When one thinks boobies, one thinks Penthouse. And so it was that on a sparkling spring afternoon, I grabbed my walking stick, donned a porkpie hat, pinned a carnation to my lapel, and strolled down to the local magazinatorium to buy some pornography. Oh, the pageantry.
Since the shelves at Barnes & Noble were mostly populated by the March issues of European fashion titles, I marched towards the dude on the corner and loudly requested the most recent issue of Penthouse, thus horrifying the petite young thing tucking cash back into her purse after snapping up a copy of Domino. Further hilarity ensued when I asked the guy for a receipt; apparently few of his regular Penthouse, Barely Legal and Black Tail customers ask for written documentation of their purchases.
After unwrapping the June issue, however, I found myself a little confused by its cover lines. "Mission: Impossible III"? "First Look at the 'Da Vinci Code' Game"? What about the boobies, man? Won't somebody PLEASE think about the boobies?
Turns out that Penthouse has undergone 73 editorial iterations since I last flicked through its pages. The Gucciones seem to have been unceremoniously deposed (I remember reading something about a bankruptcy skirmish involving a mansion in Westchester--can somebody fill me in here?). In their place has arrived a decidedly well-intentioned crew of scribes determined to enlighten boobie-seekers about movies, video games, CDs, cigars, wine, health, girls, fitness, grooming, gadgets, sports, motorcycles, cars and the Internet.
Sound familiar? Take Maxim or FHM, subtract all traces of wit and personality and add a smattering of nudie spreads, and you've got the new Penthouse.
On one hand, give 'em some points for at least trying to make the title relevant to a younger audience. The June issue features a generous helping of gurus-in-their-field like Harry Knowles (the aint-it-cool-news.com proprietor checks in with wittily curt summer-film blurbs and an interview with "Mission: Impossible III" auteur J.J. Abrams), plus interviews with a different breed of celebrity (Godsmack singer Sully Erna) and the occasional sharply observed piece of reporting (Kristen Ulmer's look at the sad decline of Yosemite National Park).
But Penthouse somehow finds a way to drain these theoretical successes of their allure. The mag buries the Yosemite piece deep in the issue and illustrates it with generic photos. The Abrams interview devotes three full pages to blithe prattle about "M:I III" but ignores the director/writer's other pursuits, like "Lost." And does the mag really believe its readers give a hoot about the Godsmack guy's embrace of Native American spirituality?
The "Game Time" survey of the month in sports reads like Sports Illustrated's "Scorecard" section as interpreted by somebody who gets all of his information secondhand, while the "Full Frontal" take on crotch-rock bands presents The Darkness-- who broke in the U.S. more than three years ago--as a recent find. To give the mag an excuse to throw a bunch of unrelated crap (a bike, walkie-talkies, an outdoor beer dispenser) into a single product spread, the mag groups it under the all-encompassing but ultimately meaningless heading of "Technomania." Penthouse must assume an IQ ceiling of 75 among its readership.
As for the mag's randy content, well, it is what it is. Penthouse appends its increasingly chaste pictorials with girlie quotes like "sometimes, my late-night study sessions can get a little wild!" Dude, mine too--last week, we ordered both pizza AND hummus. I'll say this: if Penthouse truly wants to go upmarket, it should probably ditch the call-me-for-69-cents-a-minute come-ons.
And really, the mag should fight the temptation to overplay the boobies card. The photo that precedes the otherwise parchment-dry "Woods Warrior" camping-accessories spread, which depicts a silhouetted couple merrily boinking away in a tent, proved the only thing in the issue that made me laugh. I'm guessing that wasn't the intention.
In one of the June issue's venerable "Forum" letters, a reader (wink, wink) writes, "She knew what I wanted, and she was going to make sure I got it." If only Penthouse were quite as knowing about its readers' desires.