Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oh, Spare Us the Justification

Sigh. Almost every time a newspaper or magazine does a story on Playboy and/or its editor/founder Hugh Hefner, the writer seems to feel required (by snarky editors? by their own internal anxiety about sexuality? by something else?) to play judge and jury about his lifestyle, and also to issue their half-baked verdicts on his company's future.
So was the case with a new article on Hefner by the Houston Chronicle's Louis B. Parks. Before we can get to the heart of his interview with the 82-year-old editor, we're treated to a smackdown: "Hugh Hefner's once-mighty empire is battered and struggling for relevance. His longtime stature as America's premier self-made hedonist borders on self-inflicted caricature. Playboy magazine and the Playboy brand no longer boast the great wealth, influence and cachet they once enjoyed."
We get more of the same later on, with Parks first telling us that Hefner and Playboy have lost their relevance, then telling us (without apparent acknowledgment of the contradiction) about their continued relevance. A new Playboy Club, a hit TV reality series -- and he didn't even mention a flourishing international publishing empire, a flourishing international brand licensing operation, and much more.
Yes, we know the circulation has dropped from its unsustainable highs in the 1970s. Yes, we know advertisers have been scarce. Yes, we know many people disapprove of Hefner's ideas and his lifestyle.
But would it kill the writers to note the decline of most other big, mainstream magazines? How many times has Life magazine died, been reborn, been re-died, and been reborn only to die again? Didn't Newsweek just lop off 1 million (!) in circulation from its rate base? And didn't the Reagan administration under that noted intellectual, Edwin Meese, wage a well-publicized campaign with the Religious Right to go after Playboy's advertisers and distributors?
It doesn't mean that the writer has to agree with Hefner or like his magazine and media empire. But putting things into context would increase the reader's faith in the writer's understanding of the topic and would deliver an article that has actual worth.
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