Playboy pencil case

For a magazine that prides itself on showing just about everything, one thing it won’t be showing next month is up.

Christie Hefner, daughter of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and chairwoman and chief executive of Playboy Enterprises International, has refused an invitation to appear before the Scottish Parliament to give evidence to the equal opportunities committee holding December hearings on “sexualized imagery and children” and to explain why her company’s bunny logo is used on products attractive to children.

That has some lawmakers accusing her of cowardice, reports Scotland on Sunday.

The planned hearings follow a number of recent incidents of leading UK stores selling items inappropriately aimed at children: Woolworth’s “Lolita” bed for little girls, BHS’ “Little Miss Naughty” underwear and Tesco’s pole-dancing kits advertised on its website’s toy section.

Playboy was drawn into the controversy in May by a spontaneous protest by York vicar, Father Tim Jones, who pulled down a display of pencil cases and notebooks bearing the bunny logo at a local stationary story.

Father Tim Jones (Courtesy York Press)

“I told the assistant manager who was on duty at the till that I was going to be launching a protest at the shop, and I went over to where the Playboy material was on the shelf alongside the Winnie The Pooh and Mickey Mouse material, and I started tossing it on the floor away from where people were,” Jones, 40, told the York Press at the time.

The minister also asked store patrons to sign a petition protesting “the intrusion of commercial brands such as Playboy into goods and services targeting children.”

“The long-term intention of this strategy is to encourage children to see the Playboy bunny as a friendly child-appropriate brand, preparing them for early commercial acceptance of Playboy pornographic merchandise,” Jones said.

“This constitutes a kind of ‘institutional grooming’ of children for their commercial exploitation by the powerful sex industry. This institutional grooming may be indirect but it is not accidental. It is deliberate, intentional, cynical and wicked, and must be resisted.”

Playboy blamed the stationary story for the problem:

“We were surprised to discover that Playboy stationery has been so inappropriately positioned. Playboy’s target audience is 18 to 34-year-olds so we clearly did not authorize, nor approve, the placement of our product next to such well-known children’s characters. Our licensee and its distributor were also unaware of this placement. We will be reviewing this situation immediately,” a spokesman said.

In September, 20 members of the Scottish Parliament offered a motion charging Playboy with “manipulative, dangerous and exploitative” practices to “target sexualized merchandise at children.”

“Such morally corrupt marketing practices contribute to the desensitization of society to pornography and the continuing inequality and exploitation of women,” read the motion offered by Elaine Smith MSP.

In light of the much publicized protest by Jones and the action by the MSPs, Christie Hefner herself responded by letter, defending the company:

“Although I have not been contacted directly, this is an allegation I take seriously, and I want to underline to the Scottish parliament … that Playboy does not market its products to children.”

Hefner described the adult magazine, founded in 1953, as “part of America’s popular cultural landscape” and a “social and political forum for some of the most influential figures of our time.” Its target audience, she insisted, was “trend-conscious men and women aged 18-35.”

“I have seen the considerable media coverage of the Rev. Tim Jones’s protest,” she wrote. “His actions and words, as well as a motion tabled by Elaine Smith MSP referring to Playboy, incorrectly suggest our merchandise is targeted at children.”

After Hefner interjected herself into the matter, an invitation was extended to appear before the committee to defend her company. Playboy has since informed the lawmakers it will send no one and the company says it has nothing to contribute to the discussion.

“I think it’s cowardly,” said Sandra White, a member of the committee. “The committee wrote to Christie Hefner because she had complained to us and made an issue of this. Playboy drew attention to themselves.

“Now, when they could be giving their side of the story, they’ve decided to turn tail and run. I’m pretty disappointed because I would have liked to hear them explain why things like Playboy pencil cases are on sale in ordinary stationery counters.”

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