I’ve been intrigued by the reactions to the death of Hugh Hefner – the founder of Playboy Magazine. Erotica goes back thousands of years on cave walls, in paintings, sketches, and later in woodcuts and engravings. Since the invention of halftone printing there have been magazines like PhotoBits, first published in 1898. Pinup girls like Bettie Page used to pose for such magazines, which were usually sold discreetly to adult men, who usually concealed them. Playboy was the first high-quality, mass market men’s magazine to feature nude pictorials, and the first of the type that many women and children ever saw on the shelves. My father concealed his Playboys, though not very well, but we had neighbors whose parents were less conscientious.
I subscribe to the self-described progressive outfit The Young Turks (TYT), who have one show called, “Old School.” During a recent broadcast founder Cenk Uygur announced Hefner’s passing as breaking news. Even though they have vastly different backgrounds and business models, Uygur seemed to feel a connection to his fellow entrepreneur/publisher:
Cenk: What’s funny is that I just got a little emotional. I almost teared up, I didn’t, but … what do I know about Hugh Hefner. I interviewed him once. He was nice…. He was part of America, man.
Malcolm Fleschner: He was an iconic figure in America.
Cenk: I just got really, really sad.
Malcolm: There is only one Hugh Hefner, there is nobody like him, and there never will be again, we’ve lost him, whatever you thought about him, he was a uniquely American figure and had a massive impact on our culture …
Cenk: If ever a person was iconic, it was Hugh Hefner … Man, he lived a good life.
On TYT’s Pop Trigger, a younger group, Brett Ehrlich, Grace Baldridge, Daron Dean, and Jason Carter also covered Hefner’s passing, and extolled Hefner as forward-thinking, even while acknowledging his objectification of women. On the TYT main show, Ana Kasparian, Ehrlich and Baldridge again seemed to take Hefner for granted as an exponent of social progress, despite his flaws. On their recurring youtube show, Reality Rescued, TYT’s roving reporter Jordan Chariton even tossed out that he had first masturbated to Playboy, shocking poor Emma Vigeland.
I had seen many of my father’s copies before December 1967, but will always remember a Playboy pictorial on erotic Art Nouveau engravings by Aubrey Beardsley, Gustav Klimt, Franz von Bayros and Norman Lindsay which my younger self found much more provoking than remote and detached photos of Hef’s carefully selected bunnies. I could probably buy a copy, but it probably wouldn’t live up to my memories.
Even though he was a vocal champion of (many) liberal social values, Hefner fares less well with liberals than the TYT progressives. In a New Yorker article, Hugh Hefner, Playboy, and the American Male, Adam Gopnik writes:
There was a time when his excursions into the Playboy philosophy, which was not quite as ridiculous a document as its title makes it sound, were, though never taken seriously, at least seen as significant. Now, they seem not merely quaint but predatory.
For The American Thinker, Rick Moran writes, Hugh Hefner is Dead:
What was Hefner’s role in this transformative America? Actually, he was a lot less impactful than certainly Hefner would have us and the media believe. He did not initiate the sexual revolution. We can thank the Pill for that. Rather, Hefner rode the wave of changing morals and mores by creating bankable images of nearly nude women, along with sharp political and cultural commentary from some of the best liberal writers in America. He made it cool to be a cad and reinforced the male fantasy of consequence-free sex.
And The New Republic decries, Hugh Hefner’s Incomplete Sexual Revolution:
What derailed the male revolt was the female revolt. Women reasonably asked themselves: If men like Hefner were abandoning the traditional claims of chivalry, then what were they offering? The answer: a patriarchy without any promise of protection—a raw deal.
Without a trace of irony, today’s intersectionally woke neoliberals signal their virtue by pointing out that Hefner profited from wrapping himself in the social revolution at the same time that he was sexually exploiting his lowly-paid female employees.
