26 September, 2002
"I used to read it for the articles"
c h r i s t i n a h o t s k o
You come across them all the time--interviews. You watch them on television and you read them in magazines. For a brief moment you are speaking with the stars, and the hidden lives of celebrities are revealed to you.
You find them everywhere--articles. Newspapers, magazines, newsletters, all which are typically of "high quality" writing.
And then you have pornography--enough said.
Two of these undoubtedly belong in the same category, but when all three of the aforementioned share the same light, what do you make of it? Is it possible to have two extremes and succeed in connecting the two? To the disbelief of many, this unlikely task was accomplished in 1953, with the publication of Playboy magazine. During its heyday, Playboy was "the mainstream magazine," the "class end of the market," as described by creator Hugh Hefner. Today, however, with the influence of the 60s' sexual revolution and with constant pressure from competitors such as Hustler and Penthouse magazines (in which less is more, less is better), Playboy faces the challenge of striving to be the best in the business. In the process, has Playboy shifted its once "classy style" to become just another trashy men's magazine that portrays women as sex objects and serves only to satisfy (or attempt to satisfy) a man's sexual repression? Or could it still be referred to as the "class end" of the market?
Shocking to some, as it very well may be, the interviews I came across in Playboy were phenomenal (not to mention pleasurable to read). In 1965 the Playboy-public conversed with The Beatles--the newest rock n' roll group whose "unimaginable success had made them world figures important enough for the Prime Minister and the Queen's consort to discuss in news conferences...and without a doubt the most successful money machine in recent times." When asked about Playboy Clubs, however, Ringo had a comical perspective on the matter: "They're for dirty old men, not for the likes of us--dirty young men." George was convinced that "there's no real fun in a Bunny's fluffy tail." John had read the magazine, and in regards to the Playboy Philosophy, Paul read "some of it...when the journey's really long and you can't outlast the pictures..."
The Beatles were among the first historic interviews I came across. They were not the only ones to be asked about sex, nor was sex the only thing discussed. In his 1967 interview with Johnny Carson, Alex Haley, the critically acclaimed author of Roots, obtained "by far the most candid interview [Carson] has ever granted." Carson revealed his life as a celebrity: "Am I not entitled to a private life? I can't go anywhere without being bugged by somebody. Everybody I meet in public seems to want to audition for me." During this interview, Playboy asked Carson about the sexual suggestiveness in the media and whether or not it was evidence of a moral decline in society. Carson?: "I wouldn't agree that it's declining, but it's certainly changing...we are very much in the process of taking a fresh look at the whole issue of morality. The only decline--and it's about time--is in the old puritanical concept that sex is equated with sin." The sexual revolution had taken effect.
The nature of the Playboy interviews is to provide truth. Truth, honesty, and reality as told through the uncensored version given by the interviewee. One could assert that even the interviews are "naked"--everything that Playboy gathers from the interviews gets published. In the March 2001 issue, the magazine spoke with legendary basketball coach Bob Knight (infamous for his temper) about politics, religion, and its role in sports. Then Playboy brought up the touchy subject of Knight's getting fired: "Didn't the stepfather also say he didn't think you should be fired over this incident?" Knight: [Bangs the center of the steering wheel with his fist] Jesus Christ! This is bullshit! I'm not here for a fucking inquisition! And if that's what this is, then get the fuck out and hitchhike back home!" And he goes on from there. These interviews are clearly far from restrained.
They do also, however, give us another side of the interviewee: "For the next two hours, as we drive back to Bloomington, he pours out his heart. 'You don't understand...you can't understand. How would you like to have had your whole world taken from you for no good.'"
And the articles? In 1971, Max Waldman captured the "sensuous lyricism of the unveiled body as dramatic expression" through photos from "Oh, Calcutta!" and Nude Theater. Nine years later Playboy published a section dedicated to art historian and photographer Bradley Smith and his book 20th Century Masters of Erotic Art, in which he expresses his view on erotic art through the use of paintings by Picasso, Dali, Warhol, and Jean Paul Cleren, to name a few. "The importance between sex exploitation and erotic art," according to Smith, "lies in the sensitivity and talent of the artist, his imagination and technique permanently stamped on the work." Along with Waldman's commentary, Henry Miller provided a follow-up in which he discusses the essence of erotic art. The values in nudity as an art (rather than as pornography) are observed, as Miller points out that "[erotic] painting interests me, has always interested me, very much. But, like erotic literature, it has no effect unless it is done by an artist."
And now, in the October 2002 issue of Playboy magazine, we get to read "How to Get a Woman to Have Sex with You." Written by Dean Kuipers (of RAYMAN magazine), Playboy readers will learn that "there is a golden rule to getting first-night nooky and, as with a tea ceremony or putting the pin back in a hand grenade, it's so simple it's hard: She has to feel understood, even if all you understand is 'I want to fuck you, and don't make a big deal out of it.'" There is no gentleness behind his words; women are not valued for their person but for their bodies. Nudity is not an art form but something to take advantage of. And the article does not even bother to employ literary talent; it might as well be out of Maxim.
"There are no new ways of sex, only different ways of portraying it," says Miller in the 1980 issue. With each decade, with each new timespan, we gradually change the way we perceive different concepts in society. In the '50s and '60s the world was calling out for a sexual revolution. Though it may have been shocking at the time, the release of Playboy was perhaps what society needed, or rather wanted. Today, we're questioning how much is too much and when it will end. As the shift gradually continues, one must keep in mind that, as Miller pointed out, "As a man rearranges his lifestyle, his sexual ways change with it." Our world is constantly changing, and with it, so will our sexual ways, values, and beliefs. Such has Playboy.