I read it for the articles… really.

There’s this perception among my friends that the only beer I drink is Rolling Rock.

I shouldn’t be surprised at this, as since the late-1980s, the only beer I’ve ordered when seeing bands at music venues is Rolling Rock. In fact, it’s the only beer I mention by name in columns and reviews and show write-ups. It’s as if I was sponsored by Rolling Rock (considering the amount I’ve drank, I should be). For years now, bartenders at most clubs I frequent have greeted me with the trademark cold green bottle.

But lately that’s changed. Fewer and fewer bars now serve Rolling Rock in bottles, instead offering it in 16-ounce cans. Chris Machmuller at O’Leaver’s explained that their swap from bottles to cans meant I’d get four more ounces of beer for the same price. I told him the amount of beer wasn’t the point (an alien concept, I know, coming from an O’Leaver’s patron), that the process of drinking Rolling Rock demands the beer be served in bottles. And, let’s face it, I’m probably his only customer who drinks it -- doesn’t my opinion count for anything?

A few weeks later, I was flipping through the new issue of Playboy. In the Givenchy-scented pages at the front of the magazine was an article titled “Nice Cans” with the kicker headline that said, “Bigger is better this summer thanks to artisanal tall boys” (Does every article in Playboy have to include a sexual double entendre?).

According to the article, several American craft breweries have begun using tall boy cans because they keep beer fresher longer than bottles, are lighter and easier to ship. Suddenly that can of Rolling Rock at O’Leaver’s tasted a little bit better.

As a result of that article, I began a self-imposed “can o’ beer of the week” ritual -- a sad, personal celebration in which I buy a different four-pack (not six-pack) of 16 oz. tall boys every week and post a photo of the can for the thousands (okay, hundreds) of my “friends” on Facebook. So far I’ve showcased Great River Brewery’s Red Band Stout (Fantastic!), Halcyon Wheat (Sublime!), Velvet Rooster (Full-bodied, yet precocious!) and Newcastle Brown Ale (Disappointing!).

This sordid routine also includes keeping one empty can of each four-pack and placing it atop my basement bookcase as an homage to my pre-teen/teen years spent scouring ditches with my brothers looking for rare beer cans to add to our collection.

Anyway, it all started with that article, which got me thinking about Playboy and the fact that there’s more to the magazine than air-brushed photos of naked women.

In the same issue as the tallboy article was a piece on bro-gurts (marketing yogurt to men), a recipe for hoisin grilled shrimp, fashion features on clip-on eyeglass shades and the return of classic rock T-shirts (including a photo of a $265 Blondie T-shirt), product reviews of high-end chef knives and wireless sound bars, not to mention a lengthy feature on Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon that discussed how the film was made, its impact on modern cinema and the facts behind Lee’s death just weeks before the film was released.

When a friend of mine posted a small YouTube clip of archival Bruce Lee footage on his Facebook wall, I was tempted to mention the article but pulled back, embarrassed that people would see that I read Playboy.

But the fact is I’ve been reading Playboy for years. It’s among the only magazines I continue to subscribe to, along with Time Out New York, Wired and the now controversial Rolling Stone (thanks to its recent cover featuring Boston bomber Dzokozar Tsarnaev, which, by the way, was the most desperate, attention-grabbing thing they’ve done in years).

Playboy continues to be a cover-to-cover read, thanks to in-depth interviews (the June issue featured Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei), world-class authors (Pen/Faulkner Award Winner P.C. Boyle in the July/August issue), and investigative features (a piece on real estate fraudster Matthew Cox in the May issue).

That said, Playboy also continues to publish lots of photos of naked women. But in this age of on-demand digital porn available in the privacy of your own home virtually for free, you have to wonder why they bother with nudie photos. Does anyone buy Playboy for the “dirty pictures”? I suppose it made sense when the magazine first started in the '50s all the way up through the ‘80s. Hefner was selling this idea that porn could be classy, even acceptable. And of course, it never was. People might have read Playboy, but I never saw a copy proudly displayed on anyone’s coffee table.

These days it's hard to imagine anyone referring to Playboy as "pornography." The photos are downright innocuous bordering on silly; they're anything but erotic. But their very presence makes an obvious statement as bold as the type on the cover stating Playboy is "a magazine for men" in case you didn't know. I can't imagine a woman subscribing to Playboy. (And if you're wondering, my wife couldn't give a shit what magazines I subscribe to).

So if the editorial content is that good, could Playboy survive without the nudie photos? The answer, of course, is no. Hefner knows that sex is a big reason why the magazine continues to sell in an era when magazines are going the way of the dinosaur. And if you have any doubt of the value of skin pics, consider that the best-selling issue of Sports Illustrated continues to be its annual "swimsuit issue."

Besides, Playboy without the nudes wouldn't be Playboy. It would be Esquire or GQ. And what's taboo about reading those?

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 08:37 am
on Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

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