Exactly nine years ago this month, the first issue of Playboy was published, with a personal investment of $600 and $6000 begged or borrowed from anyone who would stand still long enough to listen to “a new idea for a men’s magazine.” Now something of a collector’s item, that issue—forged with much youthful zeal by a small group of dedicated iconoclasts who shared a publishing dream—seems almost childishly crude when compared with the magazine you hold in your hands. We have come a long way since then, in editorial scope and polish as well as in circulation, and we are mightily pleased whenever we are complimented on this fact. But when well-wishers sometimes praise us for the way in which our magazine has changed, we must shake our head in disagreement. The fact is that in its basic concepts and its editorial attitude, in its view of itself and its view of life, its feelings about its readers and—we believe—their feelings toward it, the magazine called Playboy is the same today as it was nine years ago. Improved—yes, we like to think. Altered in its aims and outlook—definitely no.
Recently, and increasingly in the past year, Playboy’s aims and outlook have been given considerable comment in the press, particularly in the journals of social, philosophical and religious opinion, and have become a popular topic of conversation at cocktail parties around the country. While we’ve been conscious of the virtues in seeing ourselves as others see us, we’ve also felt the image is occasionally distorted; having listened patiently for so long a time to what others have decided Playboy represents and stands for, we’ve decided—on this ninth anniversary—to state our own editorial credo here, and offer a few personal observations on our present-day society and Playboy’s part in it—an effort we hope to make interesting to friends and critics alike.
Opinion on Playboy
When Professor Archibald Henderson titled his definitive biography of George Bernard Shaw Playboy and Prophet, he probably came closer to using the word Playboy as we conceive it than is common today. Certainly, he did not mean that the highly prolific playwright-critic was an all-play-no-work sybarite. He certainly did not mean to suggest that Shaw led a pleasure-seeking life of indolent ease, nor that the platonically inclined vegetarian was leading a secret life of the seraglio. He did mean—and he told us so when he visited our offices on the occasion of the founding of the Shaw Society in Chicago—that Shaw was a man who approached life with immense gusto and relish. As a word, Playboy has suffered semantic abuse: Its most frequent usage in the press is to characterize those functionless strivers after pleasure whom Federico Fellini, in La Dolce Vita, showed to be so joylessly diligent in their pursuit of self-pleasuring as to be more deserving of sympathy than righteous condemnation. Playboy, the magazine, has been sometimes tarred with the same brush—usually by those who are more zealous in their criticism than in their reading of it. We have been accused of leadership in a cult of irresponsibility and of aiding in the decline of the Western world. We deny it.
With Playboy’s ever-increasing popularity, it would be foolish for us to pretend that the publication doesn’t exert a considerable influence upon our society. But what kind of influence? Opinions vary. We first became aware that Playboy was developing into something more than a magazine when readers began purchasing Playboy products in considerable quantities: everything from cufflinks, ties, sport shirts, tuxedoes and bar accessories to playing cards, personalized matches and stickers for their car windows—all with the Playboy Rabbit as the principal design and principal motivation for the purchase. Readers were soon buying Playboy earrings, necklaces, ankle bracelets, sweaters and Playmate perfume for their own particular playmates, and we wondered at the unusual degree of identification that the men who purchase Playboy each month obviously feel for the magazine and its editorial point of view. They sought, and we gladly supplied, a mark of identity in common with the publication—the sort of honor a man usually reserved for his fraternity, or a special business or social association. By the time we were ready to open the first Playboy Club in 1960, we fully appreciated the impact that Playboy, in its many forms, was having upon the urban community (for by then we’d witnessed the success of the Playboy Jazz Festival, Playboy records, Playboy Tours and our nationally syndicated television show, Playboy’s Penthouse).
The professional critics and commentators on the contemporary scene could not too long resist supplying a personal analysis of the Playboy phenomenon. In Commentary—"A journal of significant thought and opinion on Jewish affairs and contemporary issues,“ Benjamin DeMott, professor of English at Amherst, wrote an article on the subject, "The Anatomy of ‘Playboy,’” which he sums up as “the whole man reduced to his private parts.”
