism and right wing religious conservatives, that the old playboy would have found plenty to chew on. How do these things happen?

  6. I have to agree that Playboy really did feature great writers and that it was not afraid of touching a number of taboo topics, not only sex. The design was also way ahead of its time.

    I agree that the internet was the death knell, but I think that video rental stores started the decline. It's not unlikely that Playboy will be history within the next 3-4 years, but besides the brand name and silhouette, which today ironically is mainly marketed to women, it's already just a shell.

    Speaking about the erotic content, for me it was not only about pictures, another highlight were the erotic stories. Luckily VHS and the internet hasn't killed them, the niche of amateur writers anonymously sending in stories is still alive on sites like

    1. Oh the erotic stories and articles. Those were great. It survived video and cable for a long time by producing it's own videos and having shows like Playboy After Hours. Maybe it wasn't just there internet I think Her passed it on to people who didn't have his vision.


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