Playboy: Where men are pale and women are vacuous

Spending the morning at the Mail & Guardian offices paging through back copies of the recently launched South African edition of Playboy magazine seemed a titillating opportunity to skive off work — in the name of work.

The reality was more painful than a razor-blade enema. Playboy South Africa is a soporific litany of flaccid writing (with topics ranging from sperm banks to climbing mountains and comic-book investments), limp arts reviews and impossibly unblemished naked women.

The sort of women who have attained the sheen of rubber dolls dipped in turkey basting, which in modern times translates into dollops of photoshop, blinding floodlight usage during shoots and, presumably, the employment of jobless World Cup stadium construction workers as make-up artists.

SuperSport reporter Crystal Arnold, for example, looks as though a plasterer on whoonga was given free rein on her flawlessly flat face. The magazine this week drew public criticism for “whitening” her out for its June cover, where she appears reclining on what seems to be an oversize condom.

The models mouth platitudes about the photoshoots empowering them and endorsing their natural womanhood. They would, if natural women looked like fastidiously cleaned, white Paul Smith shirts: anaemically cut, starched, bleached and without an errant crease on their bodies. Folds in the Playboy grotto, you see, are only for the front of one’s pants — to allow for maximum movement.

Yet, the Playboy bunnies do provide more interesting copy than the mounds of drivel filling the pages. Miss June, 22-year-old South African Victoria de Lima, for example, says “posing topless was honestly the last thing I thought of when I made the decision to accept featuring in Playboy”. Oh, what were you expecting? Getting into a lab to split an atom?

Of course, Ms Lima is disarmingly unaware. Her “go-to-feel-good-recipe”: “The fresh air at 4am as I prepare myself to get drilled by my trainer.” (Will the adolescents reading the M&G please stop guffawing.)

This pearl from Miss May, Tshego Seakgoe, commenting on her spread: “I have my clothes off. But there is more to me, there’s more to me than what you can see. And it shows in the pictures.” Erm, ja.

But the models’ rumination on nudity and “liberation” is considerably more riveting than the stories bleating on about vainglorious consumerism (think male liposuction and Botox stories and interviews with art-market aficionados advising Russia’s noveau riche to gobble up modern art), Q&As with vacuous pop-culture-mutant-children like Kim Kardashian and, obviously, stories about the phallus. Yawn.

Playboy‘s reputation for great journalism is completely ignored in the South African edition.

The edgiest thing about the two issues scanned by this reviewer was the magazine’s spine. But it does contain great literary excerpts — as per tradition — by the likes of Zakes Mda and Kurt Vonnegut.

Also, three editions in and in spite of aiming at a 45% black market, Playboy SA has yet to commission a black South African writer.

They’re obviously too afraid to be snapped in the “Spotted: People Who Party With Playboy” section, dripping with blonde Barbie dolls and overweight, balding pale males. But it seems the poor state of editorial is in for a change – perhaps much sooner than expected.

After just three issues, the magazine’s editor, Peter Piegl, together with publisher Jeremy Lawrence, resigned this week. According to the publication’s general manager, Karen Von Wielligh, Piegl “didn’t give us a reason why he was resigning” while Lawrence had cited “personal reasons” for his departure.

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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