Sixty-three years ago my dad published the first issue of playboy with $6,000 he’d begged and borrowed from anyone who would stand still long enough to listen to his new idea for a magazine. Over the years, playboy evolved into something much larger than he could ever have expected, and the Rabbit became a sort of Rorschach test of people’s attitudes toward sex. Fans and detractors alike debated what the brand stood for and what the logo represented: What you saw in that Rabbit said more about you than about anything else.
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Underneath the brand’s pop culture elements, which most frequently floated to the surface of newsworthy over everything else, it was clear my dad’s aim when launching playboy was to promote a healthy conversation about sex while also encouraging dialogue on social, philosophical and religious opinions. The idea behind the magazine was that while these topics were popular in people’s minds, they were almost never spoken about in public or discussed over dinner or drinks at cocktail parties around the country, as they should have been.
Nonetheless, many misinterpreted that message or missed it entirely, choosing instead to focus on the magazine’s unapologetic portrayal of nudity and its revolutionary approach to sex, including conversations about the act itself. And this is the ultimate irony, given that sex is figuratively the big bang behind your existence, my existence, all of conscious existence and civilization itself. To clear up any confusion, my dad began writing The Playboy Philosophy nearly 10 years after the magazine was first published in 1953 and authored more than 20 installments throughout the 1960s. The goal was, as he explained it:
“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.”
And although I’m picking up the pen where my dad left off with The Playboy Philosophy and he and I have a tremendous amount in common, we also have vast differences of opinion—which I suspect I’ll find as I continue writing these installments to set the record straight on who we are today. But one thing is clear that both my dad and I understand at its simplest form, and that is what Playboy and the United States strive to represent in their greatest forms: freedom.
Many likely assume I jumped into the business because of a fascination with the parties frequently associated with Playboy, the opportunity to drink with interesting people from all walks of life and the gift of enjoying great adventures. Although I’ve been given a front-row seat to many amazing experiences throughout my life, my true interest and passion have always been for what many would label the “boring stuff” but that I see as the most important stuff, namely the brand’s tradition of tenaciously advocating for civil liberties and freedom of expression.
In the 1950s, the brand fought against McCarthyism with the decision to publish American writers, artists and others who had been blacklisted by the U.S. government. In the 1960s, the company unapologetically promoted a racially integrated lifestyle in its clubs, in its publication and on its national television shows when few others were willing to do so. Throughout the 1960s and onward, playboy published cartoons and stories that challenged social norms, as well as advocated for the LGBTQ community when society had abandoned or, worse, aggressively gone on the attack against it.
Although it is a blessing to be able to continue something my father wrote with such conviction, my real motivation for bringing these installments back to life is my belief that we have entered a time when history is beginning to repeat itself. And I’ll be the first to identify the irony in that as I pen this first installment of the new Playboy Philosophy.
I proudly write of these collective accomplishments as I identify that together we elected our first mixed-race president, we took gay rights to the Supreme Court and witnessed it rule in favor of same-sex marriage, we began walking down the road to marijuana legalization, and we watched the first woman become a major political party’s nominee for president. Those were just a few of the cultural wins we’ve relished. But after so much progress, our hard-won victories are in peril. Just as the social and political pendulum had swung in liberals’ favor, as history has shown time after time, the pendulum swings back.
The United States saw similar trends in the 1960s and 1970s when people began to adopt a more freethinking “let’s allow the individual to decide what he or she wants to do in his or her life” mantra. It was a shift of consciousness of sorts. Following this, the 1980s brought the AIDS crisis and a new version of the age-old fight between communism and capitalism, both of which scared millions. The pendulum swung back toward the conservative tradition, which lasted through both Democratic and Republican presidents. Rove, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush left the White House and Obama stepped in, still appealing to conservative constituents by stating he did not support a number of liberal policies, like gay marriage. But what followed was an embrace of 21st century democratic liberalism as new generations became more adept than previous ones at voicing their desire for more tolerance and more freedom.
But now we’re swinging back to tradition, and it is by no means a tradition that truly embraces individualism. At this point in history, the most vital intellectual discussion we can have is how to create a society that’s as free as possible without ignoring the social and economic implications of our policy decisions. We need to identify who our allies are at a time when, on the liberal side, a culture of political correctness discourages debate that may hurt people’s feelings and, on the conservative side, politicians seem comfortable jeopardizing the rights of specific groups in the belief that it will “make America great again.”
So let this stand as an introduction and a declaration that, regardless of our sexual orientation or political point of view, what we’re seeing in society has happened before and that we all agree an attack on Muslim Americans, on women’s healthcare rights, on the LGBTQ community or on the First Amendment is in fact an attack on all our rights. And we should be ready to defend those rights at all costs on the intellectual battlefield.