The Sizzle Went Out with the Steak: Finding a lesson in the decline of the Playboy image

The Sizzle Went Out with the Steak: Finding a lesson in the decline of the Playboy image

(The above is a facsimile of Hugh Hefner's mission statement from the first issue of Playboy Magazine, published in December of 1953.)

To a child growing up in a house that had a subscription to Playboy, like I did, the magazine represented the other side of life. It epitomized style, class, and the pages were filled with the women of dreams (and they really were dreams, because most of them were airbrushed and primped to the point where there was no semblance of individuality left.) Just seeing the iconic Playboy Bunny logo was enough to send our hormones into overload, like Pavlov's dogs salivating against their will. There was nothing more risque than sneaking into the bathroom during the night and thumbing through the forbidden tome with feverish glee.

After the news that the Playboy Mansion was sold for $200 million last month to the 32-year-old owner of the Hostess Brand, the world was subsequently stunned. The Mansion was class personified in its heyday, the scene of wild parties and sexual liaisons that caused the average suburbanites to stir with envy. Over the past twenty years, the Mansion has become an aging behemoth, a relic of the past that refuses to move into the present. The carpets stained with dog urine, the outdated decor, and the unused luxury caused once avid Playboy fans stomachs to turn. And, of course, the biggest dinosaur of the 12-bedroom is undoubtedly the one whose vision had created the idea of the Playboy Image: Hugh Hefner.

Hefner, like something out of a Science Fiction B-Movie, has a symbiotic relationship with the mansion. Both hold antiquated ideas housed in a body that refuses to give up the ghost. Hefner was the definition of the man men wanted to be and women wanted to be with. He created an empire based on sex, intelligence, and integrity. Over the years the image, like the man himself, have decayed to the point where the resemblance is like night and day. The fine print of the purchase of the Mansion is the proviso that Hef is legally able to stay in his room until he decides to leave or dies.

If Hefner's rise to celebrity is a thing of inspiration, his decline is a grim fairy tale that serves as a lesson to all entrepreneurs: if you don't evolve with the times, you will be left behind. What once was a man with an extreme libido now is a man, as described by ex-girlfriend and star of The Girls Next Door Holly Madison, has women parade into his bedroom, line up, and try to turn on the fossil, with him laying on his back and the other women talking to each other. These covert conversations are granted by a loud, gaudy porn movie played on a big screen, which gives Hef something to focus on, as if the blond menagerie he has before him isn't enough.

The Playboy image, along with Hefner himself, has become a joke in an industry in which used to hold the brand as gospel. The package of the "Total Man" a Playboy should be has now succumbed to human nature and the theory that we are all individuals who have different sexual tastes and aesthetic ideals. Hefner is the only person left on this earth who hasn't given up the idea of the "Ubermensch," and it has earned him a hermit-like existence in his dream world of the past.

We can all take a lesson away from this parable, oddly enough. Whether you are sexual or not, male or female, this tale is one of being stubborn. In life, there are often times where we refuse to give up the ghost. Whether it is an old pair of underwear we refuse to throw away or a hairstyle that has stayed a bit too long at the fair, we are all guilty of being immovable stones.

But life, at its essence, is one of continually moving forward. A moment is gone just as fast as it occurs and life constantly rises to a climax and eases into a placid denouement each day. No moment can live forever, nor should it. Life is a constant state of renewal, change, and energy. If we glue our feet to the floor and refuse to move, we will be eaten alive. I know people who still fear computers, because they are simply unwilling to take the time to conquer the beast. I know people who still use flip phones, because the new technology frightens them.

One of my distant relatives lives in an area of Chicago that was once the home of her family. The neighborhood was once a typical Chicagoan neighborhood but has since disintegrated into an area filled with gangs, violence, and crime. Her apartment is constantly being looted, robbed, and vandalized on a yearly basis. Her answer as to why she won't sell the place: "I can't bear to let the memory go."

Playboy's plightpersonificationcation of the ability to resist change to the point where it destroys the core of what you are. This once thriving company is now a mere husk of what it was, simply because Hef couldn't see that the times were changing.

And so now, Hef will sit in his mansion until he dies, the world changing around him and the mansion where he resides brought into the present, the company he created crumbling before his very eyes.


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  • The bottom line, recognized by Christie Hefner, is that anyone can see live action of any kind free on the Internet.

    There was the old saw about "I only read Playboy for the articles" will now be tested by the publishers.

    There was also, in the day, a big deal about Playboy Clubs and Bunnies, but now you can see more at Hooters or Twin Peaks, without the pretension.

    Only difference between Hef and Michael Jordan is that Hef was able to sell his mansion.

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