I am reliably informed by consumers of old-school softcore pornography that Playboy was once, in point of fact, worth reading for the articles. Norman Mailer, P.G. Wodehouse, William F. Buckley, James T. Farrell, John Updike, Issac Singer, were all, during its first few decades, occasional contributors. And according to this Playboy Wikipedia entry, "throughout its history [the magazine] had expressed a libertarian outlook on political and social issues." So attractive women in various states of undress, a smattering of libertarian politics, and a pretty deep well of top quality writers. In other words, the greatest magazine in the history of the world.
As has been pointed out a million times before, the proliferation of free pornography on the Internet helps explain the magazine's precipitous circulation decline. But, as Salon noticed back in 2002, it is more difficult to account for the disappearance of decent writing. It's politics are still mildly libertarian—good on civil liberties, horrid on everything else—and the women are still there, naked as the day I last picked up a copy.
In the January/February double issue spectacular (with C-lister Tara Reid on the cover!), readers are treated to pieces from Luc Sante, Will Self, and Dennis Lehane. Not bad, except that all three are mitigated by the single dumbest article on Cuba in recent memory, from writers Aaron Sigmond and Nick Kowlakowski, who have a book forthcoming on (totalitarian societies? Latin American caudillos?)…cigars.
A few bons mots, from the revolutionary tourists: Sigmond and Kowlakowski write that "Ironically, the trade embargo has kept the forbidden island unblemished and true to its roots." As a longtime critic of the embargo, this has to be the worst argument I've heard in its favor, and as any Cuban can tell you, the country is, to significantly understate matters, rather "blemished" by 50 years of hideous dictatorship.
And what piece of bad travel writing about Cuba would be complete without a condescending gringo reference to the "Chevys from the 1950s cruise up and down the streets"—a result of the extreme poverty bequeathed to the earthy and authentic Havana proletariat by a half century disastrous economic policy. "What you do not see in Cuba," they write, is "McDonalds." But you must act now: "Here is a caveat: Your goal is to see Cuba now, before the U.S. embargo falls and the island becomes a commercialized, Disney-fied disaster zone, with every corner sporting a Starbucks…If you wish to see authentic Cuba, now is the time" (emphasis added, though probably unnecessary).
Words fail. But by all means, if you want to see an "authentic" communist dictatorship before it becomes (!) a "disaster zone," where artists are still routinely thrown in jail, dissidents are followed and arbitrarily arrested, access to unapproved websites is forbidden, "capitalistic" books are banned, food and medicine are increasingly difficult to obtain, but where there isn't a mochachino or DVD copy of Alladin to be found (but be careful, DVD players were recently legalized!), and where one will not be harassed by cheap hamburgers…Cuba is an ideal destination!
The country's hotels might be "shabby-chic" to jackasses like Sigmond and Kowlakowski, but they're an unobtainable luxury to those living under the boot heel of the Brothers Castros. Indeed, it wasn't until 2008 that Cubans were allowed to enter hotels in Havana.
Last summer I interviewed Gorki Aguila, the frontman of Cuban punk band Porno Para Ricardo, on his frequent run-ins with Castro's secret police and recent arrest on charges of "social dangerousness." As far as I remember, his lamentations about life in Cuba were focused entirely on the continued existence of the Castro crime family, not the looming prospect of Starbucks' banana nut bread and Americans wearing fanny packs (They already have those. They are called Germans).
Update: CEI's Ivan Osorio tweets that, according to dissident writer Yaoni Sanchez, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an imprisoned opponent of the regime, has died on hunger strike. After relaying the news to her readers, Sanchez's phone service was cut off. Small price to keep Kentucky Fried Chicken out of Santiago city center, eh?