Scattered around the house you'll find the last thirty years of Playboy, some issues sort of neatly boxed, some of them stacked untidily on the night stand I have only one night stand, and if there's anything Playboy has always stood for, it's the one night stand and one issue, October 2013, sitting on my desk. It has not been a great thirty years for Playboy: magazine circulation, which peaked in the Seventies at around five million, is now a quarter of that, and they are increasingly dependent upon website subscriptions and brand licensing to keep the lights turned on at Hugh Hefner's grotto. Newsstand price is a startling $7.99, assuming you can find a newsstand willing to sell you a copy, or for that matter, assuming you can find a newsstand at all.
Part of the problem, I think, is that they've run the same old shtick into the ground for so long that there's no longer any element of surprise, and by extension no longer any element of arousal. Find the Rabbit on the cover? In the clouds, off to the right side. Big deal. Hef sightings and Mansion frolics? Interchangeable from month to month. Nothing against Hef, who's been a big First Amendment guy for six decades and who arguably was the single most important figure in American culture in the last half of the 20th century, but by now, all we're asking is "How has all this nightlife not actually killed him yet?"
There have always been "Men" and "Women" columns. "Men" these days is written by Joel Stein, who has always given off the impression that he's heard of men but has never actually seen one. This time around, though, Stein gets a thumb up for his plastic-surgery commentary:
Plastic surgery makes women look weird, and it makes men look like women. Bruce Jenner may not look like a grandfather, but he does look like a lesbian grandmother. Gene Simmons and his wife, Shannon Tweed, got face-lifts together, and both came out looking like Shannon Tweed.
Which is actually true, though Gene's a couple shades darker and Shannon has nicer legs. Then again, Keith Mays, creator of the blog "Men Who Look Like Old Lesbians," noticed this sort of thing half a decade ago, so it's not like Stein is making a valiant effort to be au courant.
The "Women" column has now fallen into the lap of Deborah Schoeneman, most recently a story editor on HBO's Girls, so I have to figure she knows something about dealing with Lena Dunham. A member of what I presume to be the Playboy target audience a guy who'd just as soon read Maxim but wants you to know he prefers craft beer might have reasonable fears of dealing with Lena Dunham, but Schoeneman here is colorless to about the same extent that Stein is artificially colored.
This being the College Issue, there is the obligatory "Girls of the [name of athletic conference]" pictorial. In this case, it's the Pac 12. These features are almost always indistinguishable; the only new wrinkle is that some of the young ladies, instead of losing their last names for posterity see, for instance, Oregon State's Mandy Jo are now losing all but the first letter of their last names: see, for instance, Amanda D. of Stanford. And as always of late, grooming seems to have been outsourced to Brazil.
There is an interview, with Samuel L. Jackson, which counts as one of the better ones of late, though I admit to wondering mostly "How many questions will it take before Sam says 'motherfucker'?" (Six.) There's also an abriged version of the March 1969 interview with Marshall McLuhan, perhaps for the benefit of those critics who think the interview has been going downhill for years.
And, inevitably, there is a centerfold. Miss October, Carly Lauren, aspires to "use my business degree and Playmate status to put my many creative ideas into action." Indeed. Playboy says they found her on Instagram, so I suppose anything is possible.
Which brings us to the one feature in the magazine that has never really faltered: The Playboy Advisor, which still, after all these years, will send actual answers to questioners who submit a self-addressed, stamped envelope. I suspect, though, that their target audience (see above) has no idea what a self-addressed, stamped envelope actually is.
So that's the October issue, for which, as a subscriber, I paid something like $3.30. It's nothing to celebrate, but it's nothing to induce me to write to the subscription office and demand cancellation forthwith. Maybe, at my advanced age, I'm bored with the whole concept. Or maybe it's just that the presence of one woman strikes me these days as more compelling than pictures of three hundred sixty others even if she's (dare I say it?) dressed.
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Copyright © 2013 by Charles G. Hill