Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America

Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America

Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America

Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America

Synopsis

Playboy was more than a magazine filled with pictures of nude women and advice on how to mix the perfect martini. Indeed, the magazine's vision of sexual liberation, high living, and "the good life" came to define mainstream images of postwar life. In exploring the history of America's most widely read and influential men's magazine, Elizabeth Fraterrigo hones in on the values, style, and gender formulations put forth in its pages and how they gained widespread currency in American culture. She shows that for Hugh Hefner, the "good life" meant the freedom to choose a lifestyle, and the one he promoted was the "playboy life," in which expensive goods and sexually available women were plentiful, obligations were few, and if one worked hard enough, one could enjoy abundant leisure and consumption. In support of this view, Playboy attacked early marriage, traditional gender arrangements, and sanctions against premarital sex, challenging the conservatism of family-centered postwar society. And despite the magazine's ups and downs, significant features of this "playboy life" have become engrained in American society.

Excerpt

In the early 1960s, a journalist reported on the growing number of “girly” magazines “entrapping young American men in a Never-Never Land, where bachelorhood is a desired state and bikini-clad girls are overdressed, where life is a series of dubious sex thrills, where there’s a foreign sports car in every garage, a hi-fiset in every living room, and ‘Home Sweet Home’ is a penthouse pad.” Playboy stood as her quintessential example. Launched by Hugh M. Hefner in 1953, Playboy promoted an image of the young, affluent, urban bachelor—a man in pursuit of temporary female companionship and a good time, without the customary obligations of marriage or fatherhood. and by the end of the decade, the urbane world of glamorous living and sexual excitement presented in its pages was glimpsed by some one million readers each month. Playboy and the values it represented garnered significant attention. Competitors tried to duplicate the magazine’s winning formula. Advertisers targeted acquisitive, aspiring young playboys, showcasing the profusion of fine things money could buy. Stylish, sexually magnetic bachelors loomed larger than life in motion pictures. Supporters praised the magazine’s celebration of the libertine spirit, while detractors condemned it for the nudity and freewheeling lack of commitment promoted in its pages. Fans and critics alike recognized the challenge to traditional morality and family life posed by Playboy’s brand of good living.

At the outset, Hefner assumed a modest role for his magazine, promising to stress entertainment over serious social or political matters. “We don’t expect to solve any world problems or prove any great moral truths,” he wrote in his opening editorial. “If we are able to give the American male a few extra laughs and a little diversion from the anxieties of the Atomic Age, we’ll feel we’ve justified our existence.” Despite this proposal for lighthearted fun in a publication he subtitled “entertainment for men,” Hefner’s magazine took on far greater importance as it set about redefining the good life for Americans in the decades after the Second World War. Its sexual content and glamorous depictions of bachelorhood made it roguish for the 1950s, but in its heyday, Playboy was more . . .

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