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How Playboy Explains Vietnam

There’s a famous scene about halfway through “Apocalypse Now” in which Martin Sheen’s river boat pulls into a supply base, deep in the jungle. While the crew members are buying diesel fuel, the supply clerk gives them free tickets to a show — “You know,” he says, “the bunnies.” Soon they’re sitting in an improvised amphitheater around a landing pad, watching as three Playboy models hop out of a helicopter and dance to “Suzie Q.”

《现代启示录》(Apocalypse Now)进行到大约一半时有一场著名的戏:马丁·西恩(Martin Sheen)乘坐的内河船来到热带丛林深处的一个补给基地。船上的人购买柴油时,补给人员给了他们三张免费的票,可以看一场演出。“你懂的,”他说,“兔女郎。”很快,他们便坐在了一个围绕停机坪而建的临时圆形露天剧场里,看着三个《花花公子》(Playboy)模特从一家直升飞机上跳下来,伴着歌曲《苏西·Q》(Suzie Q)起舞。

The scene is entirely fictional; Playboy models almost never toured Vietnam, and certainly not in groups. But if the women were never there themselves in force, the magazine itself certainly was. In fact, it’s hard to overstate how profound a role Playboy played among the millions of American soldiers and civilians stationed in Vietnam throughout the war: as entertainment, yes, but more important as news and, through its extensive letters section, as a sounding board and confessional.


Playboy’s value extended beyond the individual soldier to the military at large; the publication became a coveted and useful morale booster, at times rivaling even the longed-for letter from home. Playboy branded the war because of its unique combination of women, gadgets, and social and political commentary, making it a surprising legacy of our involvement in Vietnam. By 1967, Ward Just of The Washington Post claimed, “If World War II was a war of Stars and Stripes and Betty Grable, the war in Vietnam is Playboy magazine’s war.”

《花花公子》的价值从士兵个人扩大到了整个军队。这本刊物令人梦寐以求,成了鼓舞士气的利器,有时候甚至堪比士兵朝思暮想的家书。《花花公子》给这场战争打上了烙印是因为它独具一格地把女人、小玩意和社会政治评论结合在了一起,让它出人意料地成了越战留下的一笔遗产。到1967年,《华盛顿邮报》(The Washington Post)的沃德·贾思特(Ward Just)称,“如果二战是《星条旗报》(Stars and Stripes)和贝蒂·格拉贝尔(Betty Grable)的战争,越战就是《花花公子》杂志的战争。”

The most famous feature of the magazine was the centerfold Playmate. The magazine’s creator and editor, Hugh Hefner, had a specific image in mind for the women he portrayed. The Playmate, originally introduced as the Sweetheart of the Month, represented the ultimate companion to the Playboy. She enjoyed art, politics and music. She was sophisticated, fun and intelligent. Even more important, this ideal woman enjoyed sex as much as the ideal man described in the publication. She wasn’t after men for marriage, but for mutual pleasure and companionship.

该杂志最著名的特征是中间插页的玩伴女郎(Playmate)。创始人兼编辑休·海夫纳(Hugh Hefner)对他所描绘的女性有着具体的设想。原本作为“本月甜心”(Sweetheart of the Month)推出的玩伴女郎,代表的是花花公子的最佳玩伴。她喜欢艺术、政治和音乐,见多识广、有趣、机智。更重要的是,这名理想中的女性,和杂志中描述的那名理想中的男性一样享受性爱。她追寻男性不是为了婚姻,而是为了共同的愉悦和陪伴。

Though following in their legacy, the Playmate models differed from the pinups of World War II. Hefner wanted images of real women their readers might see in their everyday life — a classmate, secretary or neighbor — instead of the highly stylized and often famous women of an older generation. The sexualized, yet familiar, “girl next door” was the perfect accompaniment for soldiers stationed in Vietnam. This conception of wholesome, all-American beauty and sexuality acted out by largely unknown models reminded young soldiers of the women they left behind, and for whom they were fighting — and could, if they survived, imagine returning to.


The centerfold and other visual features in the magazine served another, unintentional purpose for American troops in Vietnam. Playboy’s pictures and often-ribald cartoons conveyed changing social and sexual norms back home. The introduction of women of color in 1964 with China Lee and in 1965 with Jennifer Jackson reflected shifting attitudes regarding race. Many soldiers wrote to both the magazine and the Playmates thanking them for their inclusion in Playboy. Black soldiers, in particular, felt that the inclusion of Ms. Jackson extended the promise of Mr. Hefner’s good life to them. Viewing these images forced all Americans to rethink their definitions of beauty.

