Does Playboy Target Working Class Men?

03.04.2013, 10:31 AM

At Slate, Amanda Hess comments upon a recent article published in the journal Sex Roles. The journal article, “An Analysis of Hyper-Masculinity in Magazine Advertisements,” addresses the question of to what extent magazine advertisements help construct “hyper-masculine” attitudes — which the authors of the study define as including “toughness as emotional self-control, violence as manly, danger as exciting, and calloused attitudes toward women and sex.”

What do the authors find? Among other things, that depictions of hyper-masculinity were “presented more often in advertisements targeting young, less educated, and less affluent men.” I don’t have access to the full journal article, but according to Amanda Hess, “The magazines pushing this image most aggressively are Playboy and Game Informer, whose ads play on hyper-masculine tropes about 95 percent of the time. (Compare that to magazines like Golf Digest and Fortune, which rely on those images for about 20 percent of ads).”

Hess then notes the following:

These advertising trends speak to the latest development in Hugh Hefner’s sexual revolution. When Playboy launched in 1953, it was billed as a liberating, sophisticated, and intellectual response to conservative sexual norms. It featured icons like Marilyn Monroe and Ray Bradbury. It was not, in fact, inconceivable to read it for the articles. Sixty years later, the magazine’s advertisers are chasing a readership of middle-aged men who are undereducated and underpaid.

In other words, Playboy is targeting its messages of deformed masculinty to young men like Shane, the troubled young man who is the subject of the TIME Magazine photo essay about domestic violence that Barry Deutsch linked to last week.

This wh0le thing reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a group of college students in New York City. We were talking about the role of culture in forming young adults’ attitudes about sex and marriage. One of the students is interning at MTV. When she went into the internship, she wondered if she would be expected to actually like and enjoy the TV shows that MTV produces — specifically, reality TV shows, such as Buckwild. To her surprise, she discovered that her colleagues don’t even pretend to like what they are producing. She said it’s just kind of known that they’re producing bad television.

So who’s watching MTV? I don’t doubt that a lot of well educated folks watch MTV. But I wonder what their demographic surveys show.

Who’s reading Playboy? Apparently the less educated and underpaid.


4 Responses to “Does Playboy Target Working Class Men?”

  1. Diane M says:

    This is somewhat depressing. I think she’s probably right, but I don’t see any way to change it.

  2. La Lubu says:

    This is somewhat depressing. I think she’s probably right, but I don’t see any way to change it.

    I think it’s important to remember that both Playboy and MTV have experienced sharp declines in their audience. “Dumbing down” one’s offerings is almost always a losing proposition, especially with “lifestyle” (meaning: image-oriented, rather than activity-oriented) media. Aspiration sells. The converse? Not so much. Aspiration is still very much a part of the working class imagination—which is why the audience for so many former media giants is plummeting. Sure some of that drop is technology (more options), but content matters even more.

  3. Ed says:

    An aspiring jazz trumpeter, I’ve spent alot of the last couple of years listing to jazz from the 1950s and early ’60s. This is music that was created (mostly) by young black men from hardscrabble backgrounds, but it displays an aspiration for intelligence, grace, and sophistication along with its undeniable masculinity that makes the offerings of contemporary young male culture seem very poor indeed. Somewhere along the line we’ve given up holding our young men to high standards, and it has impoverished us all.

  4. mythago says:

    I’m a little puzzled over the reference to Game Informer, which as (as you might expect) a magazine solely concerned with video games, and is primarily sold through the GameStop chain. Its readers are likely young, but I doubt they’re poor or working-class for the most part; and the advertisements are all about video games, which themselves tend to be full of hypermasculinity.