But in “Playboy’s Doctrine of Male” by Harvey Cox, first published in Christianity and Crisis—"A Christian Journal of Opinion,“ and reprinted in The Intercollegian—"A Journal of Christian Encounter,” and the editorial pages of a number of college newspapers, Playboy is criticized for being “basically antisexual.” Cox describes Playboy as “one of the most spectacular successes in the entire history of American journalism,” but stamps us as “dictatorial tastemakers,” decries the emphasis on emotionally uninvolved “recreational sex” and announces that—like the sports car, liquor and hi-fi—girls are just another “Playboy accessory.”
Writing for Motive—"The Magazine of the Methodist Student Movement,“ Reverend Roy Larson states: "Playboy is more than just a handbook for the young-man-about-town: It’s a sort of bible which defines his values, shapes his personality, sets his goals, dictates his choices and governs his decisions. The Playboy philosophy has become…a sort of substitute religion.” But Reverend Larson rather likes Playboy: He sympathizes with our interest in “style"—he is "upset by those people in the Church who seem to assume…that averageness is more Christlike than distinctiveness. Certainly—God knows—there’s nothing in the mainstream of the Christian tradition which justifies this canonization of mediocrity.” And a bit further: “I sympathize with Playboy’s revolt against narrow, prudish Puritanism, even though I would disagree with the way this revolt is expressed.”
The general press has also decided that Playboy’s popularity may have broad implications (no pun intended) and though there isn’t yet the same attempt at pseudo-socio- and psychoanalytical evaluation, the title of a recent feature story on Playboy in Time, “The Boss of Taste City,” indicates that they, too, are at least vaguely aware that something more than a successful magazine and several key clubs is involved here. The story in the Saturday Evening Post, “Czar of the Bunny Empire” by Bill Davidson, was the most superficial and inaccurate piece done on us to date, with almost all of the quotes, and many of the facts, simply invented by the author to suit his purpose, but the Post spent more than $100,000 in advertising and promoting that single article and it sold a whale of a lot of extra copies of that lagging magazine.
There have actually been more major magazine stories on Playboy in Europe during the last year than in the United States, and they have all been extremely favorable; both the greater number and the kinder editorial disposition can be explained in part, we suspect, by our not being in competition with foreign publications for either circulation or advertising dollars; but considering that we are competitors (and doing a bit better than the rest), and not forgetting the general moral climate of middle-class America (at whom most mass media are aimed), the magazines and newspapers around the country that have written about Playboy have been, by and large, quite fair. (Though occasionally a prejudice does creep in, as when a Playboy Club story in Life turned into a general key club story, because, as the editors reportedly decided, “We don’t want to give all that free publicity to Playboy, do we?”)
There are apparently a few cool cats springing up behind the Iron Curtain these days, because we understand that Playboy is now the most popular magazine on the black market in Moscow—the same gents who secretly tune in the jazz programs on Voice of America, we presume. A West Coast newspaper column also reported recently that American airmen stationed in the Arctic have discovered that Playboy is their most valuable item of barter when they pay a visit to the Russian airfield nearby. We haven’t heard about any editorializing on the broader implications of the Playboy view of life in any of the official Russian press, but I think we can safely assume that if they’ve formed any opinion on the subject, it’s negative.
The Canadian Broadcasting Company has done an hour-long network radio documentary (Playboy of the Modern World) and a half-hour network television program (The Most) on Playboy this year—the Canadians came to Chicago for more than a week for each show, used thousands of feet of tape and film in the Playboy Building, the Club and the Playboy Mansion. Both have been nominated for awards and are far and away the most accurate and best coverage the world of Playboy has been given to date in any medium. Yet a small-circulation Canadian magazine, Saturday Night, published an article at just about the same time, titled “Dream World of the Sex Magazines,” that claims the recurring theme in Playboy and its imitators is “the brutalization of women.” We assume they’re referring to psychological or social brutalization, since we never lay a hand on a female except in passion or self-defense.