对驻越美军来说,中间插页和该杂志的其他图片还在无意间起了另一个作用。《花花公子》中的图片和通常都下流粗俗的漫画,传达了美国国内不断变化的社会和性规范。奇娜·李(China Lee)和珍妮弗·杰克逊(Jennifer Jackson)分别于1964年和1965年登上《花花公子》。有色女性的出现反映出对种族的态度转变。很多士兵给杂志和这两名玩伴女郎写信,感谢她们出现在《花花公子》上。黑人士兵尤其感到,杰克逊的出现让他们有了过上海夫纳那样的美好生活的希望。看这些图片迫使所有美国人重新思考自己对美的定义。

Over time, the centerfolds pushed the boundaries of social norms and legal definitions as they featured more nudity, with the inclusion of pubic hair in 1969 and full-frontal nudity in 1972. The Washington Post reported that American prisoners of war were “taken aback” by the nudity in a smuggled Playboy found on their flight home in 1973. The nudity, sexuality and diversity portrayed in the pictorials represented more permissive attitudes about sex and beauty that the soldiers had missed during their years in captivity.


Playboy’s appeal to the G.I. in Vietnam extended beyond the centerfold. The men really did read it for the articles. The magazine provided regular features, editorials, columns and ads that focused on men’s lifestyle and entertainment, including high fashion, foreign travel, modern architecture, the latest technology and luxury cars. The publication set itself up as a how-to guide for those men hoping to achieve Mr. Hefner’s vision of the good life, regardless of whether they were in San Diego or Saigon.


For young men serving in Southeast Asia, whose average age was 19, military service often provided them their first access to disposable income. Soldiers turned to the magazine for advice on what gadgets to buy, the best vehicles and the latest fashions — products they could often then buy at one of Vietnam’s enormous on-base exchanges, sprawling shopping centers to rival anything back home.


The magazine’s advice feature, “The Playboy Advisor,” encouraged men to ask questions on all manner of topics, from the best liquor to stock at home to bedroom advice to adjusting to civilian life. Troops found Playboy a useful tool in figuring out their roles in the consumer-oriented landscape they were now able to join because of the mobility and income their military service provided them.

该杂志的建议类专栏“花花公子导师”(The Playboy Advisor)鼓励男人就各种话题提问,从最适合储备在家中的烈酒,到有助于适应平民生活的房事建议。士兵们发现《花花公子》是一个有用的工具,可以帮助他们在消费导向的环境中找到自己的位置,而他们之所以能够参与这一环境,是因为服役给了他们流动性和收入。

The content moved beyond lifestyle and entertainment as the editorial mission of the magazine evolved. By the 1960s, Playboy included hard-hitting features on important social, cultural and political issues confronting the United States, often written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, government and military leaders and top literary figures. The magazine took on topics like feminism, abortion, gay rights, race, economic issues, the counterculture movement and mass incarceration — something soldiers couldn’t get from Stars and Stripes. It offered exhaustive interviews with everyone from Malcolm X to the American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell, exposing young G.I.s to arguments and ideas about race and African-American equality they might not have been introduced to in their hometowns. Service in Vietnam put many soldiers in direct contact with diverse races and cultures, and Playboy presented them new ideas and arguments regarding those social and cultural issues.

随着编辑使命不断演进,这本杂志的内容超出了生活方式和娱乐。到1960年代,《花花公子》上出现了一些尖锐而又深刻的特稿,探讨美国面对的重要社会、文化和政治议题,其作者常常是得过普利策奖的记者、政府及军队领导人以及重要的文坛人物。该杂志开始关注女性主义、流产、同性恋权利、种族、经济、反文化运动以及大规模监禁等议题——都是些士兵们在《星条旗报》(Stars and Stripes)上看不到的东西。它奉上了从马尔科姆·X(Malcolm X)到美国纳粹党领袖乔治·林肯·洛克威尔(George Lincoln Rockwell)的诸多大篇幅专访,年轻的美国大兵由此接触到了或许未被引入其家乡的、与种族和非裔美国人平等有关的观点和理念。在越南服役让很多士兵与多样化的种族和文化产生了直接关联,而《花花公子》为他们提供了关于这些社会和文化议题的新理念、新观点。

As early as 1965, Playboy began running articles about the Vietnam War, with an editorial position that expressed reservations about the escalating conflict. The editors were smart about it, of course: Their stance may have been critical of the president, the administration, the military leaders and the strategy, but they made sure the contributors made every effort to stay supportive of the soldiers. In 1967, troops read the liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith arguing that “no part of the original justification” for the war “remains intact,” as he dismantled the idea of monolithic Communism and other Cold War justifications for war. But that was different from attacking the troops themselves. In 1971, the journalist David Halberstam wrote in an article for Playboy that “we admired their bravery and their idealism, their courage and dedication in the face of endless problems. We believed that they represented the best of American society.” Troops in Vietnam could turn to Playboy for coverage of their own war without fearing criticism of themselves.

