It’s difficult to say there’s some kind of silver lining to COVID-19, but you can find one if you try.
On one side, you see the usual sunbeams of humanity that occur in a crisis when peoples’ sympathetic nervous systems grind to a halt and they stop panic-buying more Charmin than they’ll ever use.
Then there are the silver linings which, to enjoy them properly, require a bit of schadenfreude. On that end, we’re pleased to report that Playboy’s print edition has officially been offed by the coronavirus.
According to CBS News, the 66-year-old magazine was going to stop publication anyway, but Playboy Enterprises CEO Ben Kohn decided to hasten the decision “as the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic to content production and the supply chain became clearer and clearer.”
In a Medium post published Wednesday, Kohn said that the company had “decided that our Spring 2020 Issue, which arrives on U.S. newsstands and as a digital download this week, will be our final printed publication for the year in the U.S. We will move to a digital-first publishing schedule for all of our content including the Playboy Interview, 20Q, the Playboy Advisor and of course our Playmate pictorials.”
The only bleak side, really, is that you have to read Mr. Kohn write sentences like this about the magazine’s legacy: “Throughout the past sixty-six years, one thing has remained constant: our commitment to free expression and breaking taboos, leaning into discomfort, helping audiences express and understand their sexuality, and advocating for the pursuit of pleasure for all.”
This is the party line Hugh Hefner and his acolytes constantly use to explain themselves.
It’s Playboy’s ridiculous origin story: Before the magazine came along in 1953, it goes, none of us derived any pleasure from sexuality. My word, what a chore the opposite sex was. You had to woo them, and for what?
None of us were attracted to each other by any sort of biological drive.
No, nothing like that — the whole thing was a culturally mandated millstone. Once ensnared in that dastardly ritual of pairing called marriage, we went on a honeymoon to play chess, or whatever.
Then we decided we had to procreate because, hey, I guess the species needs to survive. So we asked one of our religious elders how we went about that sort of thing and he told us the whole abhorrent process.
So, feeling nauseous, we went home, closed our eyes and thought of England (or America, or whatever sovereign nation state we were in).
Then, a family arrived. Poof! Now we had a lot of dreary responsibility until the next time we had to get on with furthering the human race.
Then came swingin’ Hef in 1953. With his pipe and his bathrobe, he burst on the scene telling us: “Psst! Good news, cats. This all doesn’t have to be boring! Also, you don’t have to be dragged down by all of that cultural nonsense that’s developed over the past few millennia! Just, you know, feel free, be groovy and don’t get hung up.”
And thus did the sexual revolution begin and nothing bad ever came of it. Great times were had by all. The end.
No. That’s not how it worked.
As a people, we knew perfectly well what sex was, thank you.
We knew not only that there was a time and a place for it — and hopefully we knew that time and place was within the bounds of wedlock — we were much more than willing to make time and have a place for it.
Playboy needn’t have relayed that information to anyone.
What Playboy did, instead, was to mainstream pornography under the aegis of it being a lifestyle — a lifestyle which removed emotion and love from human sexuality and instead packaged it as nothing more than an animal reaction to indulge in.
But not just that.
If you subscribed to Playboy at the beginning, you weren’t just lusting after airbrushed women on a page while you sat idly in the same home you had before you subscribed to Playboy.
You weren’t just looking at stuff that heretofore would have been sold in dingy underground shops by men in stained raincoats. No, this was high-class, glossy entertainment interspersed with interviews, recommendations on jazz and suggestions for the perfect bachelor pad. You were hip. With it. You “read it for the articles,” tee hee.
What Playboy mainstreamed quickly morphed into the adult film industry — which could still market itself as a lifestyle thing, this one immersed in the moral (or rather, amoral) atmosphere of the 1970s.
“Deep Throat,” after all, became the name of the most famous whistleblower in American history.
As the Times of London noted, even Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis went to see the movie and, depressingly, more people in a 1985 poll recognized the name of “Deep Throat” star Linda Lovelace than they did the name Henry Kissinger.
It was more difficult to call what sprang from that a “lifestyle” unless you embraced rank dissolution as a “lifestyle.”
Even before internet smut took off in the 1990s, you had effluence like Hustler and the low-rent stuff your video store used to keep behind a curtain.
However, there’s still a direct concatenation of events that links Playboy to the porn of today, a tawdry drug in which desperate, joyless individuals engage in dreary, mechanical acts so that people (mostly men) across the world don’t have to acknowledge — or even find — their partner.
No liberation has been bequeathed upon us by Playboy.
Instead, its legacy will be a corporatized behemoth of adult “entertainment” which has inured us to actual romance and intimacy while creating all sorts of egregious externalities.
Thanks to big smut, we now live in a world where almost 90 percent of boys and 60 percent of girls are exposed to pornography before they reach 18.
I could rattle these figures and facts off all day.
I won’t because you already know this — because you know people whose lives and relationships have been profoundly affected by pornography, almost without fail for the worse. You may be one of them.
Playboy was always a product by the man in the dirty raincoat.
It just dressed itself up to make itself presentable to a society that knew the dangers of pornography. Now the product is so pervasive that Playboy’s progeny don’t even have to undertake that ruse.
While the coronavirus finally killed the print version of Playboy off, it was those less circumspect progeny that helped mortally weaken it.
The magazine was losing $5 million a year, according to the New York Post. Why buy a magazine when you can get the same product for free online, after all?
Celebrating the passing of Playboy magazine during the coronavirus outbreak is a bit like being the condemned prisoners at the end of “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” all singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Indeed, as Playboy was making news by sputtering to a halt, its spiritual successor — moral cesspool PornHub — was also in the headlines, offering free premium membership to beleaguered Italians to “help keep you company during these next weeks at home.”
The idea that digital smut now counts as a form of “company” is a sign that our inward pathogens have been incubating for a lot longer than this outward pathogen has.
And the company itself will live on, of course.
“Right now, the Playboy brand is more successful than ever before,” Kohn wrote in his farewell letter to the print edition.
“Our audience is massive. We drive over $3 billion in annual consumer spend worldwide. We reach hundreds of millions of eyeballs every year, across all genders. This past year, our focus has been on meeting audiences where they are. We gained over 4 million new Instagram followers and saw over 50% growth in engagement on our social channels in the past 6 months, grew our digital video subscriptions by almost 30% year-over-year and acquired a direct-to-consumer commerce operation that serves almost 1M active customers every month.”
There’ll be plenty of web content from Playboy, and that sleazy bunny logo will doubtlessly grace plenty of apparel and other licensed goods.
However, the passing of the print edition allows us to look back at where the magazine has taken us. We’re at the dead end of the primrose path where “the pursuit of pleasure for all” hath led.
As you look up at us, Hef, do you think it was all worth it?
Do you think there’s any nadir that smut has yet to sink to? Any aspect of human intimacy the pornographic medium can further despoil?
So, yes, as I’m locked down at home watching the news scroll by, I’ll allow myself a bit of schadenfreude as Playboy passes into history.
Don’t sell any copies of the last print edition, I say. Haul the glossy rot into a deep, dark catacomb, stack all the rags all next to a cask of amontillado and immure them all behind a wall of bricks.
Were it all to have stayed there to begin with.
In pace requiescat, Playboy!
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.