Comment about Playboy keeps popping up everywhere these days—in movies, on TV, in nightclub acts: In Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three, Berlin Coca-Cola boss Jimmy Cagney’s male assistant got himself delayed while on an unusual errand into East Berlin, dressed as a girl, because the border guards spent a half an hour trying to talk him into letting them shoot some pictures of him for Playboy. Joey Bishop announced on the Tonight show that he’d discovered the perfect Easter gift for pal Frank Sinatra—a Bunny from the Playboy Club. Mort Sahl expressed concern about an entire new generation of guys growing up convinced that girls fold in three parts. And have staples in their navels.
Art Buchwald kidded about Playboy’s impact on the country in his internationally syndicated column: “Some people are afraid that Hefner may try to take over the United States, if not by force, at least by sex. He has 130,000 Playboy Club keyholders now who have pledged to follow Hefner in whatever direction he wishes to go. They all have keys and if Hefner can change the locks on some of the government buildings in Washington, including the White House, there is no reason why he couldn’t take over the country. Many people think Bobby Kennedy’s recent trip around the world was a secret mission for Mr. Hefner to find new locations for Playboy Clubs. The slogan of the Playboy is, of course, ‘Today girls, tomorrow the world.’”
A Unitarian minister, John A. Crane, in Santa Barbara, California, devoted an entire sermon to the subject, “Philosophy and Fantasy in Playboy Magazine and What This Suggests About Us”: “Playboy comes close now to qualifying as a movement, as well as a magazine,” he said. “It strikes me that Playboy is a religious magazine, though I will admit I have a peculiar understanding of the meaning of the word. What I mean is that the magazine tells its readers how to get into heaven. It tells them what is important in life, delineates an ethics for them, tells them how to relate to others, tells them what to lavish their attention and energy upon, gives them a model of a kind of person to be. It expresses a consistent world view, a system of values, a philosophical outlook.
"Not only does Playboy create a new image of the ideal man, it also creates a slick little universe all its own, creates what you might call an alternative version of reality in which men may live in their minds. It’s a light and jolly kind of universe, a world in which a man can be forever carefree, where a man can remain, like Peter Pan, a boy forever and ever. There are no nagging demands and responsibilities, no complexities or complications.”
And yet Reverend Crane, like Reverend Larson in his article for Motive, winds up expressing some positive, if qualified, feelings about Playboy: “But for the most part, the magazine is, I would expect, pretty harmless. It amuses its readers by creating a delightful imaginary world for them, a world that they find it fun to live in; and everybody needs a little fun now and then. The only real harm that it does, I think, is negative: It does nothing important for its readers, doesn’t lead them anywhere, does nothing to enlarge or deepen their awareness of themselves and their lives, does nothing to encourage the growth of insight or understanding.”
But in that same month, in the very same state, columnist Hugh Russell Fraser took a very different view of the more serious side of Playboy’s content. Devoting an entire column, on the editorial page of the Daily Commercial News, the West Coast’s oldest business newspaper, to Playboy in general and the then current issue (March) in particular, he wrote: “One of the most intellectual magazines in America. For a magazine that is devoted to ‘Entertainment for Men,’ it is strangely concerned with two things few men, and even fewer women, have any real interest in: namely, truth and beauty.”
Fraser goes on to extol the literary and intellectual virtues of the March issue, which he says “comes close to being a sheer work of art.” It is the same issue that was on sale at the time of the Unitarian sermon questioning whether Playboy “does anything important for its readers,” but there is no connection between the Santa Barbara sermon and the San Francisco column, except that both were written on the same subject, within a month of one another; we’re quite certain that the columnist knew nothing whatever about this minister’s sermon, and vice versa.
Fraser expresses himself enthusiastically on the subject of March Playmate Pamela Gordon, and then says: “Having drunk deep of this rare and costly wine, let us glance over the other pages. Here J. Paul Getty, the billionaire (tactfully the magazine does not remind us of the fact) has a thought-provoking indictment of The Vanishing Americans. He holds that ‘in the restless voice of dissent lies the key to a nation’s vitality and greatness.’ And that dissent is disappearing. Indeed, it has almost disappeared.
