I can still remember my religion class at St. Joseph’s High School when Brother John, who was affectionately known as “Brother Dogface,” lectured us on adolescent sin and launched into a tirade about Playboy magazine, which was a favorite diversion of teenage boys back before video games.
Whacking his pointer across the desk, he let us know in no uncertain terms that Playboy shouldn’t be on our summer reading list. Try Plato, maybe Dickens or Dante, even J.D. Salinger, but forget that smut.
Then, one of my indomitable classmates, who thought he was the heir apparent of Socrates and always had an answer when it came to questioning authority, piped up, “But it has really good articles!” Yes, we adolescent boys with raging hormones were addicted to good writing.
John Updike, Gore Vidal and a lot of other literati appeared in the pages of Playboy, along with Marilyn Monroe, Dolly Parton, Suzanne Somers and several generations of frivolous and forgotten playmates over the past 60 years.
But let’s be honest, no one kept it hidden under his mattress, concealed from Mom, because of the scintillating stories. The real attraction was the ethereally air-brushed nude centerfold that we deluded ourselves into believing was “art.” All things are possible, sacred and profane, when you call something “art.”
As American teenagers, our life goal was to either make the Yankees’ farm team or become playboys, and in the ideal world, do both.
Years after Brother Dogface passed on to the great religion class in the sky, I went for a job interview at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, and they put me up at a hotel with a Playboy Club hidden away in a dark and creepy subterranean space. Since St. Petersburg was notoriously known as the retirement capital of the Northern Hemisphere and perhaps the Southern, too, the city shut down at 6 p.m., and the Playboy club got less traffic than a church tea on Super Bowl Sunday.
A few years later, or maybe a few minutes later, they shut down because someone must have realized the marketing department made a very serious mistake by opening a club in St. Pete. I guess Hugh Hefner, who is still a playboy in theory at 89, had a vision he wanted to share with the rest of the world — a democratic vision of the playboy lifestyle for every man, including those who took Metamucil and used trifocals.
Over the years, Playboy suffered a slow and steady descent from its heyday, always struggling to stay “relevant” in the ever expanding universe of pornography, which is expanding faster than the Big Bang.
Now, Playboy is making a last desperate effort to survive in the competitive world of porn or literature or art — or whatever world it inhabits — and has decided to end nude photos of women, which probably means it will focus on home shopping or recipes or lawn care. Women will still appear in sexually suggestive poses, but will be clothed. (I’m convinced Brother John has been praying a long time from heaven for this day to come.)
Starting in March, the print edition will no longer feature nudes. Why? Because nude women aren’t contributing to the bottom line. Playboy can’t compete with the ocean of pornography on the Internet that is raunchier and more degrading than anything imaginable. Or as CEO Scott Flanders put it: “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free.”
The decision to push the nudes overboard provoked angry responses from some lifelong subscribers who probably don’t know how to use the Internet.
So what does the future hold? What’s the new secret formula? More scintillating interviews? Quinoa recipes? Fitness tips for retirees? The Playboy coloring book for men long in the tooth?
Think about it, though. America doesn’t need Playboy when toddlers and tourists can have their photos taken in Times Square with painted topless women. When Miley Cyrus, one of the scariest celebrities of the 21st Century (and leading the pack for that distinction in the 22nd Century), is planning a naked concert that will include a naked audience.
Besides, who wants to be a playboy and walk around in a smoking jacket and silk pajamas like Hugh Hefner? The rest of us have to get up in the morning and slog to the salt mines to bring home a paycheck, which unfortunately is something Brother John never told us about.
Contact Joe Pisani at [email protected]