Who else can turn out feminist commentary, pop culture awareness, and teh funny at such a clip? I discovered Ephron as a teenager in the 1980s, when I came across copies of Crazy Salad (1975) and Scribble, Scribble (1978), two collections of her essays from the 1970s. Reading her books made me want to learn more about that bygone era, and she taught me everything I know about some very 1970s things: amyl nitrates, Jan Morris, and EST, for example–things that a sheltered midwestern suburban teenager in 1984 had no other way to learn about. I thought that she was very smart, very funny, and an incisive critic of her era.
I understood when she went Hollywood and decided to write and direct movies–it pays a hell of a lot more than writing for print or online publications, after all. And lord knows, it’s not like Hollywood is glutted with working women writers and directors who want to produce something other than bam-bam/cops-n-robbers/blowemup movies. But I miss the writing she did in the 1970s, which was of the moment and became an important work documenting the history of feminism in that era.
She’s got a commentary this week on The Daily Beast from the perspective of someone who was “an adult in the 1960s.” Accordingly, she serves as an important feminist corrective and offers some words of caution about the Mad Men-ripoff, 60s nostalgia trap of The Playboy Club, which is apparently a teevee show now. I would love to quote the whole article, but you’ll just have to click this link to read it. Here’s a little flava:
Inspired by the success of Mad Men, it has gone back to the early 1960s, to that golden moment just before the women’s movement came along and ruined everything. It’s about several Bunnies, an ambitious Chicago lawyer, and the mob. The show (or at least the opening episode) is not unlike Playboy magazine in the early years: it has its moments, but it’s mostly an excuse to show women’s breasts, which (in this version, because it’s on a network) are usually encased in fabulous pointy period bras or shoved upward in satin-polyester Bunny costumes. Hefner doesn’t appear except as a shadowy figure, like a masked mafioso in the Federal Witness Protection Program. But he does provide a weird, creepy voice-over, on which he says that Bunnies “were the only women in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be.”
This of course is so preposterous on so many levels that it is almost not worth attacking. But I worry (as someone who was an adult in the 1960s) that young people will see The Playboy Club and think that this is what life was like back then and that Hefner, as he also says in his weird, creepy voice-over, was in fact “changing the world, one Bunny at a time.”
So I would like to say this:
1. Trust me, no one wanted to be a Bunny.
2. A Bunny’s life was essentially that of an underpaid waitress forced to wear a tight costume.
3. Playboy did not change the world.
Incidentally, the weird, creepy voice-over is probably my favorite thing about The Playboy Club, and I was disappointed to read that it might not continue after the first episode. Not that I am planning to watch it again. Although you never know. Before she became a feminist and did change the world, Gloria Steinem wrote a famous piece about being a Bunny, and made clear how shabby and pathetic life was at a Playboy Club. She recently called for women to boycott the show. I am currently boycotting so many television shows that I may not have time to boycott another.
I miss you, Nora Ephron!