Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Whatever Happened to the Playboy Club?

Once seen as a permanent part of the landscape, the Playboy empire all but disappeared. Why?

There is a scene in the James Bond Movie, Diamonds are Forever, where Bond kills smuggler Peter Franks in a spectacular elevator fight scene.  Bond then assumes his identity by switching wallets.  Tiffany Case pulls out "Bond's" wallet from Franks' dead body to reveal a Playboy Club card with the name "James Bond" on it.  "You killed James Bond!" she exclaims.

Today, the Playboy Club or its successor would have paid a million dollars for that product placement. Back then, we were more naive. I suspect Cubby Broccoli thought the Playboy Club was doing him a favor by letting him use their trademarks in the movie.  Maybe he got a free lap dance out of the deal, I don't know.  But it does illustrate how product placement is used to enhance a brand.  After all, if suave James Bond goes to the Playboy Club, it has to be pretty swank.

And back then, Playboy seemed like an institution, even though it had been around for little more than a decade.  From "pornographer" to sophisticate, Huge Hefner had his own Playboy Mansion (hosting parties with Hollywood celebrities every night, it seemed) and his own 727 painted jet black with the ubiquitous bunny logo on the tail. And then there was the string of Playboy Clubs, spanning the globe.

Oh, and a magazine, too.  Great articles!

Speaking of articles and product placement, the Playboy magazine was hardly just pornography. Indeed, if you wanted pornography, there were better and more explicit sources to be had than Playboy, which - although daring when introduced - was considered lame and vanilla years later when the likes of Hustler came along.  Whatever happened to Hustler, too?

No, in addition to cheesecake pix, Playboy sold an entire lifestyle to men (and adolescent boys) - an instruction manual as to all the right accoutrements to have in your "bachelor pad" from the right stereo, to the correct furniture.  Everything from clothing (that turtleneck sweater and jacket with elbow pads), to what jazz to listen do (Brubeck, of course).  What wine to drink, what cigars to smoke, what car to dive - it was all there, just as Gay magazines today sell a manly lifestyle to men today.  Pretty much the same lifestyle - the pornography is just different.

So Playboy seemed part of the landscape, much like the shopping malls of the 1970s or rock and roll which "would never die" (it did).  Even Disco seemed like an eternal trend - with people lined up hoping to be allowed into the hallowed halls of the local discoth√®que,  But it all went away.

Some might try to claim that feminism and different social values killed off the Playboy Club.  Yet misogyny is at all-time-highs these days, and still - oh wait, the Playboy Club did reopen - briefly.  More than a decade after the last worldwide franchise closed its doors, they opened a "Playboy Club" in Las Vegas.  It wasn't quite the same as before, of course, but it seems in the interim we have normalized strip clubs and whatnot as a new norm.  The Playboy Club in Las Vegas closed in 2012.  None exist today.

So whatever the reason for the decline in the Playboy empire, it wasn't wokeism or feminism or any other -ism.  I suspect the reasons lie elsewhere.

The Internet, for example.  While back in the 1950's, a heavily airbrushed photo of Marilyn Monroe was considered the height or eroticism, today it is possible to download hours of bondage porn with the click of a mouse.  In terms of pornographic content, the Playboy magazine lost its raison d'√™tre.  And maybe that's why the other porn magazines, including Hustler and its more obscure ilk, Swank and Club and Juggs, all went away.  Porn magazines went away for the same reason print in general is dying - people get information from the internet, either from storied outlets or sketchy sources.

And as for articles, an in-depth interview with William F. Buckley, Jr. (who was not gay and donchuforgetit!) just doesn't resonate with people today.  That sort of content was picked up by non-porn magazines, such as Esquire, and later, GQ.  Even Rolling Stone is now seen as serious journalism these days.  So in terms of erudite content, Playboy lost even that.

But what about the product placements?  How will we ever know which stereo receiver to buy or what kind of tires to put on our SAAB?   Well, that sort of thing has been taken over by internet influencers, who are often more subtle about hawking products.  And as for product placement, well, every movie and television show prominently has the products on display, with the logos and labels squarely facing the camera, with the main character - for no reason at all - looking right into the camera lens and saying, "Gee, this Coca-Cola is refreshing!" before he goes back to killing the alien monster in the Explosion Movie.

Then there is Hef.  While he was lauded as a sophisticate early on, it seems in later years, we realized he was just kind of a jerk.  Not only that, but the whole concept of women as solely sex objects sort of became, well, odious.  Hef's own daughter took over the franchise and kept it going for quite a while, despite the strong headwinds in the business.  So women were clearly capable of more than being "bunnies" in their ridiculous costumes.  As Hef aged, his empire aged with him, and it pretty much died with him as well.  When the head of your empire is some scary octogenarian, it is hard to sell that as "sexy" anymore.

Of course, there are some who will point to the decline and fall of Playboy Enterprises as an example of how "Political Correctness" has once again destroyed an American Icon.  But given the plethora of generic strip clubs and whatnot across the nation (indeed, there is one in our tiny town), that argument is a bit of a stretch. Granted, these local strip clubs make less of a pretense of being "classy" like the Playboy club, and maybe that is the point.  It was no longer seen as "classy" to go to a "club" where women were objectified.  And if you want to go to a club where women are objectified, then why not cut to the chase and stop pretending to be James Bond, and just go to a strip club and see the real deal?

The Playboy Clubs are gone - along with the magazine, although a "digital" format has been launched in 2020 - but it is more like an Onlyfans page, than the magazine of  yore.

What's the point?

Well, I did have one.  At one time, not too long ago, we thought "Playboy" was part of the landscape - something that would be around forever.  But its heyday lasted maybe two decades and its lifetime maybe 50 years.  Now, to a 20-something, that sounds like a long time, but when you are over 60, it doesn't seem that long.  Things that we thought would last forever are not only diminished, but long gone, scrapped, crushed to dust, and evaporated even from the communal memory.

So, what's the point?

Only that what we see today as permanent or a trend could also disappear into the ether tomorrow.  Maybe not right away, but over time.  We worry about things that seem like intractable problems, but a few years later are hardly thought of.

What's more, the things we cherished will also go by the wayside.  Maybe no one weeps for shopping malls or Playboy magazine or Sears, Roebuck - which is why those things don't exist anymore. But things you do cherish or at least liked, may also go away and be replaced by new things that seem less desirable if not downright scary.

Be patient, these too, will go away.  Everything does - we all do as well!

So, goodbye Playboy - it was quite a run, but you aren't much missed in this modern world of ours.