Bernie Sanders and the Playboy Paradox

Bernie Sanders and the Playboy Paradox

The November issue of Playboy features an interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who spends much of the article railing against the evils of capitalism and its alleged control of the political system. Playboy does deserve some credit for ideological diversity: in July/August, the magazine interviewed Sean Hannity (over the objections of liberal readers on the letters page). But the Sanders interview reveals a deeper problem.

That problem becomes clear in the contrasting styles of the two interviews. Whereas the Hannity interview featured constant pushback (e.g. questions like “It’s generally agreed that the Republican Party is a mess…” “Obama’s supporters would say…” “How do you sleep at night?”), the Sanders interview is one softball after another, feeding and affirming Sanders’s own views (e.g. “Has this hypercapitalism accelerated lately?”).

Perhaps that difference is partly just a reflection of the left-wing bias of the mainstream media and culture industry in general. Yet Playboy still styles itself as cutting-edge, and there is nothing particularly cutting-edge or provocative about Sanders’s old-school socialism. He was saying the same thing twenty and thirty years ago, and none of it is unfamiliar in an era that saw the election of a former radical leftist as president.

A conservative can read the Hannity interview without being offended by the hostile nature of some of the questions, because they produce a lively discussion–and that is what journalists are supposed to do, anyway. The Sanders interview comes across as filler–the kind of Playboy article one merely pretends to read while flipping to the pictures (here the latest issue is particularly good, including a magnificent Iman retrospective).

Worse, the worldview that Sanders embraces–and that Playboy‘s editors do, too–is as repressive as the constricted mindset of those who would censor the magazine or cast it as the enemy of feminism. The idea that there are hidden forces secretly manipulating our lives, and that the only recourse is to submit our choices to the redistributive zeal of the state, is the opposite of liberation–sexual, economic, or otherwise.

In life, some contradictions are inevitable (ask me another time about the propriety of an Orthodox Jew who reads Playboy). Some introduce a healthy tension. The paradox between personal freedom on the one hand–which Playboy, at least ideally, symbolizes–and political authoritarianism on the other–which is, at bottom, what Sanders believes in–is neither healthy, nor worthy of the magazine’s past or potential.