Playboy Magazine: a critique

As one of the world’s most recognizable symbols, the Playboy Bunny evokes a wide range of associations. From hedonism to pornography, from manhood to sex, people tend to perceive Playboy Magazine in many different ways.

Yet, over the past 50 years, Playboy’s top management, behind the leadership of the publisher and editor-in-chief, Hugh Hefner, has viewed the magazine with a simple, straightforward approach. It is emblazoned on the cover of each issue, just under the large title and just next to the renowned symbol – “entertainment for men.”

As the most successful men’s magazine in the world, Playboy has undoubtedly provided that. With a circulation of 3.2 million and an average readership of around 10 million, the monthly has withstood the changing social environments over the past half-century.

The magazine has always catered to the average, middle-class man. Indeed, a breakdown of the current demographics of Playboy readers reveals a median age of 32.5, with a median annual income of just under $53,000. And with good reason: Playboy offers almost everything a regular guy could ask for.

For example, the December, January and February issues have featured an in-depth interview with “24” star Kiefer Sutherland, a profile of the man who invented the ecstasy drug and a political column about the impact Howard Dean has had on the Democratic Party, written by none other than the 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern. These issues have also reported on college basketball, popular music, with a look into space exploration by Ray Bradbury, the universe’s preeminent science-fiction writer, and several works of fiction, one of which by Ethan Coen, the writing half of the brilliant movie-making Coen brothers.

And then, of course, there is Miss February, Aliya Wolf — all 34-24-35 of her. A Texas native, Wolf enjoys riding horses, painting and reading books. Her favorite author is Edger Allan Poe. But to be completely frank, most men will probably have trouble delving into her illustrious biography, since it is extremely difficult to keep ones’ eyes off the long-limbed, voluptuous, 5-foot-7, 120-pound brunette beauty, wearing nothing but a beaded necklace. In some of her more revealing photos, even the necklace disappears.

This winning formula of superb writing and lovely ladies has titillated Playboy readers since the inception of the magazine in 1953. While the magazine’s editor-at-large, Bob Love, admits that, “yeah, the girls are an attraction,” he asserts that throughout the years Playboy has upheld the highest quality of writing, and has therefore enjoyed its vast and loyal readership. However, the full frontal female nudity that Playboy proudly offers, has often called into question whether the magazine is a mainstream publication at all.

“In the 1950s this was very unacceptable,” admitted Love, seated in his plush Fifth Avenue office. “Today? There is no doubt we are mainstream.”

Playboy has essentially evolved along with the sexual revolution, with many claiming it to be its outright leader. The fiftieth anniversary issue, which was just published in January, states as much in a column by James Petersen entitled, “We Won.” Playboy has long been a strong advocate of individual rights and, of late, one of the strongest supporters of gay marriage. Other features in the special edition followed along similar lines, with literary icons such as Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Scott Turow and Hunter S. Thompson contributing articles.

The “Playboy Philosophy” is also conveyed through the women, whose nude pictures over the years have represented the sexual freedom the magazine has embodied. Beginning with Marilyn Monroe, the first ever cover girl, through classy sex symbols such as Sophia Loren, Ursula Andress and Brigitte Bardot, all the way to present-day icons such as Kim Basinger, Cindy Crawford and Madonna.

“This is a men’s lifestyle magazine, which may include nudity,” Love explained. “It’s about living the Playboy life, the good life, an exciting way of life.”

Playboy is, plainly, Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. Love calls the nudity aspect “a celebration of female beauty,” and disregards random charges of exploitation of woman.

“Hefner always says that Playboy exploits woman like Sports Illustrated exploits sports,” he said, quoting his flamboyant boss.

Exploitation, though, is hard to find on Playboy’s thriving corporate side. “The Boss” these days is not Hugh Hefner, but rather his daughter, Christie, who has been Chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises since 1982. Back in the 1970s, the father refused to bow to commercial pressures to make the magazine sexier and more explicit. Today, the daughter steers the empire by remaining true to the “Playboy Philosophy.”

In a recent interview, with The New York Times, The younger Hefner recalled one of her father’s favorite sayings: “To thine own self be true.”

Like it or not, Playboy has.