Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

I can't say that I'm surprised Playboy has decided to stop publishing pictures of naked women. On the contrary, I was amazed to learn that it still does. What on earth is the point of a nudie magazine in an era when pornography of every conceivable kind is available at the click of a mouse?

Hugh Hefner, the magazine's 89-year-old founder, has always strongly objected to the word 'porno-graphy' -- he prefers 'erotica', obviously -- and, to be fair, he did manage to position Playboy as more upmarket than rivals such as Penthouse and Hustler . In its heyday, it included interviews with the likes of Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter and could afford to pay proper writers such as Norman Mailer and Martin Amis to contribute. I've even taken Hef's shilling myself.

But will this sophisticated gloss be enough to sustain the brand after the famous pictorials have been junked? The 'new' Playboy will only include photographs that can be categorised as 'PG-13', suitable for those aged 13 and above. And by 'suitable', I mean considered appropriate by the mothers of 13-year-old boys, not the boys themselves.

My cynical view is that Playboy 's patina of seriousness was just a fig leaf, a way of enabling men to conceal their true motives for subscribing -- 'I just buy it for the articles.' Whether they were deceiving their partners or themselves is a moot point, but it's hard to imagine anyone buying Playboy for these psychological prophylactics alone. The equivalent, I suppose, would be if Marlboro stopped making cigarettes and tried to reinvent itself as a company that sold cowboy outfits.

Playboy 's other excuse was that it was advancing the cause of sexual liberation -- curing America of the neurotic illnesses caused by sexual repression. Its pictorials were dressed up with words such as 'uninhibited' and 'frank' and the girls presented as wholesome outdoor types -- pillars of sanity. Whether gazing at pictures of naked women does improve your mental health is debatable, but if Playboy 's aim was to destroy the taboo around female nudity it has succeeded like gangbusters. Today, you cannot leave your house without seeing naked women on billboards, posters, magazine covers, not to mention the internet. …

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