This comes a bit late, this commentary of Joan Acocella's review of The Playmate Book which appeared in the March Twentieth issue of The New Yorker. At first I was surprised that the sophisticates at The New Yorker would dignify such blatant exploitation by giving it so many pages of analysis. Then again, Playboy is very much a cultural phenomenon, and The Playmate Book is a very stylish coffeetable monument to that phenomenon or at least tries to be. So, the The New Yorker as America's judge of true style has a duty to review this book and determine whether it is truly stylish.
The answer is no. The nude playmates are so vapid that they are not even erotic. The whole Playboy culture that Hefner espouses has not extricated itself from Hefner's own fantasy of a brandy-snifting bachelor world filled with highbrow discussions about Nietzsche and good, wholesome deviance with giggling, compliant teenyboppers. The world of Playboy is simply the pathetic projection of a silly, viagra-popping octogenarian recluse, and, thus, Playboy's subscribers who might think that the magazine gives some sophisticated cover to their peeping tom desires are simply financing a dirty old man's plastic bubble. This is hardly true style or sophistication, and though Playboy has a much bigger circulation than The New Yorker, the latter can be sure that it has the truly sophisticated readership.
Okay, good, but maybe if Ms. Acocella had not been so concerned to show how absurdly unhip the Playboy Life is, maybe she could have devoted just a few paragraphs to the serious harm it has done and still does. Yes, the Playboy Life exploits women. It degrades them. It makes them into soulless mannequins. Ms. Acocella, to be sure, does not overlook the fakery of the Playboy Pictures, but the fakery to her mind is just unhip and that men would find this unhip fakery somehow erotic gives her perhaps half a chuckle. Yes, what fools these dirty men be!
If Ms. Acocella would descend from the Olympian Heights of the Upper West Side, perhaps she would see how the popularity and desirability of all this fake eroticism has taken its toll upon the real girls next door. How girls now will dress like sluts because they know that boys like that. How girls will starve themselves so that their men can have girls that look just like centerfolds. How nice girls will actually become sluts because Hugh Hefner has told America that even nice girls are entitled in the name of sexual equality to be just as horny as men. How nice girls will have their hearts broken after letting the boys get what they want all in the name of sexual liberation.
No, all this is not Hefner's fault. Madison Avenue and Capitalism in general share the blame, of course, but it is patently obvious that Hefner was one of the leaders of the modern sexual revolution that has done nothing but to destroy the beauties of chivalry only to replace them with vulgarities, shameless exploitation, and STDs. But, of course, the feminist charge of exploitation against Hef has been levelled too many times to be anything but trite. And mention of STDs will just make a blue state New Yorker like Ms. Acocella palaver again for the need to educate the masses about the importance of Safe Sex. I don't know what she thinks of chivalry, but as much as she may sniff at the vulgar banalities of sexual equality (as Playboy interprets it, at least), she probably finds them preferable to what feminists can only regard as a euphemism for repressive patriarchy.
Fine. So, if the feminist polemic is too tired, STDs are simply a public health and not a moral problem, and the freedom of sexual egalitarianism trumps the repressive patriarchy of chivalry, then can one still accuse Playboy of outright deceit without appearing less than hip? I am not talking about the fakery of airbrushing. I am talking about the Playmate Book's little blurb on Miss December of 1994, Elisa Bridges. The blurb does not even mention she died in 2002 at the age of 28. The magazine stated that she died of natural causes. No, she died from taking too much heroin and meth.
Why does one take recourse to drugs? To escape the world she's in because that world does not provide hapiness. Elisa Bridges was by all accounts living the life of a beautiful playmate. She even had a sugar daddy who would let her use his luxurious mansion. She was in the Playboy world, and still she had to take drugs. The official dogma of Playboy is that the lifestyle it endorses will bring happiness, and yet it didn't for Elisa Bridges, who tried to find redemption in a needle. This does not speak well of the Playboy religion, and so it must not be mentioned. One would wish that The New Yorker, usually eager enough to give unflattering accounts of religion (witness its recent hatchet job on Ratzinger), would have mentioned it, but all it can say against the Playboy religion is that it is silly and unhip. That truly is pathetic.