With the passing yesterday of Hugh Hefner
, I offer my column of May 2006
, celebrating his 80th birthday. RIP.
Ner's One-Time RevolutionIn honor of Hugh Hefner's 80th birthday the other day, I went out and bought a copy of Playboy magazine. This was, to the very best of my recollection, the first Playboy I have ever bought. I was interested to note that my suburban newsagent, without being asked, put it in a brown paper bag for me.Not that I have been unacquainted with the magazine. At various times since the late 1960s I have read copies that were being passed around by guys I knew, or that I found in club common rooms and the like. I was once stuck penniless and unemployed in a travelers' hostel in the Far East with nothing but a stack of old Playboys for company. I'm pretty familiar with the thing. My not having bought it before isn't due to any kind of distaste, nor to any particular point of principle — against the objectification of women's bodies, for example. So far as all that is concerned, I'm a pure libertarian. Playboy isn't even an exceptionally pricey publication (currently $5.99), and anyway I have at various points in my life been quite prosperous, so the expense wouldn't have been an obstacle.It's just that Playboy isn't my kind of magazine. I hadn't bought it until last week for the same reason I have never bought a copy of MotorcycleWorld or BirdWatcher's Digest. I know enough about Playboy to know that it's not just a skin mag, it's a package — according to its founder, indeed, it's a philosophy. The package is targeted at boulevardiers, at bon vivants, at connoisseurs and gourmets (what a need we seem to have for French words in this zone!) or — much more often, I am sure — at those who would like to imagine themselves as such. It's for guys who think about appearance and style a lot — having the right car, the right clothes, the right aftershave, the right gadgets, the right level of interest in sports. That kind of guy. And I'm just not that kind of guy. That's all.The late Bernard Levin once wrote about walking with a couple of books under his arm along a street in London's Soho, back in the days when Soho was a red light district, in which streetwalkers actually walked the streets, or more commonly stood around on the streets sizing up passers-by as possible business prospects. Passing two such, Levin overheard one of them say: "Not that one. Look, he's got books." Now, I'm not going to argue the relative merits of books against the kinds of pleasures advertised in Playboy (which, to be fair, includes a page of book mini-reviews), but it's a plain fact that there isn't much of an intersection between boulvardiers and littérateurs — between guys who care enough about sports cars, designer socks, brands of vodka, and nude women to shell out $5.99 and some corresponding amount of reading time on them, and guys who, as some Anglican bishop is supposed to have said, would rather curl up in bed with a nice Trollope. [More]