To the editors:

Cate Plys certainly has a right to her opinions about Playboy and the Man Track survey, but the Reader’s editorial decision to publish them is unfortunate [March 29].

Plys’s mercenary feminist sensibility must have been well served by the opportunity to charge the fortress of Playboy, and her outrage is duly noted. But what of the Reader, which apparently has no shame in publishing this feat of high school journalism? To what extent does the Reader dissociate itself from the epithet “pornography,” when it is heavily sprinkled with phone sex ads and in its recent past has published photos of fully-unclothed naturalists and a child with exposed genitals?

Playboy is an entertainment magazine directed toward heterosexual men, and according to Ms. Plys’s calculations some 13 percent of it is devoted to female images. That 13 percent of men’s entertainment interests might include sexuality strikes me as a healthy degree. That Playboy’s depiction of sensual archetypes offends certain sensibilities isn’t new or particularly unwarranted, but is pornography the representation of anything men are sexually drawn to?

In her thoroughly rabid journey to the heart of the Playboy conspiracy, Plys actually counts pages and uses a color meter to determine flesh values, but rules before and after analysis that men don’t really read Playboy because she finds the articles “too long to bother reading.” She calls “The Killing of Jose Menendez” (an article about the widely publicized murder of a Hollywood executive) a story about the “now-fashionable topic of rain forests.” That the subhead reads “A brutal crime, a family with secrets, the shadow of the mob, a shrink with a loose-lipped girlfriend–no wonder Beverly Hills can’t stop talking about the Menendez murders” and is illustrated with a full-page painting of two bullet shells might have indicated to either Ms. Plys or her editors that something else was going on here.

More importantly, Cate Plys and the Reader shortchange Playboy and seriously underestimate its editorial content. The other 87 percent of that issue (“the obligatory-serious-article-to-give-men-feeble-excuse-for-buying-Playboy”) includes a lengthy article about Dennis Barrie’s trial in Cincinnati and a detailed Forum piece profiling influential homophobes (part of a continuing inclusion of gay issues). Add to this the resources of the Playboy Foundation to support and defend a variety of human-rights issues, and the selective representation of Playboy as pornography suggests a personal agenda on the part of Plys and the Reader that is indefensible to me.

As a man who reads Playboy for its articles and Forum discussions, I resent Ms. Plys’s easy and self-serving categorization of me as a user group, when Playboy is actually spending its resources to recognize my tastes and interests and yes, my intelligence. I further resent Plys’s support of a nationalistic film like Lethal Weapon 2, a vacuous market-response commodity of patently sexist machismo–clothes or not. But, uh, Mel Gibson is a babe, isn’t he?

There is a continuing need to examine intersexual conduct, but sniveling diatribes like the Reader’s Man Track article are simply willful misinformation. Issues of feminism and pornography are too important and politically volatile to be handled in such a cavalier manner.

Robert Martin


Cate Plys replies:

Mr. Martin’s spirited letter may mislead those who did not read the article, which was a humorous essay that made no pretense to being an objective news story. Lines such as “If I were dating Mel Gibson, I wouldn’t also require a monthly magazine featuring nude pictures of him” might have indicated to Mr. Martin that something else was going on here.

Mr. Martin refers to my comparison between the March 1968 and March 1991 issues of Playboy. I called the feature articles in both “too long to bother reading” and said 1991’s “The Killing of Jose Menendez” was about “the now-fashionable topic of rain forests.” Having clearly stated that I did not read the article, I expected that those familiar with both Chico Mendes, the murdered rain-forest activist, and Jose, the murdered Hollywood executive, would understand I was linking the recent article with the ’68 one, which I said was about “the then-fashionable topic of colleges.” It might not have been a good joke, but it was not a mistake.

I agree that the issues of feminism and pornography are important. However, it is a rare issue indeed that does not benefit from a humorous approach. I find the objection to that approach on a feminist issue especially ironic since feminists are so often accused of having no sense of humor.

And I can’t help adding that I don’t think stating that I saw Lethal Weapon 2 because Mel Gibson is a babe constitutes “supporting” the film. I did not finance the movie, undertake any type of public speaking tour on its behalf, or found an international nonprofit organization to promote it. I just like Mel Gibson.