About 4 1/2 years ago, after inheriting it from my dead uncle, I schlepped four decades' worth of Playboy magazines into my parents' basement. I blogged about it, blurring the magazine and its semi-sophisticated aesthetic with my uncle's underachieving, too-brief life. The delicate dance of obsolescence and objectifying women came rushing back to context when The House That Hef Built turned a new leaf.
Earlier this year, "The 'Boy" underwent an overdue makeover. A lot of the magazine's decades-old fixtures were excised: the mostly unfunny, panel and page-size cartoons; the Party Jokes page behind the centerfold, featuring excerpts from the unpublished Unabashed Dictionary; the annoying "jump copy" that was standard in most monthly periodicals in the 1950s and '60s. (The back section that featured paparazzi photos and new gadgets was dropped about ten years ago.) Most crucially, however was the disappearance of full-frontal nudity; in a time and age where naked women can be easily accessed on the internet (and in most cases, for free) why spend five dollars to see three or four monthly pictorials?
That's not to say, however, that barely-dressed women have disappeared from Playboy altogether. The centerfold is still there, but the naughty bits are covered up in clever ways. There is a newfound, harder emphasis on fiction and journalism, and there's even a column from a feminist perspective. The Playboy lifestyle is still elite and debonair but far more enlightened. The goal is to compete with Esquire, not Maxim.
So where's ol' Hef in all of this? Still schlepping around, taking on possible roommates, and largely letting others take the rein of his creation. According to reports, Hugh Hefner was more than willing to drop the cartoons, but had to be persuaded to tweak his creation's most noted content. Even in old age, America's best-known pajama-clad party animal had fought tooth and nail to cantilever a mindset that withered away decades ago.
Change is inevitable, and with Playboy reinventing itself after six-plus decades of great prose, swingin' cocktails, and bogus boobies they might prove there is still life in the brand. Had my uncle lived to see this, I'm sure he would've been annoyed by the lack of full-frontal nudity but would have kept reading out of habit. For now, Playboy has taken a behindhand step forward, a curious but righteous leap into the 21st century.