The below commentary on the August issue of PLAYBOY appeared in the Sunday Chicago Tribune. The one sentence that best summarizes it:
[The new PLAYBOY] is a hodgepodge of information and ideas that lacks unity in voice, reason or, perhaps most important, intrigue.
Interestingly the reviewer doesn't mention much at all about the actual articles that appear in this issue; he seems to have concentrated entirely on the layout and opening features (front of the book).
An uneasy alliance in revised Playboy
June 29, 2003
Hugh Hefner started Playboy in Chicago in 1953 with a few hundred bucks, some stylish nude photos of Marilyn Monroe and the innovative notion that a magazine could successfully combine nudity and quality-of-life features and, yes, literature and social commentary.
He was right. Not only did he become one of the principal architects of the sexual revolution, but he also created one of the most successful and influential magazines in history, one that, like it or not, dictated and defined a certain male American lifestyle for decades.
At its height of popularity in the 1960s, Playboy magazine sold 8 million copies a month and spawned a host of imitators. But recently, with circulation down to a still-impressive 3 million but facing increasing competition from such "laddie mags" as Maxim, Stuff and FHM, Hefner decided a makeover--a face-lift, so to speak--was in order. He hired 42-year-old James Kaminsky as its new editor, laid off some longtime staff members, hired new ones and moved the editorial offices from Chicago to Manhattan.
Kaminsky, previously the executive editor of Maxim, vowed to make Playboy more visual, lively and relevant. Kaminsky told the press, "It's an evolution, not a revolution."
The first issue to feature many of these evolutionary changes hits the newsstands this week. Q was able to get an early peek. We asked our section's 25-year-old art director, Jason McKean, a member of what is certainly the target audience for the "new" Playboy, for his opinion. Here it is:
Claims that this is a new, hip-to-20-somethings Playboy are greatly exaggerated. So far, efforts amount to nothing more than a fresh coat of paint, not a complete renovation.
The main problem is a schizophrenic desire to appeal to multiple generations. The departments of yesteryear remain--the Playboy Interview, Advisor and Forum, and a fiction piece and long feature--but they're now coupled with "youth infusing" sidebars and featurettes.
Suddenly, there are video game reviews and a short interview with rapper 50 Cent alongside geezer yuks courtesy of "Playboy's Party Jokes."
Most of the MTV-appealing bits are organized in the opening "After Hours" section. It's fronted by "Babe of the Month"--partially clothed B-lister Monica Keena--a feature that apparently emerged from focus groups without a second thought on what to call it. Here we also find a number of who-could-possibly-care Tidbits. (Indecent proposals asks, "Would you French-kiss your dog for $25? How about for $50? For a Certs?" You're encouraged to log on to Playboy.com and vote.) There's also a full page devoted to "Raw Data," aptly subtitled "Significa, Insignifica." (Example: "Number of balloon retailers in the U.S.: more than 12,000.")
Together these efforts feel like a half-hearted attempt to appeal to a younger generation and reek of Old Man Poser. A sidebar "on hiphop shoutouts to Playboy" says Hefner "gets more props than a helicopter pad."
Who's writing this stuff? My dad?
Of course, nudity still abounds. But Playboy continues to shoot its models as though it's 1980 and everyone's auditioning for an all-nude episode of "Dallas." Soft light, diamonds and gold had their time. I'm certain it has passed. The stories and features also carry a look that has come and gone. The typefaces, packaging techniques and color schemes are all dated.
It's a 160-page mess. Playboy's half stuck in the last century, while trying get some footing in this one. It's a hodgepodge of information and ideas that lacks unity in voice, reason or, perhaps most important, intrigue.
Elders tell me of a time when one could profess the merits of actually reading this magazine. There was a time, they say, when it was relevant, insightful and cool. Without a complete overhaul, the bygone era will remain just that.
What kind of man still reads Playboy? Heyday hangers-on and those looking for B-list celebrity skin.
Those looking to graduate from Maxim and the rest of the laddie ilk would do best investing in a subscription to Esquire, Details or GQ.
Copyright ©2003, Chicago Tribune