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P-P-P-Porn?!: Gateway Drug

Playboy's February 2007 issue
by L. Pete Morton

It’s not easy writing about porn you, know.

I tried a dozen times to work on this second installment, thinking about possible topics and rejecting them out of hand. I’ve written to this person and that person, hoping for time or an interview, but many people in Pornland aren’t terribly concerned with helping out a guy who’s just starting to write a column for something that isn’t, I don’t know, Newsweek or something (though there have been notable exceptions that will become clear in the first few columns I post). I check websites and news sites and look for a hook or an angle, but since I can’t exactly wrangle an invitation to the AVN Awards in Vegas (held in January), I have to take what’s on the table and turn it into a meal.

I got myself into this, after all.

I was re-reading my first column, searching for a springboard, and I came upon the phrase “gateway drug of choice,” and I began to consider how exactly porn consumers find their way into the medium. And, honestly, I still think that it’s Playboy. Even with the preponderance of porn on the internet, as a brand and as an entity which dwells in the hearts and minds of young adolescents, Playboy is bigger than Penthouse or Vivid or Wicked. And since most guy’s dads still hide a couple of issues in the garage, it continues to reek of the nectar of forbidden fruit. Plus, if you get caught with Playboy, you might get rapped on the knuckles. If you’re caught with hardcore porn, you’re grounded. So it’s dangerous, but not TOO dangerous. At least that was my initial impression. To challenge it, I picked up the latest issue and looked into the recent history of the company.

Playboy does find itself at an interesting crossroads. With more and more specialized porn available online, Playboy’s newsstand numbers aren’t where they were years ago. It seems that they are trying to continue to cast themselves as the highest-end “girl next door” light erotica available, which to the people in charge means showcasing mostly healthy-looking blondes with obvious enhanced and airbrushed features. Also, with the explosion of “lad’s mags” such as Maxim, young starlets looking to up their exposure have more choices which don’t involve taking off ALL their clothes, just some. So the days of a Kim Basinger or a Shannon Elizabeth making herself available for a pictorial might well be at an end, leaving the bunny with C-list reality stars and aging divas looking for a last payday. They put Jessica Alba on a cover in 2006, clearly looking to spike their sales, but Alba was not featured in a pictorial inside. This only incensed Miss Alba as well as the idiots who bought the magazine thinking they’d get to see her in the buff. Regardless, Playboy is one of the rare magazines that isn’t just about the content of a particular issue, it’s both a world-recognized brand and, especially if you listen to Hugh Hefner, a lifestyle.

With the February 2007 issue, Playboy actually does one right by scoring a pictorial from the beautiful Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica fame. To complete their nudity quotient they feature pictures of Air Force drill sergeant Michelle Manheart and February Playmate Heather Rene Smith, a pretty blonde girl who looks a lot like 8-10 other Playmates who will follow in the coming months. Playboy is often accused of being politically knee-jerk liberal, and this is best displayed in their Forum section, sort of a collection of political watchdog features showcasing the evils of the Right (this issue takes the FCC to task, which is appropriate, and lists a gaggle of Republican wrongdoers, which is boring).

One thing Playboy has always done well is the interview. This issue features Simon Cowell as subject of the always-excellent long-form iterrogation, but Family Guy fans will also appreciate a piece about Seth MacFarlane. Happily, the shorter “20 Questions” scores a rare interview with former Playmate, current recluse and decades-long crush object Bettie Page (and the reason I’ll be able to justify buying the magazine to my girlfriend). There’s also an in-depth piece on spermatozoa (the first in a series on male sexuality) and a series of short essays on lost love (particularly good is a piece by Gary Shteyngart).

As in any men’s magazine, you find pieces about clothes and gadgets and how to seduce whatever woman you want to seduce, many of these entrenched within content spent promoting Playboy and those associated with it. And that brings me to the conclusion I’ve reached, which is that there’s still some strong content in Playboy, though I would certainly expand the offerings on tap photographically were I in charge. If this magazine wants to continue to be in the forefront of a crowded men’s interest field, it simply needs to provide that strong content yet never, ever pat itself on the back for it. When you’re the industry leader, you show it with swagger, not boasts, and it seems Playboy goes with the boasting more often than it should.

After years of avoiding hard core pornography (leaving that mostly to Penthouse and Hustler), Playboy is moving more quickly into that field by purchasing Club Jenna, the company founded by arguably the most recognizable porn face in the world, Jenna Jameson. Although the powers that be can choose to run Playboy and Club Jenna as distinct and separate entities, it should be interesting to see how their co-existence might affect both companies over the long haul. Will Playboy clean up Club Jenna, or will Club Jenna make Playboy more hard core?

I'd bet on the latter.

P-P-P-Porn? Number One: http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=1989

Mr. Morton may be reached by writing to LPeteMorton at Gmail.com. Personal response is not guaranteed unless you gots some scoop.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2068
originally posted: 02/08/07 12:24:09
last updated: 02/08/07 12:27:47
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