"I hadn't paid attention to Playboy for many years, since I was a kid," says Ed Freeman, who shot the underwater cover for the summer 2019 issue of Playboy. "And I thought: 'Wait, they're hiring me to shoot the cover? Do they know I'm gay?'" But at the reincarnated men's magazine, that's just the beginning. The editorial staff is led by three millennials—two of whom are female—who throw around terms like "privileging," "lived experience," and "intersectionality" at the office, the New York Times reports. No playmates are allowed on the cover, the photography is more artsy than sexy, and a "woke" sensibility infuses everything. The summer cover, for example, displays three nude models who are also artists and activists.
It's partly the result of a cultural leviathan that sank to the bottom. Hugely influential in the 1960s and early '70s, Hugh Hefner's revolutionary magazine was hobbled by more explicit competitors and then ruined by online porn. Magazine circulation faded, but other enterprises (like stores, perfume, furniture, and a London casino) all flourished, so Playboy Enterprises Inc. relaunched the magazine as a kind of "brand extension." Now an ad-free, matte-paper quarterly, it's clearly targeting a younger audience, but can it have three nude playmates per edition and still be woke? Can it be "intimate" and not "explicit," "cheeky" and not "cheesy," as a company memo explains? Not everyone is convinced: "We'll believe it when we see it," says the feminist Jezebel. (Read more magazine stories.)