早在1965年,《花花公子》就开始发表关于越南战争的文章,其编辑立场是对冲突的升级持保留态度。当然了,编辑们的做法非常巧妙:他们可能对总统、政府、军队领导人及战略秉持批评立场,但却会确保撰稿人尽一切努力给士兵以支持。1967年,军人们读到了自由主义经济学家约翰·肯尼斯·加尔布雷斯(John Kenneth Galbraith)的文章,他在批驳共产主义是铁板一块这一理念,以及其他为战争辩护的冷战式观点时表示,“最初提出的”开战依据“现在已经没一条站得住脚”。但这和攻击军人本身是不同的。1971年,记者大卫·哈伯斯塔姆(David Halberstam)在为《花花公子》写的一篇文章中表示,“我们钦慕他们的勇敢和理想主义,钦慕他们面对数不清的问题时的勇气和奉献。我们相信他们代表了美国社会最优秀的品质。”越南的美国军人可以看《花花公子》对他们这场战争的报道,却不必担心他们自己受到批评。

Playboy was also useful as a forum for the men engaged in the fighting. The publication was unique in its number of interactive features. Soldiers wrote into sections like “Dear Playboy” for advice and with reactions to articles. But those correspondents also freely described their wartime experiences and concerns. They often described what they saw as unfair treatment by the military, discussed their difficulty in transitioning back to civilian society or thanked the magazine for helping them through their time in-country. In 1973, one soldier, R. K. Redini of Chicago, wrote to Playboy about his return home. “One of the things that made my Vietnam tour endurable was seeing Playboy every month,” he said. “It sure helped all of us forget our problems — for a little while, anyway. I thank you not only for myself but also for the thousands of other guys who find a lot of pleasure in your magazine.”

《花花公子》还被参战的男人当成论坛来用。这本杂志有很多互动性专栏。士兵们会给“亲爱的花花公子”(Dear Playboy)之类的栏目写信寻求建议或对文章做出反馈。但他们在信中也会无拘无束地描述自己的战时经历和担忧。他们常常谈及其眼中的军中的不公正待遇,讨论回归平民社会的困难,或者感谢这本杂志帮助他们熬过战地时光。1973年,来自芝加哥的士兵R·K·雷迪尼(R. K. Redini)在写给《花花公子》的信中谈及自己返回故里。“每月阅读《花花公子》是让我的越南之旅变得可以忍受的事情之一,”他说。“它显然帮助我们所有人忘记了我们的问题——尽管只是暂时忘记。我不仅代表我自己,还代表从你们的杂志中找到太多乐趣的成千上万人对你们表示感谢。”

In “The Playboy Forum,” another reader-response section, many wrote in addressing specific aspects of Hefner’s lengthy editorial series “The Playboy Philosophy,” including drugs, race and homosexuality in the military. The forum format allowed those who served in Vietnam to reach out not just to other soldiers, but also to the public, providing them a safe space to voice their opinions and criticisms of their service. “Traditionally, a soldier with a gripe is advised by friends to tell it to the chaplain, take it to the inspector general or write to his congressman,” a soldier wrote. “Now, probably because of letters about military injustice in The Playboy Forum, another court of last resort has been added to the list.”

另一个读者反馈栏目“花花公子论坛”(The Playboy Forum)中,很多人写信就海夫纳的长篇系列社论“花花公子哲学”(The Playboy Philosophy)中的特定方面进行探讨,包括军中的毒品、种族、同性恋等问题。论坛这种形式让在越南服役的那些人可以和其他士兵乃至公众沟通,是一个供他们亮明观点,并就自己在军中的遭遇发出批评声音的安全所在。“通常,朋友们会建议心怀不满的士兵把事情说给牧师听,上报给监察长,或者写信给国会议员,”一名士兵写道。“现在,或许是因为‘花花公子论坛’刊登了那些关于军中不公的信件,他们又多了一个万不得已之下可以用的手段。”

Playboy magazine’s significance to the soldiers in Vietnam spread far beyond the foldout Playmate. Troops appropriated the magazine’s bunny mascot and the company’s logo, painting it on planes, helicopters and tanks. They incorporated the logo into patches and “playboy” into call signs and unit nicknames. Adopting the symbol of Playboy was a small rebellion to the conformity of military life and a testament to the impact of the magazine on soldiers’ lives and morale.


And the magazine returned the favor. Long after the war ended, it funded documentaries on the war, Agent Orange research and post-traumatic stress disorder studies. It is a commitment that testifies to this enduring relationship between the publication and the soldier, and reveals how the magazine is a surprising legacy of one of America’s longest wars.




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