December 2015

Line in the Sand: No nudes in Playboy

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opinion 1: Barry Kaufman

I can’t tell you how old I was when I first glimpsed a naked woman, but I can tell you it was in the pages of Playboy magazine. I can also tell you that it led to me matter-of-factly telling my parents I really liked “that magazine that says entertainment for men on it” that I’d found somewhere in the house. So probably pretty young.

Looking back on it, I also can’t tell how much hot water that landed my dad in, but I imagine mom wasn’t too pleased. I’d apologize to dad, but my memories of that day include both of them stifling laughter, so part of me thinks he came out okay.

The funny thing is, when I finally found my first “treasure trove” of old back issues in the basement of some friend’s house or another, it wasn’t just the naked women that I found intriguing. It was the lifestyle. It was an instruction manual on being the coolest guy in the world, and a portrait of how the world looks through that guy’s eyes.

It was deep shag carpeting lining sunken conversation pits in bachelor pads that had all the latest mod furniture, Swedish-style fireplaces, a groovy hi-fi and a closet full of designer leisure suits (these were very old back issues). It was having educated opinions about politics, art, and music. It was, in short, about being a man. Not just a grunting knuckle-dragger whose opinions begin and end with the latest sports season, but a man. It was about sitting down with Henry Kissinger, whoever the hell that is, and asking him serious questions about serious issues, then lighting the tiki torches and getting crazy at a pool party with the Rolling Stones.

In between the airbrushed curves and sinewy straightaways of the female form in all its glory, these magazines painted an even more enticing picture of how to live the good life.

And now, in the face of a culture where sexuality is no longer something to be locked away in basements but splashed across every channel, pop-up ad and billboard, Playboy is finally shedding the stigma of “perversion” that still somehow clings to nudity in that one specific context of the printed publication.

Well good for them. In a statement announcing their decision, Playboy CEO Scott Flanders told the New York Times, “That battle has been fought and won … you’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free.”

To that, I would argue that most of the time you don’t even need to click. Anyone with DISH Network knows what I’m talking about, where you can’t even cruise channels without seeing just the most horrendous Pay Per View options showing up in your guide. Any shock I gave my parents by finding that Playboy has nothing on the scandal of seeing my son trying to find SpongeBob and having to scroll past “All-Schoolgirl Kinky Butt Party IX” on the guide.

In light of that pervasiveness, in a culture where nudity has gone from art form to vehicle for debasement to be driven across every medium available, how are you going to stay in business selling dead trees with boobs inked on them?
Simple. You go with your strengths.

You remind the young men of this world that there is more than the disrespectful wasteland of male thought that they are now being taught. You show them how men act. You stand as that shining example in a world where cowardly misogynists lob insults at women while simultaneously bemoaning the fact that they’re not getting laid. You gently guide the so-called men’s rights activists back into the light, pour them a few fingers of good single malt, and set them straight.

You sit down with those in power, and remind them how sexy smart can be by asking them questions they really don’t want to answer. Then you fire up the laser light show and let Drake get the party started.

I’m not saying men in general are in a bad place. There are men among us. But man, are there a lot of boys. And those boys could use a guy like Hugh Hefner right now. If he leaves the bunnies in the past along with the leisure suits and that weird period where he had like a million teenage girlfriends, it’s probably just as well.

We’ll all be better men for it. Possibly even better people. 

Opinion 2: Courtney Hampson

Today I walked into Barnes and Noble and weaved my way through The New York Times bestsellers, cookbooks, and self-help doctrines, to the magazine racks in the back corner. I stood on tip-toe and plucked a Playboy from the top shelf. The first issue I’ve ever purchased. Yup. I was a centerfold virgin.

I also grabbed the new Mitch Albom book on my way to the register, in an attempt to distract the cashier and made stupid small talk while struggling to pull my rewards card from my wallet. Short of saying, “I am buying this for research.…” I am not sure what I could have—or should have—said to explain myself. I finally gave up trying, because who cares why I am buying the magazine? So stop judging me 20-something cashier. And you, all of you readers out there, you stop judging me too. Clearly I bought it for the articles.

That’s what everyone says, right? They read it for the articles? Society’s 60-year interest in Playboy clearly has nothing to do with the two spreads of naked women hosed down and covered in soap. True story. The December issue features two separate “stories” in which the women are covered in suds. This seems a tad ridiculous to me (I mean are men looking for clean girls or dirty girls?) so maybe, just maybe it is the articles.

After I flipped through all of the pictures, and once I stopped blushing, there was really only one way to find out why people read Playboy, so I did the only thing I could do. I read the issue cover to cover. Every. Last. Word. I did this while enjoying a pedicure. And I am not going to lie, I had the Playboy tucked into another magazine that would raise fewer eyebrows.

Here is what I found.
1. Playboy has very well-curated content.
2. Oscar de la Hoya writes with a sarcasm and satiric style that I covet. And, he hates Floyd Mayweather. With a passion. Hundreds of words of passion.
3. The bourbon boom isn’t really all that mind-boggling.
4. 3,084 ER visits were caused by artificial Christmas trees in 2014.
5. Joel Stein’s parents must really love him.
6. When you know, you really know, according to Hilary Winston. (Most of my experience is recognizing what I didn’t know, so this was enlightening.)
7. Bryan Cranston is candid, and deep and dark while still being endearing and quite sweet.
8. In Playboy, women drive boats, with their bathing suits pulled down, revealing their breasts.
9. I wish my stomach was flatter and my ass (am I allowed to say ass?) firmer.
10. Whoever has the cartoon gig at Playboy may have the best job ever.
11. Their holiday gift guide is on point.
12. I’m in pretty good shape. I should be wearing smaller underwear.

Why am I telling you this exactly? Well, as of the March 2016 issue, Playboy is no longer showing nude women. Nada. None. Nil. They will continue to show “provocative” photos, but with porn being at our finger tips—quite literally—via the ol’ World Wide Web, some might say that Playboy has had its day. Barry, surprisingly (to me) agrees. After all, circulation numbers have dropped 75 percent in the post Internet years. And, based on the weight of the December issue, I would argue that advertising has fallen off as well. This issue was slim.

In a letter to readers, anticipating questions, the magazine said, “Playboy has been a friend to nudity, and nudity has been a friend to Playboy, for decades. The short answer is: times change.”

“You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. It’s just passé at this juncture,” Playboy’s chief executive Scott Flanders told The New York Times. I disagree. I understand business decisions; I make them every day. But, there is something to be said for creating a vision and sticking to it.

My very scientific study of one subject, who dubbed himself a “longtime subscriber,” revealed that he stopped “reading” the magazine when he realized that the women featured on its pages were young enough to be his daughter. Fair point. Playboy first debuted in 1953, so it was our dad’s magazine. Playboy is a 62-year-old institution. Surely they could re-invent themselves in such a way to attract a younger target audience while still keeping the nude photos. I am pretty sure that those of the millennial generation still appreciate a nude woman.

I can’t say with great confidence that I have effectively argued the pro-nude-photos-in-Playboy point, but why mess with it? I’m proud to say, I would read it again. Just the way it is, if only for the articles. 

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