Interestingly, a woman architect really appreciated Hefner. Writing for the AIA journal, Architect, Karrie Jacobs penned, Playboy Magazine and the Architecture of Seduction in 2016, quoting Beatriz Colomina:
… Hefner made [midcentury modern design] mainstream. That’s the point of the exhibition, that Playboy did more for modern architecture and design then any architectural journal or even the Museum of Modern Art. At its peak, it had seven million readers.
I gave a lecture at Cornell at the beginning of this research. At the end of the lecture, a woman said to me, “Now I understand why my father, who never went to a museum, who never had any idea about art or architecture or design, had an amazing collection of midcentury furniture.”
And then I had a correspondence with her. She asked him, “Where did you get all this furniture?” And he said, “Playboy told me to buy it.”
That is absolutely spot on. Along with the girls, and the interviews, and the fiction, were descriptions of the Playboy Pad: apartments or houses that would reflect well on the bachelor’s good taste, with lists (and costs) of the Barcelona chairs, Burberry raincoats, Fleischmann’s Preferred Blended Whiskey, Miles Davis albums, Blaupunkt hi-fi sets, etc that midcentury human male bowerbirds could purchase and arrange to attract a mate.
Despite not knowing what it was for, I joined Twitter a few months ago. I don’t tweet much, but I follow people I respect, and read a wider variety of articles. Aussie progressive gadfly Caitlin Johnstone tweeted that, except as concerns Russia, President Trump seems to be caving to the establishment agenda. I decided to circle back to John Robb at Global Guerillas, and in an article from a few days ago, The OODA loop of Trump’s Insurgency has been Smashed, he agreed. OODA means Observe, Orient, Decide, Act:
… the real uniting goal of Trump’s insurgency was “opposition to a failed establishment.”
That goal held the insurgency that put him in office together, despite gaffes, scandals, leaks, etc that would have ended the political career of any other candidate. It was also a goal that allowed the insurgency to continue after winning the election. In most cases, once the goal has been accomplished (i.e. remove Mubarak), the insurgency evaporates.
The reason it didn’t: the media. …
It was maddeningly clear that the establishment media was in the bag for Hillary Clinton over Sanders, then over Trump. In the world according to Robb, that was enough to keep resentment of Clinton stoked, but it hasn’t been enough to maintain a Presidency aimed at dismantling the Deep State. Steve Bannon, the architect of that goal, was ushered out weeks ago, and now:
… senior military staff running the Trump administration launched a counter-insurgency against the insurgency. …
•Former generals took control of key staff positions.
•They purged staff members that were part of the insurgency and tightly limited access to Trump.
•Finally, and most importantly, they took control of Trump’s information flow.
That final step changed everything. General Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, has put Trump on a establishment-only media diet. Further, staff members are now prevented from sneaking him stories from unapproved sources during the day (stories that might get him riled up and off the establishment message). … by controlling Trump’s information flow with social media/networks, the generals smashed the insurgency’s OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act). Deprived of this connection, Trump is now weathervaning to cater to the needs of the establishment (as seen with his new stance on DACA and the Wall).
Robb broke down his view of the Trump political climate further back in August in, American Politics: Bad Boys vs. Mean Girls. I’ve quoted but rearranged his descriptions:
The political parties and the media aren’t the primary actors in the US political system anymore. Increasingly, politics is being waged online by networks. A fight between two powerful and very different online social networks:
Robb claims that the ‘Bad Boys’ “(similar to a gang or tribe) network grew in support of Donald Trump,” but I think they’ve been growing as long the middle class has been collapsing and have long flourished on certain corners of the internet. In Kill All Normies, Angela Nagle sets a possible beginning of transgression for it’s own sake in 2003 on 4chan, but I encountered the same sort of misanthropic and misogynistic ‘transgressors’ in usenet in the 1990s. Eventually, as explained by Ta-Nehisi Coates recently, they and Trump were bound to find each other.
[Bad Boys] has one organizing principle: disrupt the status quo. This network fights like an open source insurgency composed of many small groups and individuals acting independently. It disrupts from the shadows. It’s opportunistic, disorganized, and aggressive. It misleads, angers, and intimidates. It scores victories by increasing fear, uncertainty, and distrust.
