Just what culture minister ordered: Playboy turns coy, will not publish nudes anymore

The government was right. Too much internet porn will be the downfall of everyone. And now those on the Righteous Right can cackle with glee at the latest sacrifice at the altar of internet porn: High Priest Of Porn himself, Hugh Hefner. Yesterday, Playboy magazine, home to really great writing and reportedly even greater nude centrespreads, will no longer be printing pictures of nude women. From March 2016, Playboy ‘bunnies’ will simply be women in “provocative” poses, in photographs that are about as racy as the dodgier content available on Instagram.

Reading Playboy for its articles has long been a nudge-nudge-wink-wink joke, but chances are, that there will soon be a generation that will actually have picked up the magazine for its articles. That is, of course, if the magazine survives this bold move to be not bold.

 Just what culture minister ordered: Playboy turns coy, will not publish nudes anymore

Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner. Reuters

In six months, Playboy will be PG-13. Scott Flanders, Playboy’s chief executive, has claimed that they’ve taken this decision because of the easy access to internet porn. He told New York Times, “You're now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. It’s just passé at this juncture"

Who would have thought that Playboy – home to Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Charlize Theron and our very own Sherlyn Chopra – would have a change of heart and come to the conclusion that there is something as too much nudity?

That Playboy, which heralded the sexual revolution in the West, is en route to conforming to the current Censor Board of India’s guidelines is a curious turning of tables. Perhaps the day is near when Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, a medical doctor, will exhort us to follow Playboy’s lead? Because here at home, we’re stuck fighting a battle that Hefner and America have almost forgotten about: the right to watch whatever we want, whether it’s an art film or pornography, without a censor editing it for suitability.

Here we are, shouting from the rooftops against authorities like Pahlaj Nihalani who want to decide (and are deciding) how much slang, sex and regular human behaviour we can and cannot view in films and on television. Meanwhile, the very Western culture that is referred to as evil and vulgar, is the one voluntarily opting for a PG-13 status.

For journalists, there’s a slight silver lining in the evolution of Playboy. This change in editorial policy wasn’t suggested by Editor-In-Chief and ageing sex master, Hugh Heffner (who, incidentally, is a minority stakeholder in the company now but retains 100% editorial control​). It isn’t a suggestion from the marketing department or a sales chief. The decision to turn Playboy’s back on porn was pitched by Chief Content Officer and senior editor, Cory Jones. Get past the fact that his work is described as “content” and it becomes clear that this is an editorial call.

So even if you’re low in the pecking order, even if your suggestion is contrary to the prevailing marketing and advertising wisdom that believes sex sells everything, go ahead and pitch it. Who knows? It may change the world view and the lives of an entire generation of people. Hefner did it back in 1953, when he decided to put sex on the coffee table. Perhaps Jones will do it again, by doing the opposite.

Yet, while I have great faith in the power of good writing, I find it difficult to believe that Playboy will get new subscribers who will read instead of just look at the magazine. If there’s one thing that Playboy and others of its ilk have proven, then it is that contrary to prevailing marketing and advertising wisdom, sex doesn’t always sell. The one thing we can be sure of is that this is the end of a beautiful relationship. Of men and porn.

The ironic part of all this is that Playboy has always had great writing. It’s published short stories by Murakami, Atwood, even serialised fiction. Way back in 1954, it published Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in serialised form in the March, April and May 1954 issues. It was also the first men’s magazine to be published in Braille. It even has an Indian connection: Playboy has published stories by Indian writers, an interview of Salman Rushdie, and even two of the stories from Panchatantra.

There’s a lesson here for the moral police in India: Give the people enough sex and Savita Bhabhi and they’ll get fed up. Ban it and everyone will hanker for it. ​

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Updated Date: Oct 14, 2015 22:50:29 IST