Through an examination of some of the science-fiction stories published in Playboy magazine from 1953 to 1973, this essay shows that futuristic narratives were integral to the magazine’s editorial sensibility, which suggested that intimate life should be governed by the cool rationality of scientific management. In addition to offering close readings of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and “The Fly” by George Langelaan, this essay demonstrates that Playboy editor and publisher Hugh Hefner himself was a science-fictional figure, representing the fantasy of a human merging with a media network. During this period, Hefner purported to be the living embodiment of the Playboy enterprise, as well as its target audience. This claim allowed the magazine to manage public and legal perceptions of its readership, a move that helped Playboy skirt censorship while courting advertisers. Women and other supposedly vulnerable readers were excluded from its audience, appearing instead as instruments for masculine self-contemplation. Thus, the magazine describes female characters such as Clarisse, the “girl next door” in Fahrenheit 451, and Janet Pilgrim, the first girl-next-door Playmate, as media technologies operated by men. Drawing on Michel Foucault and the history of the book, this article uses the example of Hefner to theorize the editorial subject. Like Foucault’s author function, the editor function represents a position of legal, moral, and authorial responsibility that binds together disparate elements into a single, legible identity. Threats to this identity reemerge through science-fiction narratives, which allow readers to obtain a cool and estranged perspective on otherwise disturbing ideas and emotions. Nevertheless, Playboy rejected even speculative short stories that failed to conform to its editorial point of view.
Jordan S. Carroll; Reading Playboy for the Science Fiction. American Literature 1 June 2015; 87 (2): 331–358. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2886151
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