"In the same issue, Alfred Kazin, in my judgment the greatest living literary critic, examines The Love Cult, a slight misnomer, since what he is examining is not a cult but the whole general concept of love from Plato to Freud to the modern psychiatrists. The role that it has played in Christian dogma, as he analyzes it, is especially impressive and is alone worth the price of the magazine.
"Ben Hecht has an intriguing memoir; The Playboy Advisor tells us how to marry the boss' girlfriend; Ernest Hemingway’s brother writes about his brother; and best of all, Arthur C. Clarke’s article on The Hazards of Prophecy. Here is an analysis of the short-sightedness of men of science in the last half-century, the first of a series of amazing insights into the ‘expected’ and ‘unexpected’ in science. There are other articles of equally rich intellectual fare. But I do not have the space here. However, a new planet has swung into our universe of superior magazines…and it bears the date of March 1962. A toast, therefore, gentlemen, to America’s newest star in the intellectual firmament—Playboy!”
Is it possible that both these gentlemen from California, and all of the others who were quoted here, are referring to the same publication? They are, because life is so subjective that what one person can view as “the whole man reduced to his private parts,” another may see as a concern for “truth and beauty.” We trust there’ll always be this much disagreement on the subject of Playboy, for the magazine was never intended for the general public—it is edited for a select audience of young, literate, urban men, who share with us a particular point of view on life, and when we began, we had no idea it would attract as great a following as it has. In our Introduction, in Volume 1, Number 1, we tried to spell it out: “We want to make clear from the very start, we aren’t a ‘family magazine.’ If you’re somebody’s sister, wife or mother-in-law and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to your Ladies Home Companion.” We should have added: Not all “old ladies” wear skirts—it’s more of a frame of mind than anything else.
What is this “particular point of view,” then, that Playboy shares with its readers? We wrote about it in a subscription message in the April 1956 issue, under the question, What is a Playboy?: “Is he simply a wastrel, a ne'er-do-well, a fashionable bum? Far from it: He can be a sharp-minded young business executive, a worker in the arts, a university professor, an architect or engineer. He can be many things, providing he possesses a certain point of view. He must see life not as a vale of tears but as a happy time; he must take joy in his work, without regarding it as the end and all of living; he must be an alert man, an aware man, a man of taste, a man sensitive to pleasure, a man who—without acquiring the stigma of the voluptuary or dilettante—can live life to the hilt. This is the sort of man we mean when we use the word Playboy.”
The Criticism of Content
There are actually two aspects of Playboy that prompt comment today, where previously there was only one. There have always been those who criticized the magazine for its content—certain specific features to which they take exception. There is another, newer area for comment now: the philosophical pros and cons of Playboy’s concept—the overall editorial viewpoint expressed in the magazine. While both are clearly related—the one (content) growing naturally out of the other (concept)—they are quite different and the comment and criticism on them takes different forms, too.
The critics of content are rather easily disposed of. No one who bothers to seriously consider several issues of the magazine can reasonably question the overall excellence of the editorial content. Playboy published some of the finest, most thought-provoking fiction, satire, articles, cartoons, service features, art and photography appearing in any magazine in America today; Playboy pays the highest rates, for both fiction and nonfiction, of any magazine in the men’s field; and Playboy has received more awards for its art, design, photography, typography and printing over the last half-dozen years than almost any other publication in all the United States. A questioning of the lack of serious “think” pieces in the magazine, as the Unitarian minister did, can only be the result of a superficial scanning of Playboy, as the Hugh Russell Fraser critique of the March issue makes clear. But lest the occasional reader consider that March may have been an uncommon issue, in addition to the Arthur C. Clarke science series and the J. Paul Getty series on men, money and values in society today, Playboy has published Nat Hentoff’s Through the Racial Looking Glass", “a perceptive report on the American Negro and his new militancy for uncompromising equality” (July 1962); The Prodigal Powers of Pot, an unemotional look at marijuana, “the most misunderstood drug of all time” (August 1962); Status-ticians in Limbo, a biting article on the sociologists and motivational research experts in advertising and the communication industry (September 1961); The Great American Divide, Herb Gold’s incisive probing of “Reno, the biggest little pity in the world” (June 1961); Hypnosis, the