Tagged: Playboy

Martha Thomases: Hef

Hugh Hefner died last week. I have mixed feelings.

Not about him personally. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know anyone who hung out with him, not for any significant amount of time. Since a lot of his business seemed to involve throwing parties at his home, I probably know people who went to a party or two. You probably do, too.

No, I want to talk about Playboy magazine and its legacy.

Playboy began in 1953, just as I did. From the very beginning, it challenged then-current ideas about how people should live (something I didn’t do for another 15 years or so, and not with such great effect). And from the beginning, it made me uncomfortable.

The women in Playboy were beautiful, but that is all they were. And they were beautiful in a very limited way. For decades, they were almost exclusively white, and mostly blonde. This was Hefner’s type, and he’s entitled to it, but, as a kid trying to figure out her place in the world, the Playboy ideal of beauty was just another club that wouldn’t have me.

Even if it did, there wasn’t much for me to do. A woman in Playboy was an accessory to a successful life, just like the cars and stereo equipment and furniture and liquor and clothes. Her placement next to these other accoutrements were a testament to a man’s taste, not affection.

But wait, you say. Nobody forced these women to pose for the magazine (or work in the clubs, or hang out at the Mansion). That is, technically, true. Some worked for Hefner because it sounded like a kick. Some thought it would get them attention from studio executives and therefore help their acting careers. And some (maybe most? I have no idea) did it because it paid better than other jobs they could get.

It says a lot about our society that, during much of Hefner’s tenure at Playboy, the highest-paying jobs available to most women were limited to those genetically blessed and willing to be naked in front of millions of men.

Hefner took great pride in the fact that he published some of the best (mostly male) writers of his time. He also contributed millions of dollars to free speech issues. Therefore, I found it amusing that, when they published an excerpt from Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, he felt it necessary to bowdlerize a sex scene. These are editorial standards, not censorship, and it was absolutely within Playboy’s rights. But it does suggest that they weren’t as uninhibited as they pretended to be.

Feminists didn’t like Hefner, and the feeling was mutual. Some said his support of free speech and reproductive rights made him an ally. Others said his support of those issues merely made him money. Some said the nude photographs were demeaning to women. Some said that criticism of the nude photographs infantilized the women who posed. There were many different kinds of feminist objections to the magazine, and looking at the variety is an interesting history lesson in feminism, intersectionality, and the marketplace of ideas.

Another publishing giant died soon after Hefner. S. I. Newhouse  inherited Conde Nast from his father, and acted as a publisher, not an editor. However, as the person who hired the editors for the various magazines, he had immense power in the perspectives they presented. It is only fair to point out that the Vogue magazines of my youth were as intimidating and shaming as Playboy, glamorizing another body-type I would never match. Conde Nast, however, also published the late, lamented Mademoiselle (where Sylvia Plath worked as an intern!), Glamour and lots of other titles that presented a lot of other points of view and models of behavior.

More recently, Teen Vogue has expanded its coverage far beyond fashion and make-up, into the kinds of informative features I wish I had available to me when I was the target audience (although there was no Teen Vogue then).

I think that Hugh Hefner was a complicated human being, just as I am, just as I suspect you are, Constant Reader. He was not purely good and he was not purely evil. From the outside, he looks like a narcissist who only liked individual women if they had sex with him, were his children, or followed his orders. In that, he is a lot like our current president. Unlike our current president, he actually created something original and made a business out of it, one that supported a lot of people, including writers, including cartoonists, including Harvey Kurtzman.

Which wins him points from me.

Mike Gold: Reality’s Slippery Slope

hostileman-300x264-8628641Seven random thoughts on a post-Valentine’s Day afternoon.

I’ve started to measure time in “DC Comics Reboots.” Usually about four years, give or take. In other words, if Abe Lincoln used that designation his most famous speech with have started “21 DC Comics Reboots ago…” Yes, I know DC insists it’s not a reboot, despite cancelling and replacing their entire superhero line with new versions of the same old thing. And I suppose Superman doesn’t have a Big Red S.

Jughead 4O.K. Jughead is asexual – although I’d bet he won’t be in the CW teevee series. But I ask you this: did Kevin Keller out him by saying so in public at Riverdale High? Don’t get me wrong; that was a great scene and it feels as though the revelation was common knowledge. But, like Martha and Joe before me, I hadn’t thought about asexuals being a class of people subject to routine discrimination. It’s been a while since a mainstream comic book actually lit the flames of thought inside my fevered brainpan.

Deadpool was the Airplane! of superhero movies. Brianna Hildebrand’s scene where she halts the big battle sequence in order to finish texting was brilliant and Stan Lee’s cameo was the finest use of a nonagenarian comic book writer ever. However, I think Stefan Kapicic owes Paul Frees’ estate a check for his use of Boris Badenov’s voice, and at the end where Morena Baccarin worked things out (no spoiler alert), I kind of felt sorry for Detective Jim Gordon. Although, to be fair, Morena’s had a great deal of varied superhero work in recent years.

IDoctor Faten last month’s issue of Doctor Fate – a wonderful and soon-to-be-cancelled New52 series – writer Paul Levitz deployed my favorite verse from the Koran. Yes, sports fans, I actually have a favorite verse from the Koran. Of course, Islam being an organized religion and therefore greatly disorganized, the verse is phrased in a variety of ways and its veracity has been questioned by some. But the line goes “Blessed is he who makes his companions laugh” and I think that’s a great sentiment. Nice job, Paul.

Riddle me this: How many Spider-Men does it take to fill the Marvel Universe? Answer: How many have you got? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more Spideys right now than Green Lanterns. So stop bitching about the inevitability of concurrent Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers Captains America. That’s only two. Thus far. Oh, wait. Isn’t there a teen-age girl from 2099 or from another, no-longer existent universe? O.K. Three.

Wonder WomanCounting up the number of secret origins devised for Wonder Woman over the past 75 years is akin to defining π to the last decimal point: you’re going to give up or die of old age before you complete your mission. I might have read them all, but I’ve probably read nearly all. And the current one that’s unfolding in Legend of Wonder Woman is, by far, the best thought-out and best realized of the bunch. Kudos to Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon on a thankless job – thankless because it’s not the origin in the upcoming Wonder Woman movie and, therefore, probably will be ignored. I hope not.

Now that Playboy magazine has dropped the tits’n’snatch, the relic from the beat generation has decided to off the cartoons as well. This surprises me only because its two most famous cartoonists, Gahan Wilson and Hugh Hefner, are still alive. Well, in ‘Ner’s case, that’s subject to debate. Nonetheless, it’s a shame that the magazine that regularly gave us the work of Jack Cole, Jules Feiffer, Shel Silverstein, Bobby London, Harvey Kurtzman and Willy Elder will not extend that welcome to a new generation of artists. I’m not sure what Playboy’s place in this world might be, but I’ve been asking that question for several decades now… as have a great, great many of former and current employees and contributors to the publication. It’s not the end of an era; that era ended the day Al Gore learned how to spell “Internet.”