"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.