most comprehensive article on the subject ever to appear in a magazine, analyzing hypnotism’s implications for surgery, psychoanalysis, persuasion, advertising, crime, war and world politics, by Ken W. Purdy (February 1961); plus such now near-classic pieces as The Pious Pornographers, on sex in the women’s magazines (October 1957); The Cult of the Aged Leader, expressing the need for younger men in our government before any of us had heard of a John or Robert Kennedy (August 1959); Eros and Unreason in Detroit, decrying the ever-increasing size, and emphasis on chrome and fins, in U.S. cars, before the automobile industry reversed the trend and introduced the compacts (August 1958); Philip Wylie’s The Womanization of America, expressing concern over the feminine domination of our culture (September 1958); and Vance Packard’s The Manipulators, on the “vanguards of 1984: the men of motivational research” (December 1957); along with The Playboy Panel, a series of provocative conversations about subjects of interest on the contemporary scene (most recent topic: Business Ethics and Morality, November 1962) and the newly inaugurated Playboy Interview that can produce provocative thought on timely issues, as when Miles Davis discussed his views on what it means to be black in America (September 1962). This small sampling of Playboy’s thought-provoking nonfiction is impressive, we think, for a publication that is primarily concerned with entertainment and service features for the urban man, for Playboy has never attempted to cover every aspect of man’s existence, or pretended that it does, though some of the criticism aimed at us clearly suggests that we do. And that, it seems to us, is rather like criticizing a good book of poetry, because it includes no prose.
Playboy has always dealt with the lighter side of contemporary life, but it has also—tacitly and continuously—tried to see modern life in its totality. We hope that Playboy has avoided taking itself too seriously. We know that we have always stressed—in our own way—our conviction of the importance of the individual in an increasingly standardized society, the privilege of all to think differently from one another and to promote new ideas, and the right to hoot irreverently at herders of sacred cows and keepers of stultifying tradition and taboo.
We at Playboy think there is a depressing tendency to confuse seriousness with earnestness and dullness. We believe in the Western tradition of satire and polemic (and it is our feeling that some of the mass media could do with a little sharpening of their senses of humor), and we aren’t above poking fun at ourselves once in a while either.
Some seem to feel that a happy, even frisky and romantic attitude toward life, and a savoring of its material pleasures, preclude seriousness, work, sensibility, a viable aesthetic. In our book (literally and in the slang sense) this position is untenable. It belongs with such other evidences of semantic dysfunction as the unreasoning suspicion that medicine can’t be good for you if it doesn’t taste bad; that robust profanity bespeaks a limited vocabulary (rather than one equipped with condiments as well as nutrients); that dullness is the ordained handmaiden of seriousness; that the well-dressed man is an empty-headed fop, perforce, and that conversely, the chap who can’t distinguish a fine Niersteiner from a plebian bottle of hock is probably possessed of more intellect of character than the man who can.
A Matter of Sex
At the heart of most of the criticism of Playboy’s contents, we find that ol' devil sex. We’ll consider the fuller implications of this when we discuss the concept, but we must confess at the outset that we do not consider sex either sacred or profane. And as a normal, and not uninteresting, aspect of the urban scene, we think it perfectly permissible to treat the subject either seriously or with satire and good humor, as suits the particular situation.
For some, it is the pictures that offend—the full-color, full-bosomed Playmates and their photographic sisters, who apparently show off too much bare skin to please a part of the public. That another sizable portion of the citizenry, numbering in the several million, is obviously pleased as punch by this display of photogenic pulchritude is—for the moment—besides the point. We’d like to make our case on merits other than mathematical ones.
It was disconcerting when we first discovered that many of those who consider nudity and obscenity nearly synonymous often drag God’s name into the act—this struck us, and strikes us still, as a particularly blatant bit of blasphemy. The logic that permits a person to call down God’s wrath on anyone for displaying a bit of God’s own handiwork does, we must admit, escape us. If the human body—far and away the most remarkable, the most complicated, the most perfect and the most beautiful creation on this earth—can become objectionable, obscene or abhorrent, when purposely posed and photographed to capture that remarkable perfection and beauty, then the world is a far more cockeyed place than we are willing to admit. That there may be some people in this world with rather cockeyed ideas on subjects of this sort—well, that’s something else again.
