My Final Words
Mon, 15 Mar 2004 16:33:37 -0500
Eleven months ago, I posted to this group ten suggestions for improving
PLAYBOY. Some of them were idealistic, but I believed in them at the time.
Since today is our deadline for contributions here, I thought I would review
those ten suggestions as a way of finalizing my assessment of the
Kaminsky-era PLAYBOY. (complete posting at re: changes, April 15, 2003)
> 1. Improve the quality of reproduction.
When I made this suggestion, I was concerned about paper quality. Now I
must say that even the best paper would not improve the overall reproduction
quality of PLAYBOY. Peggy has been disturbed for years about reproduction
failures at a magazine that used to define itself as "a quality magazine for
men." While the magazine is still using good stock for its centerfolds,
many of the recent images might as well have been printed on newsprint. The
grain or artifacts wouldn't be so noticeable on poor quality paper. Whether
this drop in quality is the result of a change in camera format or a
screw-up with the digital transfers is really beside the point. One has to
go back to the fifties to find such poor reproduction in the centerfold
(small/medium format cameras were used then, too; and printing was less
A year ago, I was hoping that the thin paper could be improved; now, I just
want the centerfold quality back.
> 2. Emphasize the photographers.
I made this suggestion because PLAYBOY's original audience cared about the
art of photography. I don't think the current PLAYBOY is any better or any
worse than it has been for more than a decade in this regard. We all know
that PLAYBOY has used basically two photographers for the centerfold since
Richard Fegley's death and, throughout the 90s, it was only three. Since
all centerfolds are now shot on sets by the two photographers who have done
scores of them, the images inevitably have a sameness that often fails to
excite (except on the rare occasion when the playmate transcends the set).
Both Wayda and Freytag have done outstanding work, and I am not pushing to
replace either of them, only add to the mix. It would also be nice if each
could shoot a playmate singly more often so that her PMOM layout and
centerfold would have continuity. At the very least, identify who shot the
centerfold when there are two contributors.
Freelancers should be used more often. Many celebrity pictorials are shot
by non-staffers and some are quite good. Also, most celebrity pictorials
are shot on location; it would be nice to see some centerfolds return to
location as well (I think 12/03 was on location; too bad it was such a
mess). This approach worked well in the fifties and sixties.
> 3. Use the history.
Well, we had the 50th anniversary issue. And now what do we have? I
expected a regular feature this year detailing PLAYBOY's rich 50-year
history. There will probably be some photos from these nightclub parties
rotating around the country, but PLAYBOY really missed an opportunity with
Quite frankly, I don't think many of those in decision-making roles at
PLAYBOY care about its history; in fact, I would suspect that some of them
would rather suppress it. There is the usual flashback on the Playmate News
pages; that's about it.
> 4. Cut down the dependence upon celebrity in both pictorials and
This is, of course, my pet peeve. Look what the magazine has done in recent
months: a Shannen Doherty, a Jaime Pressly, a Sable/Torrie Wilson. Each of
those celebrities was doing an ENCORE pictorial! Sable had her THIRD cover.
Earlier there was yet another Carmen Electra. Not only has PLAYBOY been
unable to shake the celebrity habit but it has become a REPEAT offender.
I thought there was some hope for the Jim Carrey interview (another
celebrity interview preceding yet another film release). But just as the
discussion got interesting the interviewer said "Let's change the subject."
I am still livid about Sarah Kozer.
Eleven months ago, I didn't think it could get any worse. Little did I
> 5. Bring back the top fiction.
Well, at least they are still publishing fiction. There is a slight up-tick
I must admit that I preferred the old days when PLAYBOY had a stable of
writers who regularly published in the magazine, but it looked for a while
like PLAYBOY was going to drop fiction altogether.
I won't bother to make a judgment on the quality of today's fiction; after
all, I didn't like everything they published back in the sixties either.
> 6. Make the reviews matter.
The pictures are nice. The ___ of the Month is clever. The words are scant
and superficial. I have suggested elsewhere that PLAYBOY ought to run
feature reviews of work that is relevant to the PLAYBOY lifestyle.
Apparently, PLAYBOY thinks reviews are meant to be bathroom reading.
> 7. Stand for something again.
As I said before, the Forum remains the political soul of PLAYBOY. I am,
however, disturbed by the general drift towards crime-sheet exposÚs.
Consider this last year: The DC sniper; The Last Score: When a Bank Heist
Goes Bad; Phil Spector Murder Mystery; Cop Tease: How a Nubile Narc Busted a
High School; Crime Scene Clean Up; OJ Simpson interview; Murder Rap: Who
Killed Jam Master Jay?; Busting Robert Blake; Blood Hound: On the Trail with
a Bounty Hunter.
