Dan Stiffler <email@example.com>, 14 Nov 2002
Mr. Hefner frequently refers to PLAYBOY as a lifestyle magazine. Responding to Peggy's latest assignment, I would like to pursue that concept for a while, in between final packings for this weekend's Glamourcon in Los Angeles.
The November 2002 issue may give us some clues about what "lifestyle" means to PLAYBOY today. The table of contents has a lifestyle section with two articles. The piece on cars is a one-page examination of two popular mid-priced sedans, the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. The basic argument of Stepping Up In Class is that you can buy a nice, up-graded 6-cylinder Japanese sedan, almost as good as a German sedan, for about $30,000. The piece is written by Arthur Kretchmer, long-time PLAYBOY editorial director, soon to be replaced by James Kaminsky from Maxim.
The other designated lifestyle article is a two-page spread on "malternatives," the new beverage craze. This unsigned piece explains why malt liquors have become "cool" in clubs: they come in bottles (so you can hang onto your drink while dancing) with the labels of popular liquor companies (Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, Bacardi). Apparently they have already made a "sizable dent in the American beer market." The article concludes by describing a ubiquitous television ad, one where the heroes are elevated in status—and girlfriends—by pretending to know "Sergio."
As it happens, correlative articles appear in the features section. Cribs on Wheels is a 4-page layout by Ken Gross, focusing on the car collections of star athletes, with representatives from each of the major team sports. Mercedes, Ferrari, Bentley, Cadillac Escalade. Lots of customized up-grade packages. Even a leased Grumman G3 jet in Pavel Bure's garage.
Highlighted on the cover is a feature article by Alison Prato, Playboy's Top 25 Party Schools. This four-page layout consists of the "Top 25," a brief introduction by Ms. Prato, and scores of quotes from partiers around the country on how to get drunk and laid. Sample offerings: "At one party, all hell broke loose. I did two keg stands and on the second one, I threw up on the keg as I was being lowered. Gross, I know!"; "When it comes to drinking, we're professionals. When friends and relatives come from other schools, they complain about how late we run and how much we drink"; "A friend was making out with a girl and went to the bathroom. When he came back he resumed making out with her, but he tasted something weird in her mouth. He later found out she had given another guy a blow job while he was in the bathroom and he was tasting that other guy." The pages are sprinkled with snap-shot style photos, some of party animals in various stages of drunkenness and undress.
Just for fun, I thought I would look back forty years, to the November 1962 PLAYBOY, and check out its lifestyle features. The table of contents provides no simple identifications but, flipping through the pages, I first come across an 11-page pictorial layout entitled PLAYBOY on the Town in New York (cleverly featured "in lights" on the magazine¹s cover). Accompanying the photos is a 14-page essay on the charms of the city, including its historical (Giovanni da Varrazano was the first European to visit) and contemporary hangouts (a veritable guide book to the best New York had to offer in 1962). The photos feature young, well-dressed men with equally young, well-dressed women visiting such places as Washington Square, the Museum of Modern Art, Times Square, Carnegie Hall and then dining at Sardi's. The evening ends as a couple embraces on the Staten Island Ferry, "where shipboard romance blooms with the sunrise."
After pausing for a moment to note a one-page attire feature by Robert Green (truly bad hats!) and for many moments to reminisce about the charms of Avis Kimble, I find a four-page article by Thomas Mario called Fowl Deeds, which includes seven recipes: goose, capon, duckling, guinea hen, pheasant, along with apple or truffle stuffing. The final sentence notes: "Whichever of these recherché birds in hand graces your groaning board, you can be sure that your fowl play will reap its reward in your guests' compliments coming home to roost."
Shepherd Mead's satiric series on "succeeding with women without really trying" (two pages in this issue) may not be a lifestyle piece per se, but it's hard to ignore advice like this: "Avoid drunkenness. Know your own capacity and—even more important—that of your women friends. The overgenerous host who allows his female companion to become supersaturated will find he has a poor companion. If, on the other hand, you are entertaining a woman of formidable capacity, you may have to take precautionary measures. A rack of spareribs, a piece of toast buttered on both sides, a half cup of melted lard or other fatty substance taken shortly before imbibing will prevent giddiness and maintain firmness of purpose. The wise male, for reasons of economy, soon rids himself of girls of this stripe."
Thus, two issues of PLAYBOY, forty years apart: two examples of lifestyle.
Let me start with the obvious. The '62 issue has over thirty pages devoted to lifestyle concerns; the '02 issue has a third that many. The '62 magazine was clearly invested in the proposition that its readers were interested in a PLAYBOY lifestyle. Excepting the attire piece, each of the '62 articles is an extended discussion on the topic at hand. So in simple terms of quantity, PLAYBOY offered its readers more lifestyle content in the sixties than it does today.
Of greater contrast, at least to me, is the quality of the lifestyle presentations. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with Kretchmer's detailing of two popular sedans. But the message is that "no matter how much you covet a new Jaguar or a Mercedes-Benz, it's likely that at some point in your life, you're going to make a list of cars that realistically fit your needs and resources." Hey, since when is PLAYBOY supposed to bring me back to earth? It's that E-type in the Playboy penthouse garage that I dream about. But, oh, the '02 issue tells me that the up-scale sports car is the plaything of superstar athletes. Since I can't play for the Dallas Cowboys, I guess I better get used to driving a souped-up Accord.
Consequently, I guess I better also stop planning on a visit by Cynthia Maddox any time soon.
Then there is the party lifestyle. Back in '62, the consummate host would fix an elegant meal and provide carefully portioned libations, just enough to get the conversation flowing and to drop the inhibitions of a repressive society. In '02, drinking has become a competitive sport, with deception integral to success. How much can I drink and whom can I fool in order to get sex? While the '62 playboy planned a night on the town in a great city like New York, the '02 playboy is picking his college by the drinks per girls ratio: "Alcohol on this campus flows like water, and the girls? Goddamn. It's like a pussy parade."
And here I thought the faculty per student ratio was important.
Surely, the argument can be made that PLAYBOY today is only reflecting the lifestyles of contemporary young people. But college kids were barfing on fraternity party kegs in the sixties (I was there). And, gee, some of us were driving VW bugs with special exhaust packs to crank out a few extra horses. PLAYBOY was something else. It didn't pander to our reality. The lifestyle depicted in the '62 PLAYBOY made young men reach for a different life. Sure it was a dream, but it was a dream that seemed possible, if only we would follow the guide to New York City, if only we would cook the pheasant in the right herbs and mix the martini with the right gin. The PLAYBOY of '62 didn't tell us that we had to settle for the Honda, that only celebrities drove the Jags.
Another thing that Mr. Hefner frequently says is that he is living out his youthful dreams. In the early years of PLAYBOY, he shared his dreams with his readers and it was a sharing that made possible a communal, generational dream. As the magazine considers its future, I hope that it does not completely lose sight of Hef's dreams. Many young men in America today are looking for a lifestyle that is playful yet dignified. Let Maxim and Stuff aim at the common denominator. PLAYBOY should be the "stuff of which dreams are made."