‘Playboy’ vs Pornography

Playboy‘s redesign isn’t a victory for women’s rights – not that it has to be, of course. But let’s just not pretend there’s any real moral reason behind this decision. Because it’s not a decision. It’s a survival tactic. It’s business.

by Kolby Solinsky

White Cover Magazine


Vanity Fair‘s Bruce Handy asks the question Playboy probably hopes nobody would: “Now that the ‘the articles’ are, indeed, the only reason to read Playboy, the question is raised: Are they, in fact, any good?”

********** **********

Playboy has emerged, the new one. From a short, cleansing hibernation after a half-century of what we’ll pretend was something we hated – something Playboy will pretend they’re now ashamed of, as if they’ve awoken from a fog of hi-def vaginas and touched-up fun bags. They’re reluctantly slipping towards a future, unintentionally, that is also pretending – we’re all pretending to be something more moral, something higher-ground than someone who’s into titties and glossy skin. We’re pretending there’s been some sort of ‘human rights’ victory here – some sort of win for women – all because the most famous nudie mag is no longer a nudie mag. Well, it is still a nudie mag. It just stops stripping before the nipple and the bush.

The problem isn’t that pornography is out-of-fashion. The problem, for Playboy, is that pornography is so incredibly in-fashion. And it can’t keep up, not in a market that sells skin for free and is on exponentially growing offer.

“For a generation of American men, reading Playboy was a cultural rite, an illicit thrill consumed by flashlight,” writes Ravi Somaiya, in the New York Times. “Now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance.”

We didn’t stop looking at what Playboy was photographing and hawking. We just looked at it elsewhere – more often, easier, and without a penny spent. Pornography is everywhere, serving men and women. The sheer volume of it has fogged the stigma around it, and nobody should be ashamed of looking at it, desiring to look at it, or pleasuring themselves to it. It’s between you, your laptop, and your wrist.

So why then, with all this freedom, are we still so fond of jail? How come, whenever we talk about the future, we fondly try to recreate the past, even if the past was shit?

Is it because the product PlayboyHustler, or PornHub produces is degrading to women, or because it takes advantage of women, or because it’s just icky all around? Because it is all of those things, of course. And sexuality is always controversial. And hypocritical. And it will continue to be.

And because we’re all liars, too. It’s rude to ogle over women or stare at their breasts. Some would say it’s wrong. Just plain impolite. You’re a pig if you do so. But of course, who hasn’t?

Who hasn’t admired the physical assets of someone you lust over – man or woman – to an almost obsessive, unhealthy degree? We understand what lust is… but why aren’t we allowed to understand if from experience?

Then again, Playboy‘s problem was that it was both freeing and restrictive at the same time – to admire those on the inside of the magazine you had to fpretend those woman weren’t actually real women, and forget about Hugh Hefner and all his old-man creepiness. Hefner’s declaration that the magazine would be for all men, ages 18 to 80 sounds harmless – even innovative – when the guy saying it is closer to 18. When he’s actually 80, not so much. It’s like seeing Joe Namath hitting on respected, still terminally underused female reporters more than 30 years after he actually was the lothario he still sees in the mirror.

While Playboy was to some a symbol of sexual liberation and expression, it was also the opposite of that. It was a cleaver through the middle of the West’s gender bubble – it was always meant to be for men only, yet another masturbatory vehicle to distance dudes further from the real thing, separating their brains, hearts, and right hands further from the kinds of women on the pages they were unfolding and gluing together.

How could Playboy be all about freedom, after all, when Hefner held the whip?

Now, the editors and publisher(s) are moving pieces from here to there, making the mag’s online content more clickable and easier to swallow, more like something ‘the kids these days’ would share ‘on one of those social media things’. We’ll roll our eyes at that, because the last thing millennials want to read is something that used to be a tree.

Here’s the Winnipeg Free Press‘s Jen Zoratti in her column No Nudes Is Not Good News: “Absent from the cover is Playboy’s 62-year-old tagline, ‘Entertainment for men.’ Which raises the question: Who is this entertainment for?

“If you ask the decision makers at Playboy, they’ll say millennials.” But, she later concludes, “Any brand loyalty a millennial has to Playboy is rooted in either nostalgia or irony.”

The day the news broke last fall that nudies were banished from the publication’s now-irrelevant walls, the reaction from those offering it on social media – from what I saw, at least, – could easily be summed up with one word: FINALLY.

FINALLY, women won’t be subjugated to this perverse, ugly rag of objectification.

But, I mean, of course they will. The proof is in the very reason Playboy was forced to overhaul its product – pornography. Women will always be objectified. Men, too, will always be objectified. You can debate which one is objectified more – kidding, of course, because women clearly are – but you can’t stop it. Why? Because it’s not just men or women who are objectified. It’s HUMANS who are objectified. And we all do it, even when we intend to compliment. (Sports Illustrated, for example, has added ‘size-16 model’ Ashley Graham and 56-year-old Nicola Griffin to this year’s Swimsuit Edition. Some will call it a turning point for the body-positive movement – and the women, including Precious Lee, seem downright thrilled to be in the mag. But others, perhaps rightly, will point out the magazine’s still about objectification and ‘exploitation’ – just now, we’re ogling heavier, old women, too, as an anchor on CTV Vancouver said yesterday.)

You can only seek to de-legitimize the objectification. That’s why Playboy‘s surrender, so-called, was seen as a victory – this massive brand will no longer practice the Earth-old offence of selling sex (or the dream of sex) for money.

But we know the truth, don’t we? When institutions crumble, the underground rises.

There’s a market for what Playboy used to sell – in fact, the market’s now black and demanding something more graphic. The magazine’s done with, and it’s the Internet’s win. Playboy has censored itself and its willing models at the same time that ‘The Fappening‘ is exposing unwilling ones.

Don’t lie on Playboy‘s behalf. This was never about doing the right thing. Don’t be so idealistic. Especially when nobody can ever seem to agree on what ‘the right thing‘ is.

The discussion around equality for women and respecting women’s bodies, privacy and – really – their feelings has evolved and intensified, but that’s not what forced Playboy to change. What forced them to change was that their circulation has dropped from 5.6 million to 800,000 in 40 years, according to the New York Times, and their website is as neglected as a $5 movie bin at Walmart. Or as anything in a Zellers.

It’s about business. It’s about money. It always was. It always will be.

(Main photo: ‘Blue Bunny’ by Dylan Ashe, Wikimedia Commons)