Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Friday, March 31, 2006

I've never read Playboy

even for the articles, so this New Yorker review of "The Playmate Book: Six Decades of Centerfolds" is quite educational.
I especially like these paragraphs -
Today or, actually, by the eighties - one wonders whether sex, as it is experienced by human beings, is still the point. The current centerfolds, buck naked though they may be, communicate almost no suggestion of anything. In Playboy pinups, one is not looking for the note of the divine that one finds in the Venuses of ancient statuary, let alone for the pathos of Rembrandt's nudes. Nor should one ask for naturalness - a real-looking girl. That is a sentimental preference, and one that many great nudes (Ingres's, Degas's) can refute. But what is so bewildering about the later Playboy centerfolds is their utter texturelessness: their lack of any question, any traction, any grain of sand from which the sexual imagination could make a pearl. Kenneth Clark, in his classic book "The Nude" (1956), repeatedly compares a period's nudes to its architecture. The Playmates of the past few decades look to me like the "cereal box" buildings that went up on Sixth Avenue in the sixties, those cold, shiny structures, with no niches, no insets´┐Żno doors, it seemed. Likewise, the current Playmates seem to have no point of entry. And wasn't entry the idea?
Perhaps, despite the continuing girl-next-door protestations, the very remoteness of these women is their attraction. Clark, in his book, speaks of the "smoothed-out form and waxen surface" of the academic nudes of the nineteenth century. Hefner's latter-day nudes have the same look: the skin like polished armor (and it is polished - a side photo of Miss June 1981 shows her getting her hip sprayed with Formula 409); the golden light; the velvet thickness of the paper. This is not so much sex, or a woman, as something more like a well-buffed Maserati.

Is this evidence that the feminist project has succeeded? Or that feminism has truly been thwarted and has failed, now that feminine sexuality is protrayed as a glossy silicone monotony?

Should we be disgusted that Playboy is the best selling magazine in the US? Should I still be disgusted that a friend of mine had a Playboy in her bag at my birthday party a few years ago and took it out and several other girls joined her in giggling at the naked women and saying they were "hot"? Before, I, in my prudishness, asked her to put it away.
I am reminded of one of the women Ariel Levy interviewed in her book "Female Chauvinist Pigs" - she described how she loved porn and strip clubs becuase of the bored look on the women's faces as they performed.
I've never read Playboy - but I would much rather the innocent sensuality of the 1950s to the plastic and dehumanised pictures that represent "liberated" modern day female sexuality. There's nothing liberating about becoming half silicone to appear sexually aggressive and easy, cheapening sexuality to transactions of power and economics - is this the feminist dream of androgynous sexuality?
The intensely personal has become the public and the intimate has become the inanimate. I just don't think that's "hot" or "sexy".



Blogger Bernie said...

You'll see more from the Playboy press throughout the summer holiday reading season because on Hugh Hefner's 80th birthday, he wants to stamp his legacy into the print world--the one without a big emphasis on the pictures. Both the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal got caught up in the media feeding frenzy the week before Hefner's 80th party.

April 01, 2006 11:33 p.m.  

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