July 20, 2019

What's Going On at the Playboy Club?

“Almost exactly 56 years ago, Gloria Steinem published an investigative tell-all in Show magazine titled “A Bunny’s Tale.” She had applied for a job as a Playboy Bunny under the name Marie Catherine Ochs, chosen because it was “too square to be phony.” Whether it was the name that did it, or the fact that Gloria Steinem was hot as hell, she breezed through her job interview. Bunny Marie discovered the working conditions to be tedious, uncomfortable, insulting, and at times dangerous. Steinem’s article later went into her essay collection, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983), which sold half a million copies and canonized “A Bunny’s Tale” as a historic event—the day a Bunny spoke back.

I’m no Bunny. But there’s a lot of good advice in “A Bunny’s Tale” about how to conduct an investigation. When I learned late last year that the Playboy Club was reopening (the original New York outpost closed in 1986), it seemed a delicious opportunity to assess, by way of juxtaposition, the world we live in now. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died in 2017—may he rest in a heaven of baby oil and Viagra—and the version of femininity he espoused to such success (body meeting certain specifications, character docile) has taken a tumble down the stock market of cultural capital. The Playmate was this strange man’s invention, a girl, he said, with “no lace, no underwear, she is naked, well-washed with soap and water, and she is happy.”

Playboy still merchandises its iconic rabbit logo to clothing companies and other branding outlets, but the larger Playboy culture machine has ground to a halt. The mansion in Los Angeles has been sold off; the bunnies’ leporine reign is over. The company has switched direction, and the revamped print magazine—a thick, glossy dossier with tasteful nudity, an inclusive ethos, and no advertising—is no longer Playboy Enterprise’s best-known product.”

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