Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Playboy - a resurrection

Playboy - a possible resurrection
In early nineties, a friend of mine from high school days visited me at Chennai. He was in the US for higher studies, and was travelling to India on a short break. Apart from a brand new Panasonic Walkman, he also happened to bring along with him a few old copies of Playboy, hidden deep under layers of clothing in his suitcase, covered in brown paper (making it look almost like a packet of hardcore narcotics).He was very proud that he had made it passed Customs in both countries. We waited for everyone to go to bed before his slipped the packet into my hands. Guilt ridden, in mellowed lighting, cuddled on the floor, I opened that packet with trepidation and trembling hands. The excitement in my eyes, I am sure, would have been palpable for anyone to see. Holding the famed Playboy in my hands was almost a dream come true. At near about twenty years of age; testosterone rapidly coursing through one’s veins, this magazine represented the consummation of all the female fantasies that run riot in a young male brain. Those glossy pages of female anatomy glittering sensually, photographed to perfection, unconditionally revealing secrets - were taboo in a cloistered society. It was as ecstatic liberation that burst through all emotional boundaries, not to mention physical. He had bought three copies, old ones- he could find in second hand stores. But that was enough. For days and months, those pages held me in thrall. Interestingly, I don’t remember hardly ever reading anything from it. It was its visual stimulus which dominated my being.
It was nearly a year after, when the rush of promiscuous passion had passed, that I remember picking up one of the issues to actually leaf through its written content. It was a 1991 copy (I forget the exact month). To my surprise, I realized that there was quite a bit of reading material in there. The editorial was lengthy and polished. It talked about the urbane Male and his intellectual proclivities. Lots of interviews, satires and comical pieces. A section was devoted to literature. There was a retrospective on Norman mailer (whom I came across for the first time) and Gabriel Marquez, who had written a short story for Playboy in 1971. It also featured a full length story by Margaret Atwood (a writer who still remains on top my all-time greats).In fact, the number of written pages in playboy was significantly more than the provocative pictures which held my sway for so long, and with absolutely minimal advertisements. Given my taste for written word, I was pleasantly surprised that within the covers of “Girlie” magazine (that’s how Playboy was cast in our minds then), so many different topics unrelated to provocative pictures were discussed in great detail. Now that my burning desire for sexual titillation was fulfilled and out of the way, I found myself actually “reading” playboy more and more. Now that was a complete reversal of my original intentions. Don’t get me wrong here. I didn’t turn into a chaste saint overnight. All that I am saying is that Playboy revealed itself more of a great intellectual tradition than anything else, and the women in them, obviously was just one strand in a broader mental landscape the magazine wished to cover. Unfortunately, in the 90’s, despite the economic liberalization, such magazine was still difficult to come by in India, and not many friends visiting from US to keep stocks replenished. So those three copies were all I had for quite some time. There were, of course, cheap imitations in India of Playboy, but none came even close to its class and quality. Probably, the only exception was Debonair, which for some time did carry decent reading material. But it couldn’t sustain that pitch for long. So for many years, I kept revisiting those three copies of Playboy. As pictures grew more and more stale (as it always happens), the reading material in there seemed to blossom into greater understanding and appreciation within me.
A few years ago, I got hold of a book which contained a collection of essays, interviews, cartoons, political satires, social comments and boo reviews featured in Playboy from 1960 onwards. What an intellectual feast? For sixty odd years, a parade of Intellectual giants have contributed to this revolutionary magazine. It cuts across genders. To call it the voice of the archetypal male is a fallacy that can be committed by those who haven’t had the chance to look at it in better detail. It was a Golden era when even a Magazine projected the most beautiful Nude pictures would also have so many thinking minds writings for it. The difference in even more glaring when we contrast in to the abysmal depths today’s brand of magazines has fallen into. Even the likes of Economist, Journal of Foreign affairs or National Geographic have hardly anything really worth reading these days -splashed as they were with advertisements and endorsements.
Anyway, the point of this essay is Hugh Hefner, the Man behind Playboy and the proverbial young man well in his eighties, has decided that Playboy would stop publishing fully nude pics, and try and regain some of the charm that it had during its glory days when it sought to educate the urban male. It would still continue publishing those ravishing pics, but a mellowed version to suit current times. Nudity on paper is not more a selling point. The Magazine circulations has dropped from Millions to thousands, and competing with online media will not be the brightest of ideas. The CEO put it rather beautifully and bluntly when he said “The battle has been fought and won”. What he meant was the sexual revolution that Magazine pioneered has been fought and won. Now with internet porn and digital photos a click away, it doesn’t make sense to invest time and money publishing nudity it in print. For a generation of Americans in from the fifties to eighties, reading playboy was a cultural initiation. From the 1953 cover girl Marilyn Monroe till date, it continues to feature some of the finest looking ladies in the showbiz Industry. Many actresses aspired to become Playboy models for the sheer visibility it offered, and equally so -many aspiring writers sought to gain space within its hallowed covers to reach their reading public. Ian Fleming, Marukami, Margaret Atwood, Martin Luther King Jr, Nabokov, Jimmy carter - all of them and many more have featured in either short stores or interviews. Never before and never after will a magazine ever hold such a sway and iconic status over men and women. The symbol of Bunny rabbit is recognizable throughout the globe, and its very presence on a piece of merchandizes evokes a range of emotions ranging from the perverse to the most sublime. I wonder, how many logos can ever do that?
True to the acumen of Hefner, he chooses not to compete for digital space, like many of his competitors did and failed. If he can stir the magazine back to its state of intellectual vibrancy, then it would be a battle won all over again. I for one, am looking forward to its new avatar.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala




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