Playboy magazine burst on the scene in 1953 with a nude centerfold of Marilyn Monroe. The 27-year-old starlet was just entering the peak of her career and helped propel the magazine into fame, and Hugh Hefner into immortality.
In an interview with the New York Post in 2010, Hefner said his magazine helped create a sexual revolution. He pointed to a cultural acceptance of sex and domestic partnerships outside of marriage, and the legality of birth control and abortion as innovations that Playboy had a role in.
It’s hard to deny. Reading Playboy was once deemed a cultural rite. For most of its existence, it was the introduction for many young men to the sight of naked women.
Playboy’s brand has now exceeded its magazine. Its name and logo are known worldwide.
But times are changing. Pornography is accessible with a single click of the mouse. No one needs Playboy to get their fix. And the social media platforms that deliver the most traffic for websites — Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — do not allow pornography.
As a result, its circulation has dropped from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000.
The origins of its undoing can possibly be traced back to 1985, when President Ronald Reagan commissioned a study pornography, led by Attorney General Edward Meese. A committee off 11 members produced a 1,960 page document — now known as the Meese Report — declaring that pornography has a harmful effect on public health. It also labeled Playboy as pornography, according to Hefner, which he said was a label the magazine was never able to shake.
Last week, Playboy finally conceded it had lost the battle that it helped create. Its chief content officer, Cory Jones, received the blessing of Hefner for Playboy to stop showing nude women beginning next spring. It will still feature women in “provocative poses.”
The move also mirrors the change they made on their website last year to no longer show naked women, which reportedly quadrupled its traffic, and dropped the average age of its reader from 47 to 30.
And think about it — when is the last time you saw somebody reading Playboy on the subway? Or the magazine featured on the stack at Walmart? It’s a move aimed at bringing the magazine into the 21st century.
Lost in Playboy’s main purpose of showing women in the nude is its history of investigative journalism, interviews with cultural icons, and guest pieces. It published stories by Margaret Atwood and Jack Kerouac, and its interviews have included Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter.
It’ll be interesting to see how Playboy’s readership changes from this point forward.
If it’s in a positive direction, perhaps it’ll start a trend. Sports Illustrated will stop writing about sports, Good Housekeeping won’t be about interior design, and TV Guide will ditch television.
And then maybe, the Weinblog will quit posting blogs, and simply just entertain everyone by posting a single emoji every day.