And, yes, it’s possible for an entire society—or a goodly portion of it—to get cockeyed on a particular subject, for a while at least. Just how the U.S. developed its own cockeyed Puritanical view of sex—the shackles of which it is only now managing to throw off—we’ll go into some detail a little further on. But it is worth noting here that a remarkable schism exists between the two present generations, as regards sex and several other quite vital subjects, and the gap—in attitude and viewpoint—between the younger and the older generations of our time is far greater that the customary 20 years. This is one of the little recognized, but most significant reasons for a number of well-established magazines finding themselves in serious difficulties over the last decade. With most key editorial decisions still in the hands of older staff members, the publications have become uneasily aware that they are somehow losing editorial contact with an increasing number of their readers (or more specifically, their potential readers, as the oldsters die off and too few young ones are drawn in to take their place), without really understanding why or what to do about it. Similarly, a major part of Playboy’s spectacular success is directly attributable to our being a part of the new generation, understanding it, and publishing a magazine with an editorial point of view that our own generation can relate to. We’ll try to trace the causes of this remarkable gap in the two present generations, and just what the differences may mean to all of us, a bit later, in discussing Playboy’s concept. The marked disagreement in the comment on Playboy, in the pieces quoted at the beginning of this editorial (and most of them from well-qualified, literate sources), is more easily understandable when we realize what a marked disagreement exists between the two present generations on a wide variety of subjects.
A portion of a generally quite friendly article on Playboy that appeared in Newsweek in 1960 offers a good example of the distinct lack of understanding that an older-generation editor brings to the task of explaining our editorial concept and the reasons for our success: “In efforts to maintain Playboy’s sophisticated patina, Hefner and Associate Publisher A.C. Spectorsky (author of The Exurbanites) have given the magazine a split personality. By paying top rates to top authors ($3000 for a lead story), they have bestowed on it a double-dome quality. On the other hand its daring nudes (‘Playmate of the Month’) have catered to the peep-show tastes.” The anonymous Newsweek writer (or his editor) projects the schizophrenic attitude of his own generation (the positive-negative ambivalence regarding sex) onto the more nearly normal new generation and onto Playboy (edited to express the ideas and ideals of the new generation). For Playboy’s editor, a good men’s magazine should include both fine fiction and pictures of beautiful girls with “plunging necklines or no necklines at all” (to lift another phrase from the Newsweek article), because most normal men will enjoy both, and both fit into the concept of a sophisticated urban men’s magazine. For Newsweek’s editor, however, a good men’s magazine should include fine fiction, but no pretty girls, or at least no pretty girls without clothes on—no matter how much the magazine’s readership might appreciate them—because Newsweek’s editor is projecting the uneasy and quite hypocritical and unhealthy attitude, held by much of our society for, lo, these many years, that sex is best hidden away somewhere, and the less said about it the better. Of course, we all enjoy it (sexual activity in all of its infinite varieties, was just as popular a generation ago as it is today—actions haven’t changed that much, only the publicly expressed attitudes toward them have), but it’s a rather distasteful business at best, appealing to the weaker, baser, animalistic side of man (which includes, as we understand it, any need or function of the body and is diametrically opposed to the virtuous, better side: the intellectual and the spiritual).
This nonsense about the body of man being evil, while the mind and spirit are good, seems quite preposterous to most of us today. After all, the same Creator was responsible for all three and we confess we’re not willing to believe that He goofed when He got around to the body of man (and certainly not when He got to the body of woman). Body, mind and spirit all have a unique way of complementing one another, if we let them, and if excesses of the body are negative, it is the excesses that are improper rather than the body, as excesses of the mind and spirit would also be.
