June 22, 2011

The Playboy Club

The obvious inspiration from Mad Men.

NBC has been running a trailer for a new fall show called The Playboy Club. Set in Chicago during the early 1960s, it centers on the employees of, you guessed it, The Playboy Club. It vibes Mad Men—slick hair, thin ties, neat suits, drinks, cigarettes, coifed girls. A vibe even more blatant thanks to the Mad Men episode that featured the New York Playboy Club and introed Lane Price’s “chocolate bunny”— a plot that just sort of trailed away (Mad Men always lets the racial plotlines peter out). NBC’s teaser trailer suggests big money, easy cash, murder, girls in skimpy outfits and illicit sex—as tawdry as network television can get away with.

NBC is desperate to try to recapture viewers after the Leno debacle and this makes it clear. It’s like they’re  screaming—

“Look! It’s like Mad Men!”

“There are hot girls in skimpy outfits! Bunny outfits!”

“Look! It’s different than Mad Men! There’s crime! Maybe even murder!”

I realize I haven’t actually seen the show yet, but it irks me. Not for being tawdry or even being connected to a “porno” mag. Not even for how blatantly it’s attempting to draw the audience of AMC’s big gun.

This show bothers me for two connected reasons:

  1. It’s blatant advertising for Playboy. I’m certain the use of the club was approved by Heffner and all scripts will be screened by Playboy Execs just like the scripts to their so-called “reality show,” The Girls Next Door. As desperate as NBC is for viewers, Heffner is more desperate to keep his over-priced and dull magazine featuring his decades long obsession with young blonde girls relevant in a society that now has naked women at their fingertips thanks to the world's largest porno-emporium—the internet.
  2. It’s not going to deal in any way, shape, or form with what it was really like to work at a Playboy Club (see 1).
I think it’s sad when corporate ass-kissing dictates entertainment—not just sad, it pisses me off. Am I the only one who ever read Gloria Steinem’s article “I Was A Playboy Bunny”?

If you haven’t, you should. You’ll quickly see what I’m referring to. Regrettably, I couldn’t find the article online, so, I’ll settle for this excerpt from Gloria Steinem: A Biography by Patricia Cronin Marcello, “…she wrote in diary form that her feet ached like rotten teeth and were swollen so much that she could not get her shoes on. Each night that she served her own station, she traveled between tables and bar 16 times an hour on average, and on the first night alone had had three drinks spilled down her back. She had lost 10 pounds and was paid for the nights she had waited a station, but not for her work in the checkroom, as the club considered that part of her unpaid training. Her first week’s wages amounted to $35.90 after taxes.”

$35.90 after taxes? There’s some glamour for you and that’s just the dull, working grind part of it. For a glimpse at the misogyny, the racism and the unfair treatment, look at this youtube clip as Steinem recalls her experiences.

Now, go read, the Bunny Manual for a detailed explanation of how the club ran your life if you were “good enough” to be chosen as a Bunny.

Okay, finished?

Now, go to your local library and check out a copy of Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions to read the full text of what she went through when she worked for Playboy.
Does this look like a "drama" to you?

I doubt we’ll see any of that in this so-called “period drama confronting society’s changing sexuality” — usually bullshit tv code for soap operaesque affairs, sexy lipstick lesbians, and maybe some hot swingers. It’s a shame because I think it would be fairly easy to keep this same premise and truly deal with some things like sexuality, actual changing societal norms, misogyny, and racism while still managing to be entertaining.

There is a place for pure fun and escapism, for lite fair. That’s fine. I do like that too; I really do. There’s nothing wrong with watching some hot people do bad things. I just find it abhorrent when you knowing turn away from the opportunity for more depth and then don’t even have the nerve to cop to what kind of show your making.

Most of all, I guess, it’s a little disappointing to see another instance of women being reduced to meat. This isn't me being a prude. I'm not afraid of sexuality. (In fact, I think it's just as repulsive that a Salt Lake City affiliate of NBC is refusing to air the show because of its "sexual content" — not the type of sexual content, mind you, but sexual content in general.) I don't think a woman has to pretend she's not an attractive and sexual being to be a "strong woman." I just think our portrait of women in entertainment has been very piss-poor of late with the prevalence of reality shows. Those programs not only aggrandize the worst in human behaviors, but they giving an entire generation the idea that women are either drunk, dumb whores or manipulative, dumb whores,  I'd like to see some strong, female characters on television; vibrant women in charge of their lives and their bodies and their sexuality.
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