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 www.iplayboy.com. 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.