Bachelors and Bunnies

Playboy_full Scott McLemee over at Inside Higher Ed:

How Playboy brought carnal and acquisitive desires into alignment is the central concern of [Carrie] Pitzulo’s study. She focuses on the magazine’s first two decades, from its debut in 1953 through a mutually polemical encounter with radical feminism in the early 1970s. In the uncorrected page proofs sent out to reviewers, she refers to the book a couple of times by the title For the Articles — a nod to the old joke explaining why one read Playboy. Presumably this was the title it bore when the project started out as a dissertation. (Pitzulo is now assistant professor of history at the University of West Georgia.) This has been corrected in the final version — and in any case, Bachelors and Bunnies is both a better title and more fitting, since its argument is that Playboy's agenda was, at heart, emancipatory for men and women alike.

As the magazine came on the scene in the 1950s, pundits were in the midst of brow-furrowing over a “crisis in masculinity.” Expansion of the professional-managerial class meant that there were more guys working at desks than ever. Women had increasing power in the marketplace, and lots of them were having careers. Some of the rough-hewn male virtues of yesteryear, such as indifference to fashion and a distaste for luxury, were becoming inappropriate in an affluent society. However suitable in the day of the covered wagon, they now slowed the wheels of commerce. “This translated into a cultural angst over the ability of middle-class men to maintain their traditional authority in the home, workplace, and world,” Pitzulo writes.

A new, alternative code of masculinity could be found in the pages of Playboy. It was completely urban and tended towards a sophistication verging on dandyism. While displaying an aversion toward being domesticated by women, it was unambiguously (even strenuously) heterosexual. A man had to know how to consume, and women were there for the consuming. You used the best available hi-fi to play the coolest possible jazz album for that secretary you met in the elevator; soon she would be wearing only a smile, just like this month’s centerfold.