I will never in any way apologize for being into vintage Playboy magazines. 

It's 2016, and "I read it for the articles" is a truly valid statement: I can get pornography on my cellphone that will make the breasts and vague dark shadow that's mostly thick obscuring pubic hair anyway in those photos look like a Methodist church bulletin.

I bought a while ago a collection of 1950s Playboy on DVD, which was a rich treasure trove of interviews and lifestyle articles. But it just wasn't the same as the visceral experience of turning yellowed pages in a scuffed cover, with aging inks giving the pictures a murky, rich ochre glow but not affecting the text, which I got when I visited a local antique store and found someone was liquidating an old collection at $6 an issue. I grabbed the 1968 and 1971 issues, and a few into the early 70s that were the January ones - which tend to have a "year in review". They really didn't like Spiro Agnew, whoever he was.

There's something inherently helpful to Buddhists or materialists trying to kick the habit about reading the "what we're buying for Christmas" list. A deluxe, wood grain Commodore calculator, for example, which had red LED output and stylish buttons - something which would end up landfill these days. Machined ski bindings, whose gorgeously shaped design is now almost 50 years out of date and abrogated by better engineering and composites. You get to realize that whatever object of lust you can think of right now would end up a quaint retro item you'd not even pay $2 for.

The car ads are of course amusing. "Drive the new, stylish AMC".  The same car that would be used in Wayne's World some 20 years later, referred to as "the mirth mobile" and held up as an example of the castoffs the poor non-life-starter Wayne was able to afford. Japanese cars were desperately trying to place themselves as something you'd actually consider buying as opposed to picked up only because they're cheaper. 

The ads themselves had a LOT more tobacco advertising, especially pipe tobacco - and the toxic masculinity that some feminists rail about pokes out between some of the lines... an ad for male hair grooming says something to the effect of "you thought hair product was for cream puffs... but real men etc. etc." The ads themselves were obviously typeset by hand, and there's a certain inaccuracy of spacing resulting from letters being added by hand via rub-on transfer as opposed to a computer aligning fonts mathematically with brutal precision.

What was really, really jarring was to read some pre Roe vs Wade letters to the editor. A lot of the letters to the editor were about Vietnam, but the ones that got my attention were the revelations from a doctor who spent 11 months in jail. His story was that some kid brought his girlfriend in who'd been hacked at by a back room abortionist and he performed necessary surgery to undo the hack job... only to find that the police grabbed the scared as hell boyfriend and told him he would be offered a choice in court - could either go to Vietnam, or prison and  be brutally raped by the very angry visible minorities who'd love the chance to take their grievances out on his rectum, or go to court and say that the doctor had performed the abortion from beginning to end. Because procuring an abortion is a serious crime but they'd be happy to look the other way if he helped them "go after" the medical providers who kill children, in the same way they grab scared kids and tell them they don't want them, they want the dealers.

Was the man lying? You can't tell. But in that political environment, I'm sure there were medical professionals who had to weigh relieving the harm involved to a scared woman who needed to be repaired in order to preserve her life and health, and the very real potential for proseuction and witch hunting.

That seems somehow monstrous in 2016, regardless of how you actually feel about abortion.

What was depressingly the same, however, were certain aspects of American life. One author wrote a screed that said something to the effect that the war was an expensive disaster. It was designed to be a technical war, fought mostly from afar with minimal American casualties. That we had tried to forestall violence in our own country by installing everything another country would need - a government, infrastructure and defense against enemies domestic and foreign - but that fundamentally we made an attempt to export our value system and way of life to a country that didn't want it or need it. That we had examined that failure and refused to accept that maybe our way of life wasn't the only one, and/or the best. And that it was pointless anyway, because people WERE detonating bombs in our cities anyway, and it was blowback from the very expensive war we had been sold would prevent the fight from coming to our shores.

Syria in 2016? Iraq in the 2000s? No. Vietnam in 1968.

There were a couple of other laughs as well, bitter ones. Name Withheld suggested that we just have all the pot smokers out there toke up on the state capitol steps - as a giant demonstration of just how much support there was for the legalization of marijuana, and how could they arrest all 200,000 people? It was going to be legal within the decade, everyone relax. And in any case, eventually the Baby Boomer generation would take over and first thing they'd do is junk those stupid laws.

There was also the prediction that by the end of the 1970s we'd see an end to poverty. Having won the war and no longer having to spend $80 billion a year in Vietnam, it would result in a peace dividend that could be used to fix the inner cities, eradicate poverty both urban and rural, and help us build a futuristic utopia. Because obviously we'd use the money to help people, it's the politicians' job to help us, right?

Of course, the real meat of the experience for me was an interview with a young, pre-Jurassic Park Michael Crichton, whose book The Amdromeda Strain did kind of well for him. As well as Mario Puzo talking about the fact that he was kind of set for money after writing a book called The Godfather, not realizing within a decade it would become a legendary film and REALLY set him up for life. Joan Rivers wrote a really neat piece asking for balance in the women's lib movement - in essence she agreed with everything they wanted regarding equal pay, child care and so forth - but please don't beat up on her for actually enjoying the relationship with the man she spent so many years trying to find. The article on "Sex in the 1970s" turned out to be a very, VERY dry academic piece even though Linda Lovelace was on the panel. There was fiction from Gore Vidal and some really interesting historical piece on Chicago in the speakeasy years as recounted by a cabbie who was supplementing Social Security and welfare by driving a hack in his golden years.

Did I look at the pictures of the women? Of course, in passing. And I must admit it was far more pleasing to see the natural curve and smaller natural breasts of the women in those days, as opposed to the very athletic, almost emaciated specimens with perfectly spherical fake breasts who were in the first periodicals I saw in my formative years in the 1990s.

People seemed to read more back then. Argue actual politics back then. Be interested in the world around them back then. Smoke pipe tobacco a lot more back then. Hand me a turtleneck and shove me in a time machine, I'm totally down for fondue and I'd love to experience it for myself.

 

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