The Wages of Pretension

Via Isaac Chotiner an interestingly contrarian Jon Zobenica essay in The Atlantic about Playboy. Zobenica’s article is very, very funny so I’d advise you to read it. The argument, however, can be boiled down pretty quickly. He concedes that it’s easy to follow John Leland’s path and basically mock Playboy for its pretensions:

In the first issue of Playboy magazine, published in December 1953, Hugh M. Hefner wrote an essay speaking for its envisioned readers: ‘’We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.’’ On first blush his commercial strategy here seemed straightforward: Men who make a habit of inviting female acquaintances in to talk Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz and sex will have a lot of free nights for reading Playboy magazine. Empires have been built on lesser principles.

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This is fairly silly stuff, Zobenica concedes, but doesn’t it actually look pretty good when compared to what you might find in an issue of a present-day lad mag like FHM? There does seem to be a qualitative difference between a slightly silly fantasy about inviting female acquaintances in to talk Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, and sex and a fantasy about a woman sitting in a plastic tub and covering herself with ice cream toppings. I’m not sure Zobenica’s right at the end of the day — there’s something to be said for not gussying up your photos of scantily clad women as more than it is — but it’s a perspective worth considering.