Category Archives: Image-Based Culture

How has Playboy infiltrated children’s entertainment?

Playboy is arguably one the best-known brands of the sex industry worldwide. In sixty years, its founder and CEO, Hugh Hefner, has managed to transform a magazine with centerfolds of naked models into a global success, its reach extending far beyond the pages of Playboy Magazine. It has infiltrated political movements (the sexual revolution), curbed legislation (United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, 529 U.S. 803), lined the racks of clothing stores (for children, too), and can be found in virtually every entertainment medium, including video games (Playboy: The Mansion), DVDs (Playboy Playmates), reality shows (The Girls Next Door), and theatrically-released Hollywood films (The House Bunny). The brand, and its iconic logo – a silhouette of a rabbit wearing a bow tie – are everywhere.

It is reasonable to assert that when most adults see the Playboy logo, whether it’s on jewelry, carved into a truck’s mud flap, inscribed on a shot glass, or on a teenager’s sweatpants, they accept it. Such is the power of ubiquity: Playboy has emerged as a popular symbol that adults and children alike can adorn without question.

In 2011, Playboy managed to reach children in a whole new way: by targeting the audience of a mainstream Hollywood children’s film called Hop.

Hop, a feature-length animated movie, features as its main characters several animated rabbits. In the film, the Easter Bunny wants his teenage son, EB, to succeed him as the next Easter Bunny. EB, however, would rather pursue his dreams, and so he runs off to Hollywood to become a star.

When E.B. arrives, the first place he visits is the Playboy Mansion, hoping for a place to stay. Knowing that the “Playboy mansion has been home to many sexy bunnies,” he speaks with Hefner himself (providing his actual voice), and insists that he is “incredibly sexy.” Once Hefner takes a look at EB (through a camera!), EB is rejected, ostensibly because he does not fit the Playboy mold of “sexy bunny.” Disappointed, EB leaves the mansion.

The dialogue of the scene is as follows:

Voice at Playboy Mansion: [through an intercom] Listen, this is the Playboy Mansion, not a hotel.

E.B.: [looking into a map] I know, but it says ‘Since 1971 the Playboy Mansion has been home to many sexy bunnies.’

Voice at Playboy Mansion: I can’t even see you. Step closer.

E.B.: I’m just saying, I am a bunny and am incredibly sexy.

Voice at Playboy Mansion: I don’t have time for this.

E.B.: Hello? Hello? Ugh, this must be the rags part of my rags-to-riches story.

The lasting impression of the scene is that the Playboy Mansion is exclusive and consequently desirable. Were EB just a bit sexier, perhaps he’d be able to join all of the sexy bunnies in the Mansion. In another version of the story, perhaps EB would learn how Playboy and Hefner himself have been long documented as having supported the sex trafficking of women and children, have depicted children sexually in their magazines, have literally promoted the “hate raping” of conservative women (“So Right, It’s Wrong” campaign), and have contributed to the average early death of 36 for all Playboy Playmates.

Hop was a large box office success, earning more than $180 million at the global box office and spawning licensed video games, books, candy, clothing, stuffed animals, and exclusive Burger King kids meal toys. It wasn’t received well by critics (it has a 25% rating on the film review aggregate site, Rotten Tomatoes), but the failures of the movie were attributed to bad but “harmless” writing. Alas, such is the power of ubiquity.

Hop is, of course, just one example of many ways in which Hefner has tried to reach children as a target demographic with Playboy. There have been other attempts, and there will be more. After all, this is the same man who is quoted as saying, “I don’t care if a baby holds up a Playboy bunny rattle.” Are we surprised? Are we even capable of recognizing it when we see it?

The history of Playboy, Playboy Magazine, Playboy Enterprises, Hugh Hefner, the Playmates, and their impact on our world will continue to be explored in scope throughout Pornography FAQ.


What is an “image-based culture” and what are its consequences?

An “image-based culture” is used to describe a society in which imagery has taken the place of spoken and / or written word as the major form of communication. With the proliferation of television, magazines, and online visual media, the world is exponentially becoming more image-based.

There is one major through line of our image-based culture: the sexualized and youthful female body. In billboards, magazines, movies, video games, and so on, women are depicted regularly as sexual objects. This is done by emphasizing their bodies, depicting them in sexually explicit visuals, framing them as sexually submissive to men, adorning them in revealing clothing (if anything at all), all as a means of catching the eye. When people grow desensitized to the imagery at hand, it cyclically forces producers to use increasingly shocking, or pornographic, visuals in their advertising. With each successive campaign, “edgier” imagery is used so as to stand out.

Though the sexualized female body is often used in the interest of selling a product, the imagery has become normalized to the degree that mainstream media now regularly depicts scenes as explicitly as softcore pornography did two decades ago. It is reasonable to assert that it is literally impossible for many people to go grocery shopping without exposing themselves to this imagery in some form.

The cumulative effect of sexualizing women on this massive a scale is propagandist: by regularly telling a story that depicts women as primed-for-sex, straight, and submissive, the collective understanding of that message is that women – including lesbians – desire submitting to men for sex. This ideology has cascaded outwardly into men and women alike, many of whom have internalized the notion that women exist for male pleasure. Not one image alone causes a pathology of men-as-dominant and women-as-sexually-submissive, but that is exactly how propaganda works: not by a single voice but by a collective one all saying the same thing. When 94% of the violence in pornography is perpetrated against women, the logical outcome is that the men masturbating to these scenes (and thus reinforcing associations between violence and orgasm via the limbic system) will very likely be thinking about violence the next time they are intimate.

Sexual imagery, presumably meant for adults, affects children as well: there is evidence that exposure increases bodily dissatisfaction, the risk of eating disorders, self-objectification, disruption of psychological development, increased likelihood of sexual abuse, and slowing cognitive development. There are documented cases of boys younger than ten forcing girls to perform oral sex on them, increasing rates by which teenagers are raping girls in groups, and the massive success of the “teen” porn sub-genre. Needless to say, the consequences of appealing to the sexual interest of adults in public spaces extends to everyone, including those who literally do not have the capacity to emotionally process sex.

As humans, we rely on storytelling to relate our experiences of living and collectively shape our understanding of the world. We are capable of reflection, of creativity, of remorse, of compassion, and so much more. That the landscape men have created, globally, does not in any way reflect one of our potential as humans is devastating. This is why it is imperative to stop looking at the sexualized images that litter our world. This is why it is imperative to start creating new ones.