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The Playboy Club needs feminism – Monthly Musings

‘The Playboy Club’ wasn’t anti-feminist, it was just boring. The show could be better if it didn’t pretend the club was fun 24-7. If it took on a more feminist slant, it could improve. What do you think?

People complained about The Playboy Club because it seemingly glorified female exploitation. But, my biggest complaint surrounds the LACK of female exploitation. Come on, it’s a show about a 1960s male supper club with waitresses in swimsuits, but only ONE guy is disrespectful? REALLY?! The show bored me because they made the club look like a magical fantasy land where women escaped the realities of their lives with Hugh Hefner as an equal opportunity employer. Outside a couple moments, including the assault, no one really disrespected the bunnies (including the chocolate bunny Brenda, Naturi Naughton) and the bunny matron Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti) always trumped the club manager Billy Rosen (David Krumholtz).

I understood why people complained. The show wasn’t realistic about Playboy or the 1960s. So, I decided to look at Gloria Steinem’s 1963 “I was a Playboy bunny,” the 1968 Playboy Manual, and tales from bunnies who worked in the Chicago club in 1971 as well as New Orleans in 1973. A lot of what happened in the show happened in reality. The working bunnies were racially diverse and a lot of women looked at it as a fun, exciting diversion. But, NBC also cut out the seedier parts.

If the show wants to improve, it needs to stop making the Playboy Club a magical hideaway. It shouldn’t be afraid to show more sexism, make the bunnies less wide-eyed, and show more behind-the-scenes reality. Right now, looking at the club through rose-colored glasses  and fobbing the sexist decisions onto Carol-Lynne is too easy an out. If they want to make the show more interesting, I suggest they borrow from Steinem’s piece to show the good AND the bad.

  • Show more unfairness from Playboy club. The bunnies paid for costume upkeep (2.50/day), their stockings, and makeup (eyelashes, rouge, and lipstick) from Playboy-affiliated makeup experts. The demerit system charged them for eating in rooms, not going to the Playboy physician or missing photo opportunities. Also, it took 50% of their first 30 dollars in tips. Stop making Hef the hero. The Playboy club sanitized and glamorized the Vegas cocktail waitress model. But, the model remained underneath. They shouldn’t fear showing playboy’s practices WITHOUT making Carol-Lynne the heavy.
  • Make the manager more of a douche. They received demerits for calling the director by his first name or disobeying his commands.  Let’s see more of that with Billy Rosen!
  • Show more of a dichotomy between key holders and Playboy’s rules. The manual discouraged bunnies from dating key holders or giving their last names. But Steinem reveals that some women were hassled if they didn’t date #1 key holders. They’re on the right track with Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), but they can do more.
  • Show more patron problems. The women had difficulty with club attendees pulling their tails or propositioning them. A taxi driver propositioned Steinem with four dollars. At high capacity, the cloak room was closed to female patrons (but, never to men). Sometimes, female attendees harassed their waitresses. Although the club encouraged bunny safety, the mobster wasn’t a one-off. Don’t pretend it was.
  • Let the women complain about their costumes. Come on, someone tells you your corset will be tighter, your briefs higher and you squeal with delight? That scene felt totally unrealistic. Steinem experienced numbness and the club fined women for wearing heels lower than three inches. It’s OK if the women admit to having corns or occasional fainting problems.
  • Show the behind the scenes acts. The pilot featured Ike and Tina Turner without any backstage scenes hinting at their relationship. I find it hard to believe people never saw hints back in the day. That  was a plum opportunity TPBC passed up. If they want good TV, they shouldn’t gloss over the real world history of Playboy’s acts.
  • Give them lives outside the club. Setting 80% of the show in the club is boring and monotonous. If Maureen (Amber Heard) wants to become a dancer, why isn’t she going out on auditions during the day? Some women were wise to the bunny enterprise, why aren’t there more jaded characters? Right now, having female characters that are 100%-bunny dedicated (excluding the “married” waitress) seems unrealistic. Let’s have more variety!

Right now the show only shows 20% bad stuff, and it could amp that up to 30-40%. They need to stop appealing to the happy hooker syndrome (where your lady of the night isn’t abused, jaded and finds you highly attractive). It’s boring. The tension comes from stock stereotypes and not reality. At the end of the day, either Carol-Lynne will fire bunny Maureen or the mob will kill her.

In the interim, I need more tension to keep me going. We feminists aren’t lobbying against unfairness, we’re lobbying for good TV. Hopefully, the writers stop castrating themselves and get more balls to write the 1960s as they were.


Photo Credit: NBC

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8 Responses to “The Playboy Club needs feminism – Monthly Musings”

September 26, 2011 at 1:08 PM

I can’t believe I’m defending it, but you’ve got to remember, it was JUST the Pilot. It seems to me that many of the points you reference are downsides of being a Pilot in general.

September 26, 2011 at 2:08 PM

I agree, Ivey. It’s one episode. Things can change drastically from the pilot to even the second episode. It’s rare that a show gets everything “right” in the first episode. If this was a movie, then the complaints would be valid because there would be no further development but it’s not, so give it at least three episodes before picking it to pieces (that is, if it lasts long enough to develop the characters and story).

September 26, 2011 at 2:30 PM

But I agree with An … it was a BAD episode.

September 26, 2011 at 2:52 PM

Still, it was a pilot. I’m sure there have been other “bad” pilots that were able to address the issues and improve upon them, no?

September 26, 2011 at 2:59 PM

Sure, it was a pilot, but if why bother to talk about the premiere, if one could just say “it’s just the pilot, things could get better.”

I actually think (knowing this will be a statemenrt that will be laughed at) after having written about both shows now, that Charlie’s Angels has more upside than TPC, even though CA was a much worse pilot.

September 26, 2011 at 2:43 PM

The topics you mention are part of the reason I’m looking forward to watching The Playboy Club (assuming it doesn’t get cancelled). The pilot perfectly set-up the series to address the social issues of the time: race issues (chocolate bunny), homosexuality (Mattachine Club), feminism, and organized crime.

The question will be whether or not it will glamorize these topics or stick to a more historical view.

From the pilot, I think that some if not all of your areas of concern could/will be addressed throughout the series. I didn’t see anything that would lead me to believe that they won’t be.

I agree that I’d love to see those areas addressed by the show as well.

September 26, 2011 at 3:19 PM

I just think it’s premature to say all the things a show needs to fix after a single episode. If it was a single movie that got it all wrong, I can see the criticism of how it could have been better, but I’m even willing to give the pilot of Whitney a pass to see if the problems I had with the clichés and supporting cast of characters were addressed between pilot and greenlight. And for the record, I have yet to see TPC, so I’m just saying pointing out the faults of any show’s pilot is just a bit early in the game to armchair quarterback it. BUT, it will be interesting to see if the points An brought up are eventually addressed … if the show lasts long enough to address them.

October 9, 2011 at 6:16 AM

Since it’s a licensed name, there are probably guidelines in the contracts for how historically realistic or seedy the show can be. Unlike some people, I don’t think Hefner had script approval, but even if the show had continued, I doubt they would have been allowed to enact a tenth of what you were suggesting here.

I still have not been able to steel myself to watch this show, yet have refrained from deleting it outright. My desire to see the effortlessly hot Amber Heard in the demeaning, half-naked costume is counterbalanced by my lack of desire to see the actor Amber Heard playing the weak/naive innocent/victim instead of her usual interesting or kick-ass characters.