The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Entrepreneurial nudity

Tom Bissell (Go State!) reviews a new cultural history of Playboy magazine:

The early Playboy sought the eyes and minds of what Fraterrigo calls “the young, affluent, urban bachelor,” and the first issue was pitched by Hefner as “a little diversion from the anxieties of the Atomic Age.” These anxieties were not only about being barbequed by Soviet nukes; for the American male, they included having to marry the first woman you had sex with, living with your parents (thanks to a dire postwar housing shortage), and feeling emasculated by the new nature of American work, no longer artisanal or rugged or self-determining but managerial and inchoate and soul-stranglingly indoor. This was, in fact, the young Hefner’s life, and he loathed it. In 1953, he was a struggling cartoonist with a wife and child; the Chicago Daily News profiled him in a lifestyles piece as a model of suburban bonhomie. A year later, Playboy was launched…

It was Hefner’s great insight that girly pictures divorced from any kind of human individuality could not be anything except dirty. And so his Playmates had names, jobs, personalities, and fact sheets, however illusory these often were. In some crucial way, then, Playboy gave what was previously considered pornography a kind of dignity. It was a deeply limiting, dingbat dignity, to be sure, but to allow the mid-century American woman any identity beyond that of mother, virgin, or whore increased her available social options by 25 percent. Women would naturally revolt against this, and no one could blame them, but the fact remains that Playboy helped liberate female sexuality from a Bastille of iniquitous morality, in the long run surely doing more to help women than harm them…

Playboy was the first men’s magazine to use the crueler tricks of wish fulfillment previously relegated to women’s magazines. Before Playboy, as Fraterrigo observes, the typical men’s magazine trafficked in rustic stories about bear wrestling: vicarious was all you wanted the stories to be. Playboy sold a lot of things, but it also sold soft young bodies, and it suggested that if its readers purchased its things, and lived by its code, those bodies might be touched and caressed. Playboy pushed, issue after issue, decade after decade, ways of thinking about desire that were neither emotionally realistic nor experientially viable. Meanwhile it epitomized and, indeed, calcified mainstream ideas of beauty to such an extent that Hefner could reasonably demand a commission on every breast augmentation performed since 1965.

I love the plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose consequences of this. “Let’s destroy the reigning ideals of both genders, but keep the underlying capitalism and exploitation.” Now THAT is a magazine.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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