Robb calls Trump’s opponents the ‘Mean Girls’ “(similar to a social clique or ruling aristocracy) network solidified in response to Trump’s unexpected victory.” Again, I believe that some sort of establishment or Deep State has been around for decades, but found a more compelling common cause in opposing Trump.
[Mean Girls’] cohesion and single mindedness neutered the Trump administration even before he took the oath. … It has one organizing principle: repel the barbarians. This network fights like a ruling clique, albeit vastly larger than we have seen historically due to the scaling effects of social networking. This network openly connects people in authority across every major institution (from education to the media to the government to the tech industry) and leverages it and the politics of identity to establish moral authority. It fights by categorizing, vilifying and shunning enemies. It scores victories by manufacturing consensus.
One only has to read my old haunts TalkingPointsMemo or dagblog, or watch Stephen Colbert or John Oliver or Samantha Bee go after Trump, or one of his staff, or even Bernie Sanders to see this clique in action.
Which leads to my question: Where does the progressive citizen who wants things to get better for everyone fit in? Clearly the Bad Boys want to toss out anyone who isn’t white (or doing a pretty good imitation of white) and start over in a pastoral America that never really existed. There’s no place for the Normies there.
Just as clearly, the Mean Girls profess a world where everyone can be equal and get ahead based strictly on merit. That’s great if you are one of those who can swing a tech job, but not much comfort when those tech firms are transferring the few remaining blue collar jobs to immigrants, foreigners or robots. The Mean Girls become much more pragmatic when asked to support the more progressive reforms proposed by Bernie Sanders.
Are the Bad Boys and Mean Girls just the loudest part of the electorate? Could we create a populist network to rival either of them?
I’ve read a few outraged articles about United Airlines vs Dr Dao. As he often does, James Pilant questions the business ethics involved. I consider air travel an environmental tragedy, and agree that people wearing police uniforms are entirely too ready to dish out force and violence, but I have been generally aware (one of my brothers has been bumped) that overbooking was a common practice driven by A – people missing or not showing up for flights, or taking earlier flights and B – the airlines wanting to maximize profit by having a passenger in every seat.
I read somewhere that without overbooking the average flight might be only about 83% full, but I have seen many more empty seats on Greyhound. I’ve taken the bus from Altoona to Harrisburg to Baltimore dozens of times, and unless it is a holiday weekend, I see anywhere from 50 to 90% of seats going empty. Airlines, though, were hit hard by the price-gouging competition that came with the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act, and more recently by unpredictable fuel costs. So they overbook. As I am in the middle of reading James Kwak’s Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality, I was trying to figure out why, in a deregulated and free market, overbooking isn’t perfectly balanced by some other market factor like voucher payments.
On April 11th, Cadie Thompson at Business Insider explained, The frustrating reason airlines overbook flights, but quoted Vinay Bhaskara, “Usually, they won’t overbook first class because that could tend to make your most lucrative passengers very angry.”
Four days later Thompson amplified the justifications, Here’s why overbooking flights is actually a good thing:
“By overbooking it actually does help keep the fares down because the airlines are able to maximize the amount of revenue they are able to collect and generate as much profit as they can,” said Henry Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst for Atmosphere Research Group, told Business Insider.
“But if they didn’t overbook it’s possible they may have to charge more,” he said.
Overbooking is also beneficial to consumers because it allows the more flexibility in their travel plans, Vinay Bhaskara, Airways senior business analyst, told to Business Insider.
“Frequently, the people who benefit the most from overbooking are the last few people to buy, The ones who are not able to make plans in advance,” Bhaskara said. “Often times those seats are available at the last minute are only available because that flight can be overbooked. The airline knows some people are going to be missing the flight.”
Ultimately, though, overbooking is done because airlines want to ensure that they are making the most money on every seat. So they use historical data to help them predict how many people will likely miss a flight on a certain route. And most of the time it works.
