Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Letters from the editor: Playboy responds

By Joe Uchill
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A quick follow-up to a post from last week. Jason Whitlock’s was upset about Playboy’s decision to give his cover story about the American penal system the offensive and offensively-irrelevant “The Black KKK: Hip Hop is killing Black America, and it’s time to do something about it.” We read his complaint, and seconded that emotion.

Playboy has sent this statement in response:


"Playboy has an impeccable history in dealing with civil rights issues. We didn’t have any ulterior motives when deciding on a headline for Mr. Whitlock’s excellent story. Even though we used the working title “The Black KKK” in our assignment letter to Whitlock on February 7, I was not made aware of his displeasure until a month after we had gone to press. (For the record, Whitlock misquotes the subhead to the story. It actually reads, “Thug life is killing black America. It’s time to do something about it.”) From the beginning, our idea was not to stir divisiveness but to stir debate. I still believe the title, presentation and planned publicity campaign are appropriate and accurately reflect the points in the article expressed in its introductory paragraph and throughout. I feel that most people who read his brilliant cultural commentary will regard it as a powerful indictment of the root causes of violence and despair devastating our cities and suburbs."

-- Chris Napolitano, Editorial Director of Playboy.


While the headline is still iffy, it can no longer be considered totally out of the realm of possibility for his story. Whitlock does write:


"The tattoos, sagging pants, down-low sexual lifestyle, stop-snitching advocacy, cornrows, child abandonment and other short-term, instant-gratification genocidal characteristics and behaviors are driven by a mentality refined behind prison walls and celebrated, exploited and promoted by the music industry and Hollywood.

"What we foolishly term “hip-hop culture” is really prison culture. Its defenders say rappers such as 50 Cent (ex-con), Lil’ Wayne (in trouble now), T.I. (ex-con and in trouble now) and Rick Ross (named after a famous drug dealer) don’t represent true hip-hop. Well, they symbolize the hip-hop genre that sells. Many of us—black, white and brown—have ingested these prison values and characteristics without contemplating the consequences, without considering what they have normalized: violent death, disrespect, hatred."


That pins the actual sub-headline to some of the text of the article, even if it doesn't connect to the rest of the piece. However, the headline - what was printed on the cover – still sticks out. It’s true that Whitlock did coin that jarring phrase, “The Black KKK,” in reference to black-on-black crime. But the author isn't the story. Playboy still has some maneuvering to do to bind this book with its cover.

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