Category Archives: Hunter S. Thompson

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people — including me — would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.” — Hunter S. Thompson

THE SERIOUS PLAYBOY

Hugh Hefner is 86 today.

As I’ve bloviated previously in these precincts, his Playboy magazine was my doorway to the worlds of civil rights, free speech, feminism, anti-war protest, and a host of other issues that define my overall philosophy.

Oh sure, I picked up the mag for the pix — natch — but the articles caught my eye as well.

Thanks, Hugh.

WALLACE, GOOD AND BAD

So, Mike Wallace will ask no more questions.

The old interrogator signed off forever Saturday night at the age of 93.

Wallace had a well-earned rep as a tough-as-nails interviewer who wouldn’t stand for the bullshit dished out by pols and other reprobates. I imagine his mug has been adorning the dorm room walls of journalism school students since the 1960s.

My own feelings about him are mixed. Viewed in a vacuum, Wallace was indeed the apotheosis of the hard-hitting reporter. On the other hand, he was part of a corporate media Frankenstein’s monster called “60 Minutes,” that, for my dough, has been mightily responsible for journalism’s descent to the level of pro wrestling.

See, long ago creator and producer Don Hewitt gave these marching orders to his charges at the nascent news magazine operation: Tell me a story.

“60 Minutes” personalized its delvings into corruption, greed, malfeasances, racism, crypto-fascism, and all the rest of the -isms that underpin this holy land.

Putting a face on a story made “60 Minutes” one of the most popular and successful shows in American television history. TV Guide mag once named it number six on its list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.

People actually planned their Sunday evening dinners around the show. It was the number one or number two most-watched show on TV in six of its seasons on the air. It’s the longest continually-running prime time show in the history of the medium.

People, in other words, dig it.

Over its 44 years on air “60 Minutes” has brought us such story-friendly, faux dramatics as the Point-Counterpoint hiss-fest, the “gotcha” interview, hidden cameras, and interviews edited for effect rather than pure accuracy. These gimmicks may have made for compelling viewing but they quickly transformed news gathering into a Broadway production or, worse, a made-for-TV movie.

The problem with “telling a story” as opposed to a straight reporting of the news is that stories need dramatic arcs, conflict, heroes and villains. “Telling a story” must be show business.

“60 Minutes” was nothing if not show business.

And because it was so wildly successful, the vast majority of news operations in whatever media you care to mention, quickly followed suit.

“60 Minutes” was the first TV news show to actually make money for its network. Before Hewitt’s baby was born, news was considered a loss leader. The networks aired news as a way to demonstrate how serious they were, how concerned, and how righteous. Because of that news producers decades ago had a freer rein than they could possibly imagine today.

But once “60 Minutes” became a profit center for CBS, television execs decided they no longer needed to appear serious, concerned, or righteous. They only needed to cash their news advertisers’ checks.

So now, big-time corporate news has devolved into a pulp novel, a cheap romance, a 24-hour-a-day soap opera. It’s all drama and next to no content. Hell, you can pick whichever news channel you’d like to tell you just what you want to hear. And guess what — your hero always wins!

Maddow Or Carlson — Take Your Pick

Not that Mike Wallace alone was responsible for this mess. I’ll reserve my demonization for Don Hewitt. But Wallace was an integral part of Hewitt’s monster.

Sometimes you have think twice about the company you keep.

The Pencil Today:

I USED TO READ IT FOR THE ARTICLES — HONEST!

We sell Playboy at The Book Corner.

We get about five of them each month. Surprisingly, we sell them all.

One Of The Most Iconic Logos In American History

The guys who buy them are older, natch. Why would a young guy buy a quaint magazine that shows young women in various stages of dishabile when, on the interwebs, he can find nude women of every conceivable physiologic and topographic stripe?

Internet porn has made an entire generation of males far more familiar with the exo-geography of female genitalia than the typical country doctor of the 1880s was.

Every once in a while the news will carry a report that Playboy — the company — is in some kind of financial or market distress. Or that the Hefners, pere et fille, are venturing into something new — streaming video, say — that will make the brand relevant again.

But it’ll never be relevant again.

One day, probably soon, Playboy magazine will be no more. Andy Rooney’s gone, so he won’t be able to lament its passing. And Bob Greene probably is so gun shy about any topic having to do with sex that he’ll keep a mile away from it.

Maybe someone like Pete Hamill will write Playboy’s eulogy. We’ll see.

