This week, Playboy magazine announced that it will stop publishing nude photos. At first, this sounds like good news, right? Perhaps a surprising voice is speaking against a predatory culture that views women as objects.
But, in reality, the change at Playboy reflects a shift in our culture that isn’t good at all.
In an interview with The New York Times, Playboy’s CEO, Scott Flanders, said, “That battle [for mass access and consumption to porn] has been fought and won. You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so [nudity is] just passé at this juncture.”
And so, the magazine that “helped take sex in America from furtive to ubiquitous,” according to the Times, will pivot its pages toward less explicit images.
Does this mean the world’s most famous gentleman’s magazine is getting more gentlemanly? Not exactly. Playboy executives aren’t covering up in an attempt to curb the current rape culture on college campuses or anything like that. And this new strategy won’t change Playboy’s fundamental ethic in the least: Each issue will still feature scantily clad ladies in provocative poses; this new version will just be more “PG-13.” Dropping nudity is just brand positioning.
In its heyday, Playboy’s reach was insanely large. The Times report says in the ’70s, the magazine boasted a circulation of 5.6 million. And its best-selling issue (in 1972) sold more than 7 million copies. For context, only a few magazines claim those kinds of numbers today.
A writer over at GQ even says Playboy’s step away from printed nudity is long overdue. “I’m saying this because we live in a world where all the world’s porn is like three mouse clicks away, and most of it is totally free. In a world like that, Playboy is redundant at best and embarrassing at worst.”
That our Internet age is so saturated with sexualized, naked bodies that no one seems to care anymore shouldn’t really surprise anyone. A study last year by the Barna Group revealed some pretty insane information about the ubiquity of Internet porn use, even among Christians (and there are dozens of studies that have done the same). This particular research showed that around 64 percent of men in the U.S. view pornography at least once a month—and the same number held for Christian men. There are also a lot of men looking at pornography on a daily basis. Among the younger demographic (18 to 30), almost 30 percent view porn daily.
For Playboy—which, by most measures, is one of the most recognizable brands in the world—the proverbial student became the master: The market it created is now consuming it.
The now-never-nude magazine continues an evolution started last year. Already, the magazine made some content “safe for work” in order to make it on social media platforms. Then, in August 2015, the company stopped showing nudity on its website. The Times cites Playboy executives claiming that “its web traffic jumped to about 16 million from about 4 million unique users per month.” Pornography is so readily available and consumed, it’s become mundane.
And now, Playboy is finding a legitimate market for non-pornographic porn. Playboy’s sales problem wasn’t that its product is locked behind a drugstore counter, it’s that it’s already in everyone’s pockets.
We as a society have arrived at an interesting—and altogether morally confusing—moment. Apparently, we live in such a pornified culture, that the only way to attract readers to a magazine built around ogling women is to put clothes back on them. We’ve reached the point where an “adult” magazine has to distinguish itself by being (relatively) censored.
Somehow, Playboy believes this movement means they “fought and won” the battle of cultural acceptance of mainstream porn. In one sense, that’s undeniable. But we’re now seeing a sexual consumerism at its end—and apparently it’s still not satisfying anyone. So the bunnies might as well put their clothes back on.
Aaron Cline Hanbury is a contributing editor for RELEVANT. You can follow him on Twitter at @achanbury