Bureau of Transportation Statistics indicate that in 2015 about one-tenth of a percent of passengers were denied boarding (bumped), and that roughly 90% of those were voluntary, meaning that they took the vouchers offered. Journalist Bob Sullivan notes that while the voluntary numbers are declining, the involuntary bumps remain fairly constant. He blames the vouchers:
Again, that means one thing: the voucher offers aren’t nearly good enough.
Let’s speculate about why that is. I’ve heard from many readers today about the vouchers they get from airlines in this situation, and here’s the truth: Experienced fliers are wise to the game. They are saying no more often. Vouchers aren’t all they are cracked up to be, and they certainly aren’t the same as cash. They expire. Sometimes their remaining value is surrendered (a $400 voucher gets a $300 flight and $100 disappears). Most of all, the vouchers must be used on the airline that just did the bumping. Who wants to fly an airline that just kicked them off a plane!
And, like rebates, some of them are never used, giving the airlines a secret source of revenue.
Kwak’s central theme is that the free market only operates perfectly inside your Economics 101 class:
“… Because nobody is ever forced to make a trade (in theory, at least), a transaction only occurs if it makes both parties better off. … prices naturally adjust until supply equals demand. …”
Kwak notes that in the real world, there is, “a fundamental tension between efficiency and fairness,” which sometimes leads to price gouging, and now has led to a bloodied man being dragged off a passenger jetliner, and being vilified in the press for not going quietly.
Update 20170420, a popular article at The American Conservative quotes Fox, The Daily Mail and the Independent to paint Dao as a sharpie who instigated the whole mess, hoping for a lawsuit.
What are those Kubler-Ross stages of grief again? Oh yeah, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think a lot of us are still in denial, or maybe anger, but at Salon, Andrew O’Herir seems to be bargaining, as he attempts to prepare us for a Presidency in which the traditional media may well be out of the loop:
… After an election cycle driven by lies, delusions and propaganda — including lies about lies, multiple layers of fake news and meta-fake news — we are about to install a fake president, elected by way of the machineries of fake democracy.
The country that elected him is fake too, at least in the sense that the voters who supported Donald Trump largely inhabit an imaginary America, or at least want to. They think it’s an America that used to exist, one they heard about from their fathers and grandfathers and have always longed to go back to. It’s not.
Their America is an illusion that has been constructed and fed to them through the plastic umbilicus of Fox News and right-wing social media to explain the anger and disenfranchisement and economic dislocation and loss of relative privilege they feel. …
I have a quibble with selectively blaming this or that media. For all of us, our view of America has been fed to us by selective memories of older folk, by what is taught in schools, and by what is portrayed in our increasingly intrusive media. Our parents talked about the good old days – that’s nothing new. We were also taught that America is a beneficent democracy rather than an opportunistic economic empire – jingoism is not terribly new either.
And, for just one example, my generation watched endless melodramas in which a hero shooting someone actually solved more problems than he caused. That sentiment might not have been new, but we’ve progressed from clean deaths on The Rifleman to blood spurting everywhere on Call of Duty. Just yesterday we saw some self-styled hero trying to “clean up the town” at Comet PingPong – which ironically was the subject of a fake news conspiracy asserting Clinton and Podesta were child trafficking out of that pizza place’s non-existent basement.
Trump supporters certainly imagine a fake America in which white people are the good guys and darker people can only succeed by emulating us. But Clinton supporters just as certainly imagined a fake America in which business is booming, unemployment is falling, and things would get even better for everyone if only we passed the TPP.
OK, I thought I was done with the angry Trump voter articles, but this one at the Washington Post is pretty good. They interviewed Kathy Cramer, a poly-sci prof from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, just before the election. When the Post felt that Cramer had slipped into the voice of the mostly rural people she sought out and listened to, they used italics – blockquote messes with italics, so I’m going to add bold:
Post: I want to get into this idea of deservingness. As I was reading your book it really struck me that the people you talked to, they really have a strong sense of what they deserve, and what they think they ought to have. Where does that come from?
