Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America

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Launched by Hugh Hefner in 1953, Playboy promoted an image of the young, affluent, single male-the man about town ensconced in a plush bachelor pad, in constant pursuit of female companionship and a good time. Spectacularly successful, this high-gloss portrait of glamorous living and sexual adventure would eventually draw some one million readers each month.
Exploring the world created in the pages of America's most widely read and influential men's magazine, Elizabeth Fraterrigo sets Playboy's history in the context of a society in transition. Sexual mores, gender roles, family life, notions of consumption and national purpose-all were in flux as Americans adjusted to the prosperity that followed World War II. Initially, Playboy promised only "entertainment for men," but Fraterrigo reveals that its vision of abundance, pleasure, and individual freedom soon placed the magazine at the center of mainstream debates about sex and freedom, politics and pleasure in postwar America.
She shows that for Hugh Hefner, the "good life" meant 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. The magazine also promoted private consumption as a key to economic growth and national well-being, offering tips from "The Playboy Advisor" on everything from high-end stereos and cuff-links to caviar and wine.
If we want to understand post-war America, Fraterrigo shows, we must pay close attention to Playboy, its messages about pleasure and freedom, the debates it inspired, and the criticism it drew--all of which has been bound up in the popular culture and consumer society that surround us.
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Editorial Reviews

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: 1,430,315
  • 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

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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