“A provocative new drama about a time and place in which a visionary created an empire, and an icon changed American culture.”
This is how NBC describes its new Fall series, The Playboy Club.
The setting is Chicago in the early 60s when, only six years after the launch of Playboy magazine, the first Playboy Club opened its doors. Hugh Hefner, founder of the enterprise, believes the show will take viewers back to a “magic time” in American culture.
“That was my kingdom,” says Hefner, thinking back on his Chicago days. “It was the place where dreams came true.” Obviously Hef is referring to his dreams coming true. But for many others, it was the place where America awoke to the nightmare of sexual obesity.
“Not that racy”: Not the point
Amber Heard, who plays Bunny Maureen, assures concerned viewers, “The racy material, you’ll find, is not all that racy.” Yes, the actors and actresses did have to sign a nudity/simulated-sex-act clause in their contract, and yes, Heard’s character has been described as “Norma Jean before she was Marilyn, an untethered, unconscious sexuality.” But still, she doesn’t believe the network will push the envelope too far.
Heard believes the characters of the show, not the provocative scenarios, will take center stage. “I think it’s story about the time, the setting, the movement, the people behind it. It’s a story about a group of girls taking over Chicago, and I think that’s what will come through.”
First, it may be true that the show’s writers hope to highlight the character drama over the cleavage, but all the promotional material for the show shares a different story. Believing viewers will be drawn to the show because of it’s riveting character development is about as believable as people who say they go to Hooters because they like the chicken wings.
Second, more than the show’s sexual content, there should be concern about the not-so-subtle message of the show: That a sex-on-tap culture offers real liberation to women.
This has been the Playboy philosophy from the beginning. Only a few weeks ago, while getting ready to open a new Playboy Club in London, Hefner criticized the women’s movement for failing to participate in the sexual revolution in the 60s. “The notion that [the women’s movement] should turn on itself and attack women who celebrated their sexuality is very puritan, very repressive and very counterrevolutionary.” (Obviously Hef’s version is “puritan” is informed more by fictional literature like The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible than by actual Puritans, but that’s another matter for another day.)
The critical question for Hef and for NBC’s new drama is this: Will the media continue to promote the ridiculous notion that the best way to celebrate female sexuality is by encouraging women to indiscriminately give it away (whether in person or through pornography)? Will NBC show only the romanticized glamor, or will the fantasy be unmasked by showing viewers the degrading supply-and-demand nature of consumer sex?
The reason why many oppose the Playboy philosophy is not because of prudishness, but because a desire to not see sex commodified and cheapened. Unfortunately, NBC’s choice to celebrate Hef’s version of “female liberation” is doing just that.
Close the Club
Already some NBC affiliates are concerned. Salt Lake City, for instance, will not be airing the new series because they do not want to be associated with the Playboy brand.
If you are concerned about the new NBC show, you can join the Close the Club movement.