Playboy without naked Playmates?! When I heard the news, what sprang to mind was planes without wings, the Beatles without John, a Cinnabon without the icing . . . and Gennifer Flowers, the alleged mistress of Bill Clinton, with no clothes on.
It wouldn't have shocked me to hear Playboy was going out of business, but the news that it will drop nude photos did. I haven't bought an issue in 25 years, nor do I ever see one in the homes of my single male friends, as I used to. It is no longer spread across the tables of seedy barber shops. I can't even bring to mind the last time I saw the iconic title in a store.
This is a big change from my adolescence in the late 1970s and early '80s, when Playboy was central to the socializing, fantasies and "education" of many young men. Playboy was the safe, classy porn boys could be comfortable with and yet still titillated by in a simpler age. Although, it probably wasn't a simpler age to women trying to support three kids by working three jobs, or gays and women fighting for equal rights. It was just a simpler age for middle-class straight male adolescents, pornographically speaking.
In 1983, my eighth-grade friends and I could have the whole texture of our week ripped wide open by catching a glimpse of a real live woman's accidentally exposed bra strap. Cable TV, particularly Showtime and Cinemax, had not yet become omnipresent soft-core porn presences. So there were Playboys filched from dads and older brothers, or bought at stores that didn't care how old we were. The women were beautiful -- mostly just lying around in lingerie. And that was safe.
On occasion, someone would have some of the rougher magazines, Penthouse or Hustler, or off-brand dirt with names like Swank or "(insert fetish here) Girls." And those were often more than a 12-year-old boy needed to see. Playboy was fine. It sold this callow vision of male adulthood in which you made money and had a great car and cool clothes and no feelings for other humans.
"Emotional attachments? Screw that! I want a Ferrari and a hot deaf mute chick whose turn-ons include me."
Playboy now seems so quaint. Hugh Hefner built a billion-dollar empire because he sold pictures of the prettiest nude women, and because he sold the idea we were becoming a cooler society in which it was OK to look at nude women, or be one. These weren't nameless vixens embarrassing their grandparents. It was iconic Marilyn Monroe, but also Kim Basinger and Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Somers and Nancy Sinatra. The women often didn't need the money. They just thought they looked great nude and wanted people to see.
I don't know whether there is anything in the world that could make an Internet-savvy teen feel today the way we felt upon opening up a new Playboy 30 years ago. The level of free, explicit and specific pornographic material out there just boggles the mind. There is so much that it makes you want to cancel the Internet connection and read a Playboy.
The magazine isn't going out of business. Playboy makes a ton of money in licensing and sees the publication as advertising. The change is being made because the nudes keep people who object away but aren't special enough to attract readers to the magazine. It will still have sexy clothed gals.
So yes, finally, people will be reading Playboy for the articles. In fact, a lot of people always did. It was always a good product. But I'm not sure what it says about our society when a business decides the market is so saturated with porn it has to switch tracks and focus on printing ideas.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.