William F. B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.
I've never recovered from the January 1975 edition of Playboy Magazine. I was 11, and right then and there, hypnotized by a young Barbi Benton, did I realize that I was hopelessly, desperately heterosexual.
I remember exactly where I was -- down the street from my parents' house, in my friend John's room, as he, his brother Rick and I ripped the magazine from one another's hands. "Give it, give it! When do I get to see?," we howled. It was around 3:12 in the afternoon. Maybe 3:13.
Such was the power of Playboy -- and Benton -- in January 1970.
Playboy announced this week that it will stop running photographs of women as a magnanimous God created them. Playboy models will now wear clothes, and post-pubescent boys will stop learning about Black Velvet Whiskey, filter-tipped Moore cigarettes and The Glenlivet, or whatever equivalent banner ads run today on Playboy.com.
Playboy, which first published in December 1953, was a phenomenon, even in the early '70s. It walked right up to the line of respectability, but never quite crossed it in my opinion. It divided feminists, who passionately argued whether appearing nude before millions was liberating or demeaning, and it coined the term "Gentleman's Magazine," though it was anything but. Yet everybody looked at Playboy or talked about it. Some actually read it.
Conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr. raised eyebrows when he agreed to be interviewed by the magazine in May 1970. When asked why a defender of traditional American culture would sit for a Playboy interview, he responded, "to communicate my views to my son."
In the end, it wasn't a change of heart that made Playboy throw in the towel, or throw on the towel, as it were, it was that the culture that once made Playboy titillating surrendered all boundaries. Playboy photo spreads are downright puritanical when compared with the ubiquitous, no-holds-barred pornography available on the Internet today. To survive, Playboy needed to cover up and expand into markets, like China, that don't allow online nudity.
That irony is for the ages.
I always felt a little "dirty" as a kid sneaking a look at a Playboy. How innocent, how almost wholesome, that sounds now.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.