One of the most widely circulated jokes about Playboy's decision to drop full-frontal nudity from the print publication is that now, people really can read it for the articles — but let's take a moment to remember that "I read Playboy for the articles" is more than just a joke. Some of the best Playboy articles, stories, and longform pieces were written by famous authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, and Truman Capote. Playboy has historically had a reputation as a source of information about the time's most topical debates and, dare I say it, literature.
Is the magazine attempting the relive its glory days? Executives from the company say Playboy' s decision to drop full female nudity has more to do with competition from online porn. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture,” Chief Executive Scott Flanders told The New York Times. “If you take nudity out, what’s left?” That's the question Playboy is currently asking itself. The plan as of now is that there will still be a Playmate of the Month, but the photos will be less risqué; the magazine will incorporate visual art; and, of course, there will still be the writing.
Given Playboy 's history, I'm not exactly going to rush out and buy a copy. But here's to hoping that those who do will at least have good reading material like the articles and stories below. (I'll also throw in a hope that the magazine will feature more women as writers, rather than just models. One can dream.)
1. "The Bog Man" By Margaret Atwood (1991)
Yup, more than one short story by Margaret Atwood — the author of several novels widely considered feminist — appeared in Playboy. This particular one, also published in Atwood's collection Wilderness Tips, is about a woman who digs up a 2,000-year-old man — not exactly the kind of plot you picture when you think of Playboy.
Murakami, perhaps the most well-known contemporary Japanese writer, published "The Second Bakery Attack" in Playboy before it appeared in his 1993 collection The Elephant Vanishes . In the humorous tale, a man attempts to break a spell set after a thwarted attack on a bakery by staging an ambush on a McDonald's.
3. Interview With Arthur C. Clarke (1986)
The late sci-fi icon Arthur C. Clarke published a number of short stories in Playboy and was the subject of a July 1986 interview covering everything from space travel to virtual reality. But perhaps most notably, he admitted to having a "bisexual experience" and even added, "If anyone had ever told me that he hadn't, I'd have told him he was lying."
King told Haley about the first time he remembered experiencing racism (he was forced to stand on a bus, a story resembling the plight of Rosa Parks that later inspired him to stage a bus boycott) and his reflections on the Civil Rights Movement up to that point.
This story of a South American village unraveling the death of a man whose corpse washes up on their shore exemplifies the enchanting magical realism García Márquez is known for.
The introduction to this interview reads that "there is no other writer in America, male or female, who quite compares with Oates." Oates had contributed nine stories to Playboy by the time Grobel interviewed her; in the interview itself, she touched on topics like her motivations for writing and the meanings behind her characters' names.
This longform article about covering a deep-sea fishing tournament in Mexico later joined several other autobiographical essays in Thompson's book of the same name.
8. "Remembering Tennessee" By Truman Capote (1984)
Capote related some of the most outrageous stories from the life of his friend playwright Tennessee Williams in this essay written soon after Williams died. Capote was also the subject of a 1968 Playboy interview about his writing career, the role of Jewish writers in the American literary scene, and his views on capital punishment, among other topics.
Playboy featured the first-ever published excerpt from Armageddon in Retrospect , Vonnegut's first posthumous collection, which contains several new short stories, a letter the author wrote to his family while he was a prisoner of war during World War II, some of his drawings, and a speech written shortly before his death.
This dated but creatively formatted and conceptually rich piece by philosopher Marshall McLuhan explores how technology has changed the American media landscape and economy, and I wouldn't be surprised if it were an assigned reading in a critical theory course.
I'll never be a fan of Hugh Hefner, but I will say his publication has more intellectual merit than many realize.