The Parodic Sensibility and
the Sophisticated Gaze
Masculinity and Taste in Playboy’s Penthouse

by Ethan Thompson (Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi)

The dramatic success of Playboy magazine in the 1950s paralleled the meteoric rise of
television as both an industry and cultural form, but the magazine’s relationship with
the new electronic medium was an uneasy one. Television’s status as a domestic, even
feminine, medium posed particular challenges, even more so than the “masscult” critique.
Rather than recommending specific programs for consumption as it did with books,
albums, and movies, the magazine promoted parody as a “sophisticated” way to engage
television. Parody was adopted as a form of interpretation that produced alternative
pleasures and meaning, thereby making visual consumption practices a marker of
cultural capital. The tensions between Playboy and television were especially apparent
in Playboy’s own syndicated program, Playboy’s Penthouse (1959–1961). The urbane
and varied performances of the program, and its distinctive televisual style, offered a
version of sophisticated television production that supplemented the magazine’s model
of sophisticated television watching. (download)