An Ex-Bunny Bids a Not-So-Fond Goodbye to NBC’S Playboy Club

NBC has officially pulled the plug on the highly promoted new series The Playboy Club after airing only three episodes. The reason given? Poor ratings, which caused seven major advertisers to withdraw after only two episodes.

As an ex-bunny, I won’t be shedding any tears. I recently wrote for the Good Men Project about the experience of working in the New York City Playboy Club just after I turned 18. In it, I describe witnessing the creation of unattainable sexual ideals that would hurt American women for the next 40 years (and counting):

As I watched the Playmate emerge from her shower, sit down next to me, and begin her primping for the evening’s festivities, I was struck by how absolutely human she looked to me.

Was she pretty? Sure she was. But was she in possession of otherworldly perfection? Not even close.

While on break that day, I flipped through the ever-ubiquitous stacks of Playboy magazines in our employee lounge and found the older issue in which she had ‘starred.’ As I studied her photos, I was struck with the magic that computers could generate. In front of me was sprawled virtual perfection, not a flaw in sight, her skin pore-less, tawny, with the texture of velvet. Her eyes were sparkling and bright. Her lips perfectly moist, parted ever so slightly to show off her perfect, non-rejecting smile.

Her body was portrayed in much the same way: All good features were highlighted to the extreme, and the less than perfect were ‘corrected,’ which is to say, rendered invisible.

To be sure, the centerfold woman was pretty. But in truth, so was the woman who sold me my New York Times in the morning. So was my aunt, and so was my boyfriend’s sister, for that matter. Jeez, most women were attractive if you could just see them outside of the narrow rules, and yet it seemed that Playboy had extolled some illusory woman as the absolute gold standard for perfection.

I was sickened by the idea of a show that glamorized all the artifice and shallowness of the Playboy enterprise. I wasn’t alone in my criticisms. The show got a flurry of bad press, drawing a boycott from the conservative Parents Television Council for the “degrading and sexualizing” portrayal of women. NBC’s Salt Lake City affiliate refused to air it. Feminists also took umbrage: Gloria Steinem, who famously went undercover as a Playboy bunny to report on working conditions in 1963 staged her own boycott of the show.

Truth be told, if I had a gun to my head, I wouldn’t have watched the show. But from all reports, its creators seemed to have learned the wrong lesson from Mad Men, copycatting its ’60s period charm instead of its more interesting undercurrents of feminism and social change. A better show would have taken up Hugh Hefner’s outrageous claim that his entire enterprise “empowers” women, and debunked it.

Controversy aside, the show ended because it didn’t draw viewers. It gambled on drawing eyes solely through titillation, rather than dealing with deeper political themes, and it lost. Ironically, that’s probably due in part to the fact that Hugh Hefner paved the way for the rampant pornification of our culture, so that the show’s racy themes and skimpy outfits could not compete with the herd. This was summed up in one online comment on the series’ ending: “[Who would care about such] dated stuff, given all the great free porn available online now.”

Hefner’s normalization of pornography has had enough effect, given its unquestioned ubiquity in our environment today. It did not deserve further canonization vis-a-vis a prime-time television show.

I, for one, say, good-bye, Playboy Club, and good riddance.

Photo of the author as a Bunny at the Playboy Club in New York circa 1978.

Comments

  1. I think if you watched the show, you’d have a different viewpoint. It was not really about titillation or how great it was to be a bunny in the 60′s as far as sex. Of course it was about playing up being a bunny, but it also showed how difficult it was, and what men expected, and some of the trials and tribulations. It also was about a murder mystery and the mob. Unfortunately, it was not that well written. The actors were great in it, though, so it’s a shame they were out of a job. I think they put way more into the style and flash and costumes than into the story.

  2. Megan Elise says:

    I only watched the pilot episode of the The Playboy Club, and I’m certainly not going to deny that the show had many issues. I read Steinem’s article “I Was a Playboy Bunny” for one of my classes earlier this semester. I know how bad those clubs actually were. And while it’s true that a lot of issues WEREN’T being addressed, the show was, to me, interesting for another reason. It had a closeted Bunny in a lavender marriage with a gay man, and they were members in a newly founded chapter of the Mattachine Society. The gay man was being portrayed by the recently-out actor Sean Maher. The closeted Bunny’s earnings were helping to fund these Mattachine meetings. The actress playing the lead role, who was involved in a plot involving a murdered mob boss (she accidentally killed him when he attempted to rape her in a back room of the club), was played by an out actress.

    To me, despite all of the script’s actual shortcomings, I was hopeful for what it might do in terms of bringing to light this lesser known period in lgbt history (or at least lesser known in the public eye). I was happy that there were out actors with major roles, and not necessarily only playing gay characters.

    So yeah, the show had problems. But I wouldn’t necessarily celebrate it’s cancellation either.

  3. The show wasn’t that good honestly. It didn’t have any redeeming qualities. If Mad Men hadn’t done so well, networks like NBC wouldn’t have gone anywhere near this idea. But they thought the pull of Mad Men was the fact people were interested in revisiting the 60′s when really good writing and lovable characters is what made the series float to the top.

  4. Amen!

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