Wilmer Rivers <email@example.com>, 23 Mar 2004
A lot of articles were written about PLAYBOY in the last year or so, on account of the 50th anniversary. Most of them were less than flattering in describing its current state. Almost all of them acknowledged PLAYBOY's importance in its early years, and in fact most of them agreed on its quality in that era, but the consensus seemed to be that what's there now is of little importance and of even less quality. Unfortunately, PEI itself seems not to dispute that evaluation altogether.
The "official word" seems to be that consumers of men's magazines expect less these days, so that's what PLAYBOY delivers. It's almost as if the 50-year-old logo "Entertainment for Men" were now implicitly being prefixed with the modifier "Mindless". What bothers me most of all is that PEI seems to believe that there is neither the interest in, nor the need for, a magazine that is what PLAYBOY once was. In one of the many 50th anniversary newspaper articles, http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/living/2001805637_playboy03.html, Hugh Hefner says: "... To compare PLAYBOY (today) with PLAYBOY as it existed in the 1960s or early '70s is meaningless. What PLAYBOY accomplished and the meaning that it had in that time frame will never come again. ... " Oh, so? Is the sexual revolution over? John Ashcroft clearly doesn't think it was "won" by PLAYBOY in the 1960s and '70s, and in fact one would more likely conclude that PLAYBOY's side lost badly, based on the fact that a much smaller number of retailers now carry it than did in that era. Furthermore, wasn't the magazine supposed to be about more than just the sexual revolution? What about lifestyle, fiction, information, and opinion? Will the need for those too "never come again"?
Much argument has been made about whether PLAYBOY is stagnant, little changed from the 1960s. I fear that these similarities to the magazine of that era are instead purely superficial—the same format is there, but the essence is gone. It has become shadows within an empty shell, a cargo cult created out of form without substance. It is, I believe, highly debatable that because times have changed, PLAYBOY cannot now be all that it once was. Even if you accept that argument (and I don't), that is no excuse for allowing PLAYBOY to become so much less than it still could be, and that is what has happened. It is disingenuous to attribute this transformation to the changing times; it must be admitted that it is PEI's own doing. Does no one there wish to seize the Bunny Banner and once again lead the troops into the fray? Battles await, gentlemen.