In a move that absolutely reeks of desperation, Marge Simpson will appear on the cover of next month’s Playboy magazine. And no, I don’t mean Julie Kavner, the woman who has voiced Marge Simpson for the past 20 years. For the first time ever, Playboy’s cover will actually feature a cartoon character.
Marge appears naked on the cover, sitting in a bunny-shaped chair in an obvious homage to Darine Stern’s groundbreaking October 1971 cover. (Stern was the first black woman to appear on the front of the magazine.) Thank God Stern was able to break down those barriers so that 38 years later a cartoon could finally get a chance to appear on the cover. Perhaps in another 38 years, an inkblot or a doodle will finally get their chance to shine.
Currently, the average age of Playboy‘s readers is 35. The powers that be at the magazine are hoping Marge Simpson will attract a younger audience. It could work. After all, I would have to imagine that the average age of a person who would pay to see a cartoon character naked would have to be around 12, so that should definitely bring the median age down, provided these kids all go to stores that don’t card.
In addition to their addressing their aging fanbase, Playboy also really needs a boost in sales. The first half of 2009 has been disappointing for the company. The magazine fell 200,000 sales short of its $2.6 million rate base, which is the minimum number of sales it promises to advertisers. Considering that newspapers and magazines are all struggling to stay afloat these days, that is definitely not a good thing.
The biggest factor contributing to dwindling sales is fairly obvious – the vast amount of smutty pictures available for free on the Internet. It’s a tough sell to convince today’s 18-year-old to shell out cash for your magazine, which features fairly pedestrian and tasteful photos of naked women, when they can find incredibly graphic photos of women (with men or other women or sometimes farm animals) for free on the Internet. Your average 18-year-old has grown up with the Internet, it’s always been a part of his life – so to him, Playboy seems like an antique; a relic from an ancient time.
And don’t give me that bullshit about reading Playboy for the articles. Yes, Playboy does have some quality articles. They tend to get some great celebrity interviews and talented fiction writers like Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk have had their work published in the magazine over the years. But it’s not like you can sit in an airport or a Starbucks or a playground and read those articles without everyone thinking you’re a giant perv. There is a stigma attached to Playboy that keeps it from being acceptable casual reading. That’s why a magazine like Maxim is an easier sell for people looking for something to read, even though the articles and photo spreads are nowhere near as good as those found in Playboy.
I seriously doubt the allure of seeing Marge Simpson in Playboy is going to be enough to convince the younger demographic to pick up the magazine. That’s not to say there isn’t a market for it – even though it weirds me out, I know plenty of people are into seeing cartoon characters naked. But I seriously doubt that Matt Groening gave the go-ahead to show Marge completely nude, so you are unlikely to see any more skin than you’ve already see in some of the more risqué episodes of the show (like the one where Marge and Homer ended up running naked through Springfield, hiding behind lawn ornaments to cover their naughty bits).
And there’s also the problem of that pesky Internet again. For one thing, when the magazine hits newsstands on Friday, someone will scan it and everyone will be able to see Marge’s pictures online for free. And secondly, she’s not a real person, she’s a cartoon character. So since she’s a cartoon character, anyone with enough artistic talent and a dirty enough mind can already produce a realistic naked picture of her. Those of you with a bit more intestinal fortitude than I posses can try Googling “Marge Simpson naked” right now – I’m sure you will get quite a few hits, many of them drawn just as well as the ones featured in Playboy and all of them much more graphic and disturbing.
(Seriously though, one of these days someone will have to explain to me the fascination with cartoon porn. You can see real women naked on the Internet, why would you want to see cartoons? What is the appeal? They are cartoons. Drawings. Just lines on a piece of paper. Marge Simpson has giant blue hair, yellow skin and a ridiculous upper lip – what is sexy about that? Why does that turn people on? And what the hell is up with those crazy Japanese cartoons where the ladies get felt up by tentacles? Seriously, someone needs to sit down and have a nice long fatherly talk with that country.)
I guess I can’t blame Playboy for trying something bold. After all, it beats the other big name they have lined up for the magazine – Tara Reid. I may not get the whole cartoon thing, but even I think Marge Simpson is more attractive than Tara Reid these days (and more lifelike).
So good luck Playboy, hopefully this move pays off and gives you the sales needed to keep your magazine afloat. And, if not, there’s always Lois Griffin.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.