The great majority will agree with what we’ve just stated, and yet the almost subconscious, guilty feeling persists that there is something evil in the flesh of man—a carryover from a Puritanism of our forefathers (that included such delights as the torturing of those who didn’t abide by the strict ethical and moral code of the community and the occasional burning of witches) which we have rejected intellectually, but which still motivates us on subtler, emotional levels. Thus a men’s magazine is appealing to “peep-show tastes” when it includes in its contents the photographs of sparsely clad women—a conclusion the Newsweek writer could almost certainly never justify intellectually, but a conclusion that he managed to put to paper just the same.
Last year we had one of the editors of another national newsmagazine visiting us and we were showing him the Playboy Mansion. We took him down into the underwater bar beside the pool (he declined politely our invitation to slide down the fireman’s pole and used the stairs instead) and we fixed him a drink. The light in the underwater bar is quite low and across one wall we have illuminated color transparencies of some of Playboy’s most popular Playmates—very similar to the wall decoration in the Playmate Bar of the Playboy Clubs. Now it should be explained that this editor is not appreciably older than we are—in years. But in outlook, at least a generation separates us. He is what you could safely call a stuffed shirt. It became immediately clear that the Playmate pictures embarrassed and yet intrigued him. He studied them, shaking his head slowly from side to side.
“I think you’d be pleasantly surprised if you met most of these Playmates,” we said, trying to put him more to ease. They’re actually a very nice group of girls.“
He thought about it for a few moments and then said: "That’s really worse, I think.”
In other words, for this fellow (and, we’re afraid, for a great many others) the erotic and sexually attractive have got to be sinful and objectionable—his inner self insists upon it and rejects the very idea that the sensually pleasing may be clean and pure.
That’s how sick our society has become in just one area: sex. And the magazines, the newspapers, movies and radio—all reflected this attitude throughout the past generation—to say nothing of what we managed to project as a national philosophy of life over those 20 years—the Thirties and Forties—with an overemphasis on security, conformity, a downgrading of education and intellect, and a near deification of the Common Man and a great many all-too-common concepts and ideas. No wonder, then, that with the troubled stirrings and awakening that came with the new generation, after World War II, there was a tremendous waiting audience for a magazine that spoke with a new voice with which the generation could identify.
Naturally, Playboy includes sex as one of the ingredients in its total entertainment and service package for the young urban male. And far from proving that we suffer from a split editorial personality, it shows that we understand our reader and the things that interest him.
When the older magazines offer sex to their readers, it is usually in association with sickness, sin or sensationalism. In Playboy, sex is offered in the form of pretty girls and humor. One approach emphasizes the negative side of sex and the other, the positive. It seems obvious to us which approach is the healthy, the natural and the right one.
If Playboy’s approach to sex is sound, then perhaps we are guilty of simply placing too much emphasis on it. We don’t think so, however. Most of the other major magazines in America are produced with the same point of view as the typical television program—they’re aimed at an entire household, at everyone and no one. Playboy, by contrast, is edited solely for the young urban male, who naturally has a little more interest in sex and pretty girls than does a general or family audience. We try to edit Playboy with the adult directness of a good foreign film, the spice and fun of a Broadway show.
Actually, the monthly “conversation” that we hold with our readers is similar to one men have always had among themselves—in both content and emphasis—and have not been noticeably corrupted by. In fact, if the secret psyche of the typical young adult male could be probed, we suspect that we probably err in the direction of less emphasis on sex than the average, rather than more. What the very existence of Playboy means is that there is a publication in which young men’s attitudes towards life and love can be publicly aired. And a perusal of any average issue will assure the concerned, we think, that there isn’t nearly the preoccupation with sex in Playboy that one might assume by listening to the typical critic. The critic can find nothing in the magazine but the Playmate, the Party Jokes and cartoons; our readers, on the other hand, manage to also find the stories, articles, service features, reviews and all the rest of the total package that make Playboy so popular. One gets the feeling, in fact, that some of Playboy’s critics are far more fascinated with the subject of sex, and spend far more time discussing it, than Playboy.
