"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.