Playgirl Goes Gay, and the Straight Guys Love It
Daniel Nardicio has served as the director of marketing for Playgirl magazine since August of 2009. Since then, Nardicio has introduced three crucial developments to the long-time beefcake mag: (a) Acknowledgment of the magazine's gay readership; (b) a nude Levi Johnston; and (c) "The Shaggin' Wagon" (above).
Yesterday, Nardicio circled his magenta, man-centric wagon outside of the Georgetown University campus in search of hunks for the magazine's annual "Campus Hunks" issue. I spoke with Nardicio over the phone about the strength of D.C.'s hunks, the lingering perviness of driving a man van, and straight dude recruiting, post-Levi:
SEXIST: How was Georgetown? Did you meet any hunks?
Daniel Nardicio: Tons! The great thing about the van is—once we decided to wrap the van, we thought it would be really funny to do a college tour and drive it on to all these campuses. What I’m learning from this now is that I don’t even have to leave the van. I thought I’d have to get out and walk around and humiliate myself, but I don't. People will just come up to the van and ask us things. We're giving away t-shirts, posters, and we have some of the last Levi Johnston issues in the back. So it’s been great. We have a lot of guys coming up, and some girls coming up too, telling us they want to see their boyfriends in Playgirl. It's very progressive.
Do you think straight guys are turned off by it?
DN: No! I have to say, I love the South, because contrary to what people think, people are so friendly. They're really respectful. Sure, some people walk past the van and look down or look away. Most people—like over at Georgetown yesterday and at Rutgers—are coming over to pull their shirt off to show their abs. I get a lot of cat-calling in the van. Sometimes I think the guys wish a hot girl were driving it—I kind of wish it was, too! I kind of wish it wasn’t me sometimes! But they’ve been great. The main reaction I get from straight guys is, "My buddy would love to be in this," or, "Do you think I’m hot enough to be in Playgirl?"
So, were any of them hot enough?
DN: Oh my god. Yeah. I have to say, Georgetown is beautiful . . . We drove around around the area and walked around the campus itself, and people were really friendly, and there were a lot of beautiful guys.
Do you think you have to advertise the magazine differently for straight women and gay men?
DN: I was handed a great gift with Playgirl, because it appeals to both straight women and gay men. So straight men feel more comfortable with it—it's not like I'm driving up in a van for Honcho or Inches magazine. If I did that, I'd get things thrown at me. I consider Playgirl to be the classic American brand. It comes out of a feminist background from the 1970's, and so there's a lot of goodwill toward it. So I'm just really trying to find the most interesting, attractive guys for the magazine and promote it that way.
When I came onto the magazine, Playgirl wasn't really acknowledging its male readership. I succeeded in getting rid of the "Entertainment For Women" byline—it was doing a disservice to the gay readers. Now, we're the most open to both. Playgirl was the first magazine to be doing this male erotica in the mainstream, and now, we're embracing our gay guys, straight women, and smattering of straight guys that buy the magazine—believe me, there are a few of those. And we’re very proud of the fact we really put a dent in Sarah Palin’s reputation. We're very, very proud of that.
So do you think Playgirl is in this sweet spot where it's insulated from criticism both by feminists and by homophobes?
DN: You know, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Women were objectified for so long, and now straight men are being objectified. It's a great position to be in. I'll drive my van down the street and yell at construction workers—"Hey! Show me your dick!" I do this for fun, and to let them know what it feels like to be cat-called. Of course they yell things at me, but let’s face it—it’s hilarious to turn the tables on this. But the van is so in-your-face—I don’t want to say it's so "gay," because it’s not necessarily "gay"—it's just in-your-face male sexuality. There's a brilliance to it in a weird way, because it's all about beefcake men, and it's in a position where people are really forced to acknowledge that. So it's fun to watch their reactions.
Unlike the construction workers, though, it seems like some of the straight guys are really into this.
DN: Oh my god, yeah. It's great! At first, I was a little scared going into Rutgers yesterday. I felt like Chris Hanson was going to jump out, like To Catch a Predator. I felt very pervy for a few minutes. But the great thing is that the reputation of the magazine isn’t really hardcore, and guys seem to respond to it really well. The greatest response guys have for me is, "Do I measure up?" Of course, I’ll still get called "faggot" now and again, but that's something you learn to live with when you drive a magenta van. It's like being in a pride parade 24-7.
Do you think gay men particularly like seeing straight guys in the magazine?
Yes. As a gay man, I think there’s something about the power of turning the tables. Growing up, a lot of us were bullied. I know I was bullied by straight guys in high school for being gay. And I think there’s something to be said for straight guys, you know, stripping down for us. Even with Levi, you know, there was that satisfying elment of the straight cocky stud from Alaska taking off his clothes. Levi is now actually amazingly, amazingly gay friendly. He's even pro-marriage.
Where are you going next?
Tonight I'm headed to Chapel Hill. We're going to work frat row, driving around the frat bars. I'm a little nervous about what the reception is going to be like in Chapel Hill. Hopefully you won't hear any news of my car being torched. . . . But I'm meeting some people I know, and they told me that they recruited a couple of really cute girls to help us out. So that will help. I think we've got three girls and a couple of gay guys to work frat row with me.
Interview has been condensed.