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Levi Johnston Playgirl Spread: Former Managing Editor Takes On New Guard [UPDATED]

First Posted: 03/18/10 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 03:35 PM ET

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[Editor's note: Playgirl's Daniel Nardicio responds to Jessanne Collins' article. His statement is appended, below.]

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If you read one article today from someone who is "tired of having Levi Johnston's penis thrust into my consciousness every time I read the news" -- and even more sick of the revisionist history of Playgirl magazine that Johnston's upcoming spread is causing to widely bloom across the media landscape -- you should read... well, the only one that's on offer: the disputation of former Playgirl managing editor Jessanne Collins, in today's The Awl.

"It's not that I'm bitter," Collins avers, "More power to Playgirl if it can ride the brawn of a small town teen father back into the limelight, and more power to small town teen fathers who can make their mark on the world with their undeniably virile genitalia."

But, here's the rub:

Really, I'd be happy for both of them if I weren't so alarmed at the way history is being rewritten in the midst of the media shitstorm surrounding this moment -- and the fact that no news outlet has accurately reported who's really behind Playgirl's big comeback.

Collins is referring to the strenuous flackery being put forth by recently-installed Playgirl "PR gun" Daniel Nardicio, who's promoting 'an enduring myth that the earliest incarnation of Playgirl was intended to deconstruct -- that women are out of touch with their sexuality and can't even figure out what's hot and what's not." Here's Nardicio in the Daily Beast:

"We're trying to change the face of Playgirl... The reason I wanted to work with them is that I think of it as a classic American brand that got a little lost. The women working on it weren't keeping up with the times. They didn't admit that there were a lot of gay men reading the magazine and gay men don't want to see guys with flowing long locks looking like they came from the cover of a Danielle Steel novel."

And here he is, telling the same story to The Advocate:

"Playgirl was kind of stuck because the women who were working for it were old and they thought that Fabio-looking characters with long-flowing hair and uber-tans, like those red tans, were really hot. So once the magazine folded I got the opportunity to jump in because all those women were fired and I said, "Let me take the website in a whole new direction, and that's Levi."

Lucky thing that Levi Johnston came along, to help restore the Playgirl brand from all those dumb old ladies, right? Wrong, says Collins!

OK, so he has a point about the abundance of Fabio-looking characters. I wasn't big on the long flowing locks myself. (For the record, I also wasn't "old"--at 28, I was the eldest member of the editorial staff.) And we never had a problem admitting that there were gay men reading the magazine--we published letters from them all the time. (We got plenty of colorful correspondence from women too, which is one of the main reasons the magazine never "came out"--our gay readers seemed content with, even titillated by, a magazine with hetero overtones; our female readers were not so easily placated with gayer fare.)


So it's not that we were clueless, but here's a little secret: we were almost totally powerless over the aesthetic content of the magazine.

[...]

This is why Playgirl failed in the first place. The men in the boardroom had no idea how to market or appeal to either women or gay men -- never mind to both at the same time, an unattainable magic act, in my opinion, but one the company insisted on attempting for years. The tragicomedy of Playgirl's particular aesthetic failure starts to make a lot of sense if you consider that it wasn't constructed by anyone who professed actual physical interest in the male physique. If would-be Fabios were standard, that's because "musclebound with a ridiculous mane" is a comfortable caricature of what women find sexually attractive as doodled in the minds of out-of-touch old dudes.

Right about now, I can't help but wonder how Playgirl is supposed to ride a teenager from two election cycles ago who's fifteen minutes of fame are steadily ticking down to zero into renewed longevity, but hey, I'm sure this new crop of Playgirl dudes have their finger on the zeitgeist's G-spot.

UPDATE: Daniel Nardicio writes in with a generous and substantive response:

I'm aware of Jessanne's piece in The Awl and to be frank, I owe her and the women who worked at Playgirl a huge apology. I shot off at the mouth about them and it was childish and they deserved better.

The reason I was angry was that before I asked to be Director of Marketing, I worked at Playgirl as a party planner for over a year throwing parties for them in cities such as Denver, San Fran, Key West...etc. and in all that time, the female staff of the magazine never once asked to meet me to discuss their "vision" of Playgirl, or even asked to know how I was representing them in the outside world at these events. So I got the impression that they were just punching in for a corporate paycheck. And, evidently from Ms. Collins' piece, they did try to update the faded glory of Playgirl and Playgirl.com, although I never got from her article how she tried this.

When they got laid off, I saw this as an opportunity to create a vision for Playgirl and slowly (it is, after all, a corporate structure) make changes. And Levi was the shock to the public system that we needed to let people know that Playgirl was still not only a contender, but the only adult magazine which celebs may consider posing for.

I think I've done a fine job of enforcing that vision, and I may not have gotten Terry Richardson to shoot it, or John Waters (I asked him -- he declined, but my bet is will offer Levi a role in the next four months) to interview Levi for the magazine, but I believe in baby steps. And this whole media circus is one crazy, fun, mind altering baby step in the right direction for Playgirl and frankly, for me.

So I offer my sincerest apology to the women of Playgirl -- and for the record, I think Ms. Collins is a fantastic writer.

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