If sex were the principal reason for Playboy’s popularity, of course, then the magazine’s several dozen imitators—almost all of which are far sexier than we—would be the ones with the larger circulations. But not one of them has a sale of more than three or four hundred thousand; Playboy has a larger circulation than the top half-dozen imitators combined. Incidentally, the feature that produces the greatest reader response in Playboy each issue—month in, month out—isn’t the Playmate, it’s our articles on male fashion.
In truth, the vociferous critic of Playboy is apt to reveal more about himself than about our magazine. There is something wrong with an adult who is embarrassed by pictures of pretty girls and who becomes extremely agitated when sex is treated with anything but solemnity. They are frequently people who have more than their share of morbid curiosity about the reams of newsprint devoted in the daily press to stories in which there is a close association between sex and sin, vice, crime, violence and the exposé.
During our first year of publication, we had a Chicago police censor point to a full color illustration of a story by Erskine Caldwell and inform us that it was objectionable, because the man in the loose fitting overalls, sprawled out on the front steps of a wooden shack, had an erection. It was an erection that existed entirely in the mind of the police censor. The artist had drawn wrinkles in the overalls, but the diligent had found an erection there.
Here’s a more recent example of the same sort of subjective criticism of content: Most of the comment quoted at the beginning of this editorial was concerned with concept and we will get to that in the second half of this statement of Playboy’s philosophy. The most critical of the group was Professor Benjamin DeMott, however, and he concerned himself with both concept and content in his article, “The Anatomy of Playboy,” accusing us in his final paragraph—along with other “girlie books"—of having been born of "stinking seed.” A colorful writer, this professor. Now let’s see how accurate he is. Our Party Jokes page is enlivened each month with whimsical sketches of a tiny female nymph we affectionately call Femlin. In the May 1962 issue, the first sketch shows the little imp watching a man shave with an electric razor; in the second sketch, the Femlin playfully tugs at the razor’s cord, trying to pull free from the wall socket; in the last drawing, the razor has stopped running and the man is scowling down at his Femlin, while she hides the plug behind her back and smiles impudently over her shoulder at us. That’s the way celebrated artist LeRoy Neiman thought he’d drawn his May Femlin illustrations. Now let Professor DeMott describe this very same scene, as he did in his Commentary article: “The white space on a page of a recent Playboy was dressed with three sketches of a man shaving with an electric razor, in the company of Miss Buxom clad in black stockings and gloves. In the first panel the girl studies the wall plug to which the razor is attached; the second shows her pulling the plug from the wall—the man still shaves, owing to the current she generates; in the third, the girl holds the razor cord in her hands and smiles down approvingly as the man touches the buzzing machine to her pleased nipple.”
The professor obviously lives in a far more sensual world than we do, for he apparently sees sexual activity all around him, where none existed. He was able to supply an entire secondary story line of his own to the illustrations, even though the drawings themselves made his conclusions impossible. In the second sketch, where he has decided the Femlin is generating electric current to run the razor, the razor is still running, because the plug (clearly shown in the drawing) is not yet fully removed from the wall socket; in the last sketch, where the professor describes the Femlin smiling down approvingly “as the man touches the buzzing machine to her pleased nipple,” the plug is now out of the wall and the razor is no longer running. In none of the sketches is the Femlin touching the exposed end of the plug (she is always holding the insulated cord), permitting not the slightest possibility for the professor’s interpretation. And lastly, the head of the razor is not pointed in the direction of the Femlin and is not even touching the Femlin’s breast. Professor DeMott used this descriptive scene to help prove the extreme sexual nature of Playboy and the illusion he says we try to create, that all women are oversexed or, as he rather crudely puts it, “wild wild wild to be snatch.”
What do you say about a critic whose sexual fantasies include the application of electric razors to girl’s nipples(?!) and who not only builds such a fantasy without material help from the source (like the joke about the man who saw sexual scenes in every Rorschach inkblot and, after the test, asked the psychiatrist if he could borrow the “dirty pictures” for a party he was having that weekend), but who actually manages to ignore all details in the drawings that make his interpretation of them quite impossible? It may be reasonable to suggest that the “stinking seeds” the good professor finds in Playboy are actually growing in his mind rather than on our pages.