The Playboy Revolution

Troy Patterson on the notion floated by the new drama The Playboy Club, that Hugh Hefner all but planned the march on Washington:


The new series serves many constituencies. For people who admire Mad Men on the most superficial level, it is an opportunity to marvel at Brylcreemed hair and narrow lapels. For professional fulminators against indecency, it is a cheap and easy target. For 12-year-old boys hopeful of a glimpse of something racy, it is a grave disappointment. For Gloria Steinem fans, it is an excuse to revisit the classic article "I Was a Playboy Bunny." For viewers looking for a solid hourlong drama, it is one more thing not to watch. But for Hefner himself, it represents another shot at recasting himself as a great hero of liberation....

Meanwhile, the '60s are beginning to happen, and The Playboy Club is here to tell you that wouldn't have been the case without this warren of fluffy-tailed service-industry employees and their enlightened master. The "chocolate Bunny"--named Brenda and played by Naturi Naughton, who is quasi-reprising a Mad Men role--is very excited about laying eyes on Sammy Davis Jr., bouncily breathing, "Hef don't care what color people are, as long as they're interesting." As testimonies of commitment to equal opportunity go, this is more persuasive than the later moment when Brenda adjusts her bosom and says, "You can't discriminate against these babies." 

I'm always happy to see African-American women working in Hollywood. Moreover, I have to say that I'm even happier to see African-American women who look like Naturi Naughton on prime-time television. When I was a kid, the most you got was a Diaghann Carrol sighting on Dynasty. I don't have a daughter, but I often think that life has to be better for young black girls when you have dark-skin women and/or not-so dark-skin women with natural hair, in prime-time.

The next step is to get the kind of writing behind those women that aspires to something more than  "He don't care what color people are" or "You can't discriminate against these babies." It's not the crudeness I object to, so much as the obviousness and redundancy. Her very presence is the statement on discrimination.

Now, as in so many things about race in the 21st century, we're talking about structural change that goes beyond African-Americans. Indeed a rising tide of writing would lift all boats.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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