20 June 2009

Non-Nude Playboy

So. Olivia Munn, one of the hosts of G4's Attack of the Show and generally considered my gamer geeks across the world as a numero uno piece of fapping material*, is appearing in Playboy. She's done it before, but now she's the cover model.


Good for her, I say. She's funny and bright, at least based on the bits of her show that I've seen, and over the past couple of years has leveraged her obvious good looks into a kind of cult sex-symboldom, appearing in numerous sexy magazine shoots just like any other celebrity-model would. Appearing nude in Playboy isn't exactly the kind of career-changing scandal that it was when Drew Barrymore showed she wasn't a kid anymore in 1995, but it certainly gives her fans a little of what they want and shows that Munn's willing to treat her fans like adults who can take her seriously (or, at least as seriously as AOTS deserves) even after they've seen her areolae.

Except that Munn won't be appearing nude. She'll be in the red bikini you see above, covering all that naughty naughty nipple-flesh, and basically showing no more skin than you'd see in an issue of Maxim. Maybe Munn is uncomfortable showing her ta-tas, or has some moral issue with it. Maybe she (or her publicists) have decided that it's better for her career to never appear nude, to give her fanbase yet another tease when they were hoping for full nudity. Whatever the reason, I personally don't really give a shit -- Munn isn't a celebrity crush of mine, and since I have access to this little thing called the Internet, I can see all the boobies I could ever want, free of charge.

No, I'm more interested in what this means for the future of Playboy. Say what you will about the magazine, about its history or its current incarnation, but Hefner's creation was revolutionary when it appeared in 1953. Even if you feel that pornography of any kind harms women or society in general, the very existence of high-gloss quality nudity like Playboy, with the social acceptance that Hefner fought for over the decades, helped to make it possible for modern-day depictions of sex and sensuality to be much more free than those of decades past. Do you really think it would be possible to hand out pamphlets depicting realistic images of home mammograms, for instance, without Playboy or something similar paving the way? I doubt it.

So for five decades or so Playboy was the place you went for celebrity nudes. Drew Barrymore, the little darling girl from E.T., appeared nude in the magazine and proved that she wasn't a little girl anymore. Barrymore launched her adult career, fans of attractive celebrities got their rocks off, and pretty much everyone involved made money hand over fist. (No pun intended.) Seeing a celebrity on the cover of Hefner's magazine was a guarantee that you'd get to see that chick nekkid, tastefully so and with a healthy dollop of wholesome that you didn't get in the magazine's more hardcore competitors (Penthouse, Hustler). But the nudity kept it a slice above such "lad-mags" as Maxim -- a magazine accessible enough to have jewelry sold at Hot Topic, but "dirty" enough to be sold in a package with a black plastic wrapper.

So the news that Munn's Playboy appearance is being hyped on her TV show and on the celebrity blogs, but without any nudity, signals a bit of a sea change in the magazine's operation. Playboy has been suffering the last decade or so from the easy access to pornography provided by the Internet -- they've been battling falling sales numbers with the Girls Next Door reality show and significant branding. In the era of Kendra, Playboy isn't so much a dirty magazine as a place for goofy blonde celebriboobs to jiggle.

I've long felt that Playboy's future would look a lot like Andrew Blake or Kink.com, that pressure from the net would force the publication to do hardcore material, but material with a high-gloss sheen and with that fun girl-next-door perspective it's always offered. Instead it looks like the runners of the magazine have decided to go more for Maxim with a pedigree. Which is fine for them, I suppose -- I'm sure the editorial staff of the magazine and the beancounters in the home office have a lot more data to judge the future direction of Playboy than some dude in Kalamazoo. But it's a shame to me that a name that used to stand for the kind of quality product is now making moves to a watered-down future irrelevance.

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