New Yorker on Playboy

The New Yorker reviews The Playmate Book: Six Decades of Centerfolds (not currently listed on Amazon) in a provocative summary of cultural changes seen through (and created by) the magazine.

Six hundred and thirteen women are represented, but there is one basic model. On top is the face of Shirley Temple; below is the body of Jayne Mansfield. Playboy was launched in 1953, and this female image managed to draw, simultaneously, on two opposing trends that have since come to dominate American mass culture: on the one hand, our country’s idea of its Huck Finn innocence; on the other, the enthusiastic lewdness of our advertising and entertainment. We are now accustomed to seeing the two tendencies combined – witness Britney Spears – but when Hefner was a young man they still seemed like opposites. Hence the surprise and the popularity of Playboy.

In the nineteen-eighties and thereafter, the artificiality only increased, as did that of all American mass media. The most obvious change is in the body, which has now been to the gym. Before, you could often see the Playmates sucking in their stomachs. Now they donÔø?t have to. The waist is nipped, the bottom tidy, and the breasts are a thing of wonder. The first mention of a “boob job” in The Playmate Book has to do with Miss April 1965, but, like hair coloring, breast enlargement underwent a change of meaning, and hence of design, in the seventies and eighties. At first, its purpose was to correct nature, and fool people into thinking that this was what nature made. But over time the augmented bosom became confessedly an artificeÔø?a Ding an sich, and proud of it. By the eighties, the PlaymatesÔø? breasts are not just huge. Many are independent of the law of gravity; they point straight outward. One pair seems to point upward. Other features look equally doctored.

That, in the end, is the most striking thing about Playboy’s centerfolds: how old-fashioned they seem. This whole Ôø?bachelorÔø? world, with the brandy snifters and the attractive guest arriving for the night: did it ever exist? Yes, as a fantasy. Now, however, it is the property of homosexuals. (A more modern-looking avatar of the Playmates’ pneumatic breasts is Robert Mapplethorpe’s Mr. 10¬?.) Today, if you try to present yourself as a suave middle-aged bachelor, people will assume youÔø?re gay.

The whole thing is worth a read, it’s thought-provoking and kind of funny, and I guess slightly titillating in a sort of intellectual-snob manner. Works for me.

Sorry to all the surfers who found this post through Google expecting some free pr0n.


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