No matter. It’ll be dead. And that’s too bad. Sort of.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with Playboy magazine throughout my life which, coincidentally, almost matches the lifespan of the mag thus far. Playboy magazine and I both came out in the 1950s. Playboy’s made a hell of a lot more money over its lifetime than I have.

This Could Be The Start Of Something Big

One afternoon, my little pals and I found a waterlogged old Playboy behind the factories a couple of blocks north of our neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side. It had to be around 1966. That would have made us ten.

We gathered around Danny, the toughest of us and therefore our leader, as he tore through the pages, looking for — as we so charmingly put it — the naked ladies.

August, 1966

He didn’t have to look far. The ad on the inside cover gave us that first delicious eyeful.

At that time, Winston cigarettes used the tagline, “It’s what’s up front that counts.” You could hear it all day long on TV (yup, kids, TV used to carry ads for smokes). The line ran in all Winston’s newspaper and magazine ads, too. Even in family media, the ads were an obvious double entendre.

Of course, Playboy had to lop the double off the entendre.

A chesty (what else?) gal stared out at us from the ad. She was wearing a man’s dress shirt, completely unbuttoned. Her torpedo breasts seemed to jump off the page at us.

I’m surprised one or more of us didn’t pass out.

She held in her fingers a Winston. Just beneath that shocking, riveting, blood-pressure-spurting picture of the almost-naked lady ran the tagline, “It’s what’s up front that counts.”

We literally fell to the ground laughing.

The ad was, to our pre-teen sensibilities, the single most sophisticatedly funny thing ever conceived by the human imagination. We laughed for at least five minutes over it.

Of course, we collected ourselves and got back to the serious business of searching for more naked ladies, of which we found a good deal.

We pored over that magazine like anthropologists studying the earliest hominid fossil yet found. The only difference was, anthropologists aren’t likely to gasp every few moments as they examine ancient bones.

So I won’t snow you and say I never looked at Playboy for the pictures. Good heavens, I had a three-year-long crush on Miss November, 1968, Paige Young.

Paige Young

(Note from responding paramedics: Big Mike has passed out. He should be fully recovered within minutes. He will resume typing his post at that time.)

But looking at naked ladies got old after a few minutes (oh, all right, a couple of hours). It was then I’d turn to the articles.

People today think of Hugh Hefner as the wizened old lech who gobbles Viagras like they’re Peanut M&Ms and tries to marry giddy blondes three at a time.

Man’s Best Friend

At one time, though, he was one of the most forward thinking people in America.

Okay, let’s try to get beyond the fact that he sowed the seeds of what is now this weird American predilection for cantaloupe-chested, impossibly thin-waisted, freakishly long-legged virtual-females.

I thumbed through a recent edition of the mag and, honestly, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss is about. I don’t know what’s more disturbing — the look of blissful dumbness on the naked ladies’ faces or their quasi-human bodies.

Brooklyn Decker Does Not Exist In Real Life, Guys

So yes, Hugh Hefner has to answer for screwing up this holy land’s female physical ideal.

But one day, long ago, he and his mag introduced me to — or broadened my burgeoning awareness of — the concepts of civil rights, feminism, birth control, the anti-war movement, free speech, consumer protection, apartheid, the environment, and a host of other issues that define liberalism.

I could read in-depth interviews with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Marshall McLuhan, Bob Dylan, Jesse Jackson, Hunter S. Thompson, and Ayn Rand (yes, it’s important to hear the bleatings of the deranged, too).

Malcolm X

Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend Hugh Hefner was a great man of the ages. His Playboy philosophy elevated the acquisition of consumer goods and sexual partners to something akin to religious status. A man was not a man in Playboy nation if he didn’t drive a Corvette, drink Dewar’s, and bed at least two heretofore unknown women a week.

But, to borrow a phrase from that great philosopher Bill Veeck, I prefer tarnished genius to simon-pure mediocrity any day.

As loathsome as much of Hugh Hefner’s worldview was, just as much of it was liberating and enlightening.

“Hefner was fighting that part of the Puritan ethic that condemned pleasure,” writes David Halberstam of Hefner in the book. “The Fifties.”

True enough. If nothing else, Hefner helped America shed its prudish attitude toward sex. Sadly, we’ve now developed a giggly, dopey, 10-year-old boy’s attitude toward it. I don’t know which is better.

I do know Hugh Hefner’s mag awakened the socially conscious thinker in me. Nearly five decades later, I’ve gone way beyond Playboy when it comes to contemplating the issues of the day. Now I’d hope we’d all go way beyond its plasticized, airbrushed/photoshopped, vacuous image of female beauty.

Too bad. It hasn’t happened yet.

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