This is PLAYBOY? Something is going on here and I don't like it.
Actually, the Kaminsky-era PLAYBOY reminds me very much of those True
Detective/Crime magazines that relish putting sex and violence together.
> 8. Promote the playmate.
I am going to repeat my original commentary here:
> Brian Sorgatz has already suggested this but, the
> more I study the first ten years of the magazine, the more I see that this
> concept has been lost in the current cloud of celebrity. Even though the
> playmate still gets the foldout (no longer the centerfold per se), she is
> often lost in the fuss over the cover model, who is most frequently some
> grade of celebrity du jour. This is a colossal mistake and it is one that
> could be remedied; but it will take the end of celebrity addiction. The
> playmate should be the featured pictorial each and every issue; she should
> be the girl whom the regular reader looks forward to meeting. She is a key
> component, some would say the *essential* component, of PLAYBOY's identity.
> Better contractual terms for playmates wouldn't be a bad idea either; after
> all, the appeal of the playmate far outstrips all but the rare celebrity
Steve Sloca (aka gokings111) has written passionately about this subject on
the PML. While he and I disagree on a number of things about PLAYBOY, we
are in general agreement about how PLAYBOY exploits (in the bad sense of the
word) its playmates by failing to exploit them (in the good sense of the
Steve's point about charity donations is a good one; in fact, I have a
similar idea myself. I have mentioned earlier it to a few friends at
Glamourcon, but I might as well repeat it here.
As I noted last April, "better contractual terms" would be a good idea. I
would pay each playmate $75,000 for her appearance in PLAYBOY, spread over
two years. I would also have PLAYBOY donate $25,000 to the charity of the
playmate's choosing, for a grand total of a $100,000 contract. Now this
approach would be perfectly affordable if PEI quit tossing six-figure
contracts at reality show rejects, and the charitable donation would bring
good will and excellent publicity.
I would also see to it that playmates receive courtesy payments whenever
their photos are published in a PEI publication, post-PMOM, as well as
payment in kind.
Of course, playmates would continue to have the nude modeling restrictions
for two years (I understand that) but, as Steve has suggested, playmates who
want a career in show business (not all do) should be given every
opportunity to pursue the limelight.
I think Steve's basic point is correct: PLAYBOY's relationship with its
playmates is primarily one of control. A change in this culture would reap
mucho mutual benefits.
"Once a playmate, always a playmate" should not be only a slogan.
> 9. Give the cover back to the artists.
Remember the Elle cover? Not everyone liked it, but it was at least
artistic. The Rachel cover is simply ordinary.
In the last year, I thought the anniversary cover was tasteful. All other
covers have had the same boring layout. I have liked some better than
others (the Starbucks cover was good, the Lauren Hill cover was rather nice,
and the double Sable/Torrie covers were clever) but not a single cover this
last year made me take notice.
This may be the longest running complaint on the PML. I don't know anyone
who thinks PLAYBOY is doing the right thing with its covers. Every time
this subject comes up, we offer lots of suggestions to deal with newsstand
concerns, but PLAYBOY just keeps turning out the same old formula.
> 10. Recover the marketplace. I think there are three ways to do this, all
> of which involve some risk:
> A) Open Playboy Stores in malls around America, similar in scale to
> B) Some on the PML have mentioned a nationwide return of the Playboy Club.
> I am more wary about this option, but handled properly it might work.
> C) This might be my most radical--and reluctant--suggestion, but I know the
> concept is on the table anyway, so I am going to address it: kill explicit
> nudity in the magazine.
I am not going to rehearse these ideas.
But I am nostalgic for the time when I could write this:
> I have the following dream. PLAYBOY will return to its roots and rediscover
> how it became great. In this day and age, it will be generally accepted in
> all but the most radical right or radical feminist households. People who
> used to read PLAYBOY, but gave it up for whatever reason, will try it again
> and will like it. Young people who are reaching for the "hilt" of life will
> discover PLAYBOY and identify with its distinction from other men's
> magazines. A quality magazine, drawing upon its great history, setting the
> current standard for male entertainment, doing so with respect for its
> readers, its staff, and--most of all--its playmates.
I don't have much hope any more--although the fact that I continue to offer
my observations means I haven't yet given up entirely. I suppose that
Peggy's eternal optimism inspires me, indeed humbles me, makes me a little
ashamed of my negativity. But keep in mind that I have spent the last year
carefully studying PLAYBOY's first ten years, most of which I had never
critiqued before (I became a regular reader in 1962). What I now see
happening in those first ten years is simply not happening anymore: an
editorial team with a coherent vision, a desire to appeal to the
sophisticated and urbane gentleman.
Honestly, I feel a little sorry for the young guys today.