(3 of 11)
Just Accessories. In both his magazine and its allied enterprises, Hugh Hefner is a prophet of pop hedonism. He instinctively realized what sociologists had been saying for years—that the puritan ethic was dying, that pleasure and leisure were becoming positive and universally adored values in American society. As Psychiatrist Rollo May has pointed out, a new puritanism has developed, a feeling that enjoyment is imperative, that to live the full, uninhibited life (in sex as in other areas) is everyone's duty.
Hefner is clearly a new-style puritan, but in many ways he is an old-style one as well. He works to spread the gospel of pleasure with a dogged devotion that would do credit to any God-driven missionary or work-driven millionaire. How much real pleasure his Chicago pleasure dome holds for Hefner is a question his friends and associates sometimes wonder about. There is even something slightly puritanical about the magazine itself. Says Harvard Theologian Harvey Cox: "Playboy is basically antisexual. Like the sports car, liquor and hifi, girls are just another Playboy accessory."
Unlike the other accessories, Playboy's girls are out of reach—real in the imagination only. Shapes in the pictures all have an implausible gloss, achieved by lights that flatter and airbrushes that remove blemishes, but most of all by a mind convinced that to be real would not be ideal—and probably obscene. In their creamy perfection, their lack of any natural disorder, their stilted poses and expressionless faces, they recall nothing so much as the ivory-skinned, perfectionist nudes of Victorian and classical painters, of Ingres, Boucher, and David—the paintings that Grandfather used to steal a glance at on his first trip to Europe.
Beyond Parody. The magazine girls have their living counterparts in the Playboy Club bunnies—700 round little girls in glorified corsets that push their bosoms out, cinch their waists in, run to a sharp V in front and feature a cottontail in the rear. The bunnies also seem unreal (one cynic suggested they are made of plastic), but they are provocative enough for the management to pass a rule against dating the customers. The rule might not be necessary. As the manager of the London Playboy Club, who obviously knows his customers, says: "The basic conventioneer doesn't want to go to bed. He just wants to gawk."
In designing and running the Playboy Clubs, Hugh Hefner has effortlessly soared beyond parody or spoof. No satirist could improve on the thick bunny manual, which commands her, among other things, to remember "your proudest possession is your bunny tail. You must make sure it is always white and fluffy." If it is not, she gets five demerits.