Some people will go to any lengths for journalism. If there are a million stories in the naked city, this is one gal who will go the distance to uncover them.
Ever on the lookout for that little slice of life that will reveal the whole pie, the crumb that unlocks the loaf, the metaphor that offers the key to the analogy, I entered my neighborhood bookstore. Disguised as an ordinary person, I was on a research mission. My assignment: Find out why pictures of LaToya Jackson are a major cultural event.
To do this, I would have to get my hands on a copy of Playboy magazine. Now, I recall that just a short time back, Playboy was viewed as the enemy of women’s progress.
This attitude toward Playboy has been somewhat mitigated by the existence of far more blatantly pornographic material at newsstands in every Norman Rockwell corner of this land. Plus, numerous Playmates have talked publicly about the extremely voluntary nature of their association with the magazine.
And, of course, there’s the family angle. The rise of Christie Hefner, one of the sharpest woman CEOs in the country, has made it harder to portray Playboy as the enemy.
Finally, there is the strong support Playboy has given to the ACLU and other L-word organizations generally thought of as friends of feminism. This was driven home to me some time back when I drove up to the Playboy Mansion to attend the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards ceremony.
The mansion, in the heart of gated, armed-response Holmby Hills, is approached by pulling up to a rock before the locked portals. A disembodied voice from a speaker in the rock asks, “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” I said to it. “I’ll have two Big Macs and a Happy Meal.”
After the security squad had digested my little gag, I was admitted.
In the mansion, I came across every respected L-journalist in the country, from Tom Wicker to Robert Scheer. Assemblyman Tom Hayden was there chatting with Christie, as were folks from the Center for Investigative Reporting and representatives of prominent women’s organizations.
Hef actually got out of his lounging pj’s, put on some clothes and made a brief appearance, looking healthier and handsomer than I would have suspected. A crisp, serious Christie presented the awards. Even in a business suit and no makeup, she looked cute as a bunny.
Despite all this firsthand knowledge of the respectability of Playboy, I still felt weird some months later picking up the magazine in public to look at pictures of a naked lady.
So, very casually, like a compulsive overeater pulling up to a McDonald’s drive-through, I walked up to the magazine rack at the bookstore. And, when nobody was looking, I dropped my Smithsonian and grabbed a Playboy.
There was LaToya--Michael’s face, Michael’s nose job, but on a decidedly non-androgynous figure. A little weird.
Then I turned the page and came across the photo of LaToya posed almost nude with an enormous live snake.
“Yeccchh!” I screamed involuntarily. Everyone in the bookstore turned around and stared at me. Caught--red-handed and red-faced--looking at Playboy, like an 11-year-old boy.
“I’m a journalist,” I said in my defense. A man leafing through Hustler gave me a fraternal wink. Was he a journalist too?
Later, discussing the meaning of this event with my friend Jean, a gonza L-journalist herself, I learned that LaToya had explained the whole thing on “Donahue.”
See, LaToya lived at home until she was 30. That created a kind of pent-up demand to exercise her constitutionally protected freedom of expression. So, naturally, the first thing she wanted to do when she got out on her own was pose naked for Playboy with a snake.
I knew there was an important story here, a serious message for parents everywhere.
Get them out of the house by the time they’re 21.