Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America

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Overview


Playboy was more than a magazine filled with pictures of nude women and advice on how to mix the perfect martini. Indeed, the magazine's vision of sexual liberation, high living, and "the good life" came to define mainstream images of postwar life. In exploring the history of America's most widely read and influential men's magazine, Elizabeth Fraterrigo hones in on the values, style, and gender formulations put forth in its pages and how they gained widespread currency in American culture. She shows that for Hugh Hefner, the "good life" meant the freedom to choose a lifestyle, and the one he promoted was the "playboy life," in which expensive goods and sexually available women were plentiful, obligations were few, and if one worked hard enough, one could enjoy abundant leisure and consumption. In support of this view, Playboy attacked early marriage, traditional gender arrangements, and sanctions against premarital sex, challenging the conservatism of family-centered postwar society. And despite the magazine's ups and downs, significant features of this "playboy life" have become engrained in American society.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Fraterrigo asks us to accept a somewhat unlikely premise, [but] one closes her book largely convinced that she is right...Her research is phenomenally thorough and her conclusions are bold." —The New Republic

"Enlightening...the author takes Hefner seriously as a transformative cultural figure, a man who not only understood the times in which he lived but fought successfully to change their direction [and] demonstrates how successful Hefner was at packaging an attitude, a mindset, a philosophy—and one that ran counter to the superficial tenets of the era...Fraterrigo's book chronicles with thoroughness and exactitude." —Chicago Tribune

"With insightful observations and extensive research, Fraterrigo deconstructs the historical and sociological context of the magazine and its creator...This fascinating, scholarly portrait of the life and times of Hefner and his magazine holds appeal for readers interested in American culture, media studies, contemporary biographies, and the 'Mad Men' era." —Library Journal

"Don't expect backstairs gossip...[Fraterrigo] devotes herself to the chicken-and-egg question of how much Playboy shaped mid-century American mores and consumer taste and how much it reflected the profound changes that convulsed the country as it emerged from nearly 30 years of Depression and war...it's entertaining." —Wall Street Journal

"A confession: I've never paged through an issue of Playboy, whether by dint of my sex or age. So it's to Elizabeth Fraterrigo's credit that she managed...to interest me for 216 pages in 'a titty magazine that has been culturally irrelevant since the late 1970s.'" —DoubleX

"With keen insight into Playboy's tensions with feminists as well as moralists, Elizabeth Fraterrigo explores how Playboy promoted a bachelor lifestyle marked by consumerism and easy sex in rebellion against post-World War II domesticity, and how that lifestyle came to embody mainstream ideas of individualism and the 'good life.' A lively and engaging book."—Elaine Tyler May, author of Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era

"This insightful book demonstrates that in its heyday Playboy magazine, rather than offering its readers a grand escape from the exigencies of adult life, proffered a vision of manhood that was both problematically and quintessentially American. Fraterrigo is particularly good at showing how the playboy, who mirrored Hefner's own dissatisfactions in fascinating ways, ultimately translated a male desire to run into a framework for sexual and intellectual engagement, gendered social status, and perhaps most importantly, unbridled consumer participation."—Jennifer Scanlon, author of Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown

"In this nuanced and compelling book, Elizabeth Fraterrigo reveals the worlds Playboy created and reflected in post-World War II United States. She uses Playboy as a window to explore battles over gender, family, and individualism, as well as the reconfiguration of social spaces in America and the development of a morality connected to the pleasures of sex and consumer culture."—Daniel Horowitz, author of The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939-1979

"A fascinating history of a male fantasy." —Journalism History

"A history that situates a cultural icon at the very center of post-war America." —H-Net Reviews

Fraterrigo is the first historian to devote a book to the Playboy phenomenon, with fresh information and interpretations that add substantially to our understanding of twentieth-century mainstream masculinity. John Ibson, Journal of American History

Library Journal
As an arbiter of sophisticated consumption, urban living, and sexual pleasure, Hugh M. Hefner's iconoclastic men's magazine has influenced American society for more than 50 years. With insightful observations and extensive research, Fraterrigo (history, Univ. of Nevada, Las Vegas) deconstructs the historical and sociological context of the magazine and its creator. She shows how Playboy, which was founded in 1953, reflected Hefner's and men's interest in obtaining "The Good Life" à la James Bond or the Rat Pack. The magazine's well-respected editorial content and controversial pictorial material, including the famous "Playboy Interview" and the "Playboy Playmate Centerfold," were a marked break from traditional men's lifestyle and general-interest magazines of conservative, family-oriented postwar society, emphasizing instead individualism, singles-oriented entertainment and consumerism, and prolonged bachelorhood. Fraterrigo further discusses how this seminal publication affected gender roles, shaped attitudes toward sex, and influenced movies, television, and literature. VERDICT This fascinating, scholarly portrait of the life and times of Hefner and his magazine holds appeal for readers interested in American culture, media studies, contemporary biographies, and the Mad Men era.—Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195386103
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/5/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,454,711
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Fraterrigo is Assistant Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
1. "We Aren't a Family Magazine": Sex, Gender, and the Family Ideal in Postwar Society
2. "Work Hard and Play Hard, Too": Modern Living and the Morality of the Playboy Life
3. Pads and Penthouses: Playboy's Urban Answer to Suburbanization
4. The Ideal (Play) Mate: Gender, the Workplace, and the Single Girl
5. "For Us It Is the Good Life": The Ascendant Playboy Life
6. "Casualties of the Lifestyle Revolution": Playboy, the Permissive Society, and Women's Liberation Epilogue: America's Playboy Culture Notes Selected Bibliography Index

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