Cramer: Part of where that comes from is just the overarching story that we tell ourselves in the U.S. One of the key stories in our political culture has been the American Dream — the sense that if you work hard, you will get ahead.
Well, holy cow, the people I encountered seem to me to be working extremely hard. I’m with them when they’re getting their coffee before they start their workday at 5:30 a.m. I can see the fatigue in their eyes. And I think the notion that they are not getting what they deserve, it comes from them feeling like they’re struggling. They feel like they’re doing what they were told they needed to do to get ahead. And somehow it’s not enough.
Oftentimes in some of these smaller communities, people are in the occupations their parents were in, they’re farmers and loggers. They say, it used to be the case that my dad could do this job and retire at a relatively decent age, and make a decent wage. We had a pretty good quality of life, the community was thriving. Now I’m doing what he did, but my life is really much more difficult.
I’m doing what I was told I should do in order to be a good American and get ahead, but I’m not getting what I was told I would get.
There’s another interview with Cramer on her observations after the election:
Here’s the thing that was really eye-opening to me this morning. Eventually, we got around to discussing specific policies. I asked, “So what are you hoping he accomplishes in the next four years? In what ways do you think he’s actually going to make your life better?”
And they kind of looked at me. And they said, Well, probably nothing. Presidents don’t do anything for people like us. But at least he’s going to balance the books and stop spending money that we don’t have.
I remember in college when B Kliban’s cartoon book Cat (“love to eat dem mousies!”) became hugely popular and all of a sudden all the stores had all sorts of other cat cartoon books, too. At first I thought they were copycats (heh) but I realized a lot of this other work had already been out there, and was just getting noticed because of Kliban. Same goes for a lot of the magical books that rode the coattails of JK Rowling.
Right now, everyone is busy trying to explain why Trump won. Half of them are trying to set the narrative by trying to blame Comey or Stein or racists, but there is also a wealth of opinion on the white working class that simply wasn’t showing up before the election proved a lot of pundits dead wrong, and out of touch. Thomas Frank is one of the main sources, but at Harvard Business Review, Joan C Williams offers What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class:
Understand That Working Class Means Middle Class, Not Poor
The terminology here can be confusing. When progressives talk about the working class, typically they mean the poor. But the poor, in the bottom 30% of American families, are very different from Americans who are literally in the middle: the middle 50% of families whose median income was $64,000 in 2008. That is the true “middle class,” and they call themselves either “middle class” or “working class.”
“The thing that really gets me is that Democrats try to offer policies (paid sick leave! minimum wage!) that would help the working class,” a friend just wrote me. A few days’ paid leave ain’t gonna support a family. Neither is minimum wage. WWC men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is what my father-in-law had: steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree. Trump promises that. I doubt he’ll deliver, but at least he understands what they need.
Williams goes on to explain that while the working class (including most of my siblings, and most of my wife’s family) admire rich people, they resent highly-educated professionals (such as me) and particularly professional women.
If You Want to Connect with White Working-Class Voters, Place Economics at the Center
“The white working class is just so stupid. Don’t they realize Republicans just use them every four years, and then screw them?” I have heard some version of this over and over again, and it’s actually a sentiment the WWC agrees with, which is why they rejected the Republican establishment this year. But to them, the Democrats are no better.
Both parties have supported free-trade deals because of the net positive GDP gains, overlooking the blue-collar workers who lost work as jobs left for Mexico or Vietnam. These are precisely the voters in the crucial swing states of Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that Democrats have so long ignored. Excuse me. Who’s stupid?
This is of course why everyone is bringing up NAFTA and the TPP (which presently seems dead in the water). Whether any sort of protectionism could have preserved manufacturing jobs is hard to say, but both parties certainly smoothed the way for employers to send them overseas. It seems unlikely that Trump can bring back all those jobs, but I expect him to make some symbolic gestures.