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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Paula Jones and Penthouse

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

Last week it was announced that Paula Jones will be featured in an upcoming Penthouse magazine photo layout, a little tidbit I found particularly interesting. Ms. Jones, you may recall, once vowed "never, never, never" to pose naked. She's apparently changed her mind (financial arrangements have not been disclosed), because it's reported that the Penthouse feature will feature Paula "naked inside and next to a swimming pool."

The pictures were taken (ironically enough) in California during the Democratic National Convention.

Ms. Jones' advisors are reportedly shocked and dismayed by this recent turn of events. One was quoted as saying, "It's the worst thing she could have done. I don't think anyone will approve of it."

This is true. On a Sunday morning talk show I was watching, there were a number of snickers about Ms. Jones' physical attributes and her suitability for such a photo layout. One wit suggested that such a feature in Penthouse would irreparably damage an entire generation of 13-year-old boys.

The panel was too busy yukking it up at the prospect of seeing what Penthouse promises will be the "full exposure" of Ms. Jones to discuss what this shows us about fame, our treatment of women, the grab for money, and the nature of celebrity in our society today.

I decided to go out and buy a copy of Penthouse (not the one with Paula in it), just a sample copy, so to speak. After all, it has been some 37 years since I've purchased a magazine of that kind. And I'm a media columnist, so I thought that I could buy a copy and report to you (the readers of America) what I found there. You deserve to know and besides, it would save you from buying one yourself.

Penthouse (and Playboy) have been trying for years to rise above their "girlie magazine" status by including interviews, pretty good jokes and cartoons (some of the non-X-rated kind), alternative politics, serious journalism, and "lifestyle" features on good wine, stereo systems, cars and the like. That old excuse "I only bought it for the articles!" has actually been true sometimes. Remember Jimmy Carter's interview? Anyway, I wanted to see how far Penthouse had come along this road in the past decades.

The first store I went to was out of them. The clerk told me that ever since it was announced that Paula Jones would be appearing, magazines had been flying off his shelves (and she hadn't even appeared yet!). I kid you not.

But the convenience store across the street had some (wrapped in plastic and stored behind the counter), so I made my purchase without too much trouble. It cost $7.99!

The magazine, of course, had a girl on the cover, but there was no cover on the girl (I've waited six years to use that line!). Some things remain the same. But under the magazine's title was the sub-head "The magazine of sex, politics, and protest." Politics and protest, too? Hmmmm.

The cover also highlighted five features inside - a story about racing cars, an article about some special gel to rub on your body, a "special report" on George Bush's politics, a piece on a big rap star, and a story on . . . uh . . . "secrets" of lovemaking.

I opened the magazine and found first (I guess to my surprise) a big glossy double-page ad for Winston cigarettes! You can tell a lot about the readership of a magazine by looking at the ads, and I noticed next to the ads for adult videos and questionable medical potions big, expensive ads for hard liquor (Dewar's, Bacardi, Cutty Sark), video games, and cigarettes (Winston, Marlboro, Parliament, Basic, Philip Morris). Apparently, the macho man of the new millenium is hard-drinking and hard-smokin'.

The less said about the photo features, the better. Suffice it to say that 47 out of the 164 pages contained colorful and quite graphic photography.

There was also a column about choosing fine wine, an advice column from a hooker, a story about climbing active volcanoes in Sicily, a piece on George Bush "pandering to religious bigots", a feature on men's health (mind and muscle power), a story on sex laws in the south by Alan Dershowitz, and an essay about politics in the military.

A fairly mixed bag.

According to the press release, the Paula Jones piece will feature her showing and telling all - "How the Far Right used and abused her to destroy Clinton." Based on my examination of one sample issue, I suspect that the prose will be far less important than the photography. My guess is that 10% of those who buy the magazine will read the accompanying story. Half of those will understand it. And about 1% will find it insightful or politically relevant.


Media changes. We change, too.

Penthouse has a little more "content" than I seem to recall from many years ago, but it's certainly not better. Their ads and stories clearly show that the magazine is trying to be a almost a general interest magazine for men - heavy on the girls, but with some left-wing politics and lifestyle pieces thrown in for respectability.

I guess I've changed, too because I was particularly unimpressed at what my $7.99 bought. I'm past staring at pictures of women with no clothes on, and the other stuff was nearly as shallow as the photo models themselves.

Paula Jones in Penthouse.

They seem to be made for each other.

I'm not sure whether Paula is laughing at us or whether we're laughing at her.

Or exactly whom the joke is on.