|Near naked and not complaining|
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist
BRISTOL, Conn. -- Publisher John Skipper today unveiled the first nude lapdancer issue of ESPN The Magazine, available in stores everywhere on Earth The Planet.
"This is the logical progression of events in magazine marketing," Skipper said. "First Sports Illustrated started its swimsuit issue, rationalized by the fact that female athletes compete in swimsuits. Then, in 2003, National Geographic published a swimsuit issue, rationalized by the fact that mega-babes were photographed draped across rocks or near trees, which are part of nature. We noticed that big-screen sports is often playing in some of your finer topless and exotic-dance clubs, so that gave us a legitimate editorial reason to publish the first annual nude lapdancer issue."
ESPN personnel fanned out across the country to visit some of your finer striptease and exotic-dance clubs and identify women eligible for the issue, using a rigorous criteria based on appearance, height, ability to maintain balance in six-inch heels, 40-yard dash times and reps of 225 pounds. Skipper said that having ESPN The Magazine full of naked women was sure to be controversial, but clearly related to sports, since every woman had lap-danced for at least one NFL, NBA or MLB player.
A spokeswoman for Sports Illustrated, which started the swimsuit-issue fad, called the ESPN The Magazine nude lapdancer issue "crass exploitation, nothing like our tasteful magic-glasses issue." This year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit number features mega-babes wearing special swimsuits that disappear when the reader puts on magic glasses. (Glasses sold separately.) A spokesman for National Geographic called the ESPN nude-lapdancer edition "unbelievable pandering, nothing like our tasteful topless hiking issue." This year's National Geographic swimsuit issue features mega-babes hiking through the Peruvian rainforest wearing nothing above the waist but backpacks.
A spokeswoman for Foreign Policy magazine called the ESPN nude-lapdancer issue "cheap sensationalism, nothing like our tasteful hot diplomats in bondage issue." This year's Foreign Policy magazine swimsuit number features scantily clad women, bound and gagged, tied to chairs at the United Nations' Security Council. A spokesman for Reader's Digest called the ESPN The Magazine nude lapdancer issue "extremely gratuitous, nothing like our tasteful 'Girls of the PTA' issue." This year's Reader's Digest swimsuit issue features alluring elementary-school teachers grading homework in lingerie.
Dancers for the first annual nude lapdancer edition of ESPN The Magazine were photographed by famous photographers in exotic locations of particular interest to sports enthusiasts, such as the Rose Bowl parking lot, the tunnels of Lambeau Field, McSorley's Tavern in Manhattan and lounging by the fuel-rods cooling pool of the Millstone atomic reactor station, located in Waterford, Connecticut, which supplies the electricity for ESPN headquarters.
OK, so I'm exaggerating, but not by much. In 1964, Sports Illustrated placed itself at the cutting edge of cheesecake technology by declaring the fact that women wear swimsuits during competitive swimming events justifies a mega-babes swimsuit issue in a general-interest sports magazine -- not that anything worn in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue would stay on during actual competitive swimming.
Over the years the suits have gotten smaller, the breasts more augmented, the photographic premises more strained -- coral reefs, the source of the Nile -- and the pretense of relationship to sports has declined. This year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue adopts a jokey self-mocking tone and drops the pretense altogether, with the entire issue being near-naked babes. A few babe wives photographed with their professional jock husbands represents the closest thing to sports coverage in 220 pages.
Did I say coverage? Sorry, poor choice of words.
"Near naked," meanwhile, is the choice of words that models and photographers actually use for the kinds of poses in the new Sports Illustrated ... not, of course, that I am complaining. Most of the models wear triangle tops and high-cut or thong-style bottoms that leave only a few square centimeters covered ... not, of course, that I am complaining!
Actually, lately even "near naked" has not been near to naked enough. Last fall, tomato actress Catherine Bell posed for FHM magazine in a minimalist bikini with her thumbs hooked around the bottom strap as if she were just about to strip. This year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model, the luscious Petra Nemcova, poses untying the strap on her bikini bottoms. Inside the issue, model Ana Beatriz Barros poses in almost nothing, and she's starting to pull down the bottom nothing. Can a Page 2 porn starlet picture feature really be that farfetched? (Yes, but only because we'd have to pay the models.)
This year's locations: Kenya, Turkey, the Florida Keys, trout streams of Colorado, Barbados, Grenada, a racetrack and, I am not making this up, Vietnam. And Ho Chi Minh thought he won that war! Little sidebar features tout the lavish five-star resorts that Sports Illustrated staff stayed in while shooting at the exotic locales -- now we know the real reason AOL Time Warner profits have plunged. (Thus, another reason the Page 2 porn starlet picture feature really is farfetched -- resort hotel bills.)
This year's best cutting-edge-of-cheesecake-technology views: model Reka Ebergenyi in a Kenyan expedition tent wearing nothing but underpants and a man's safari shirt quite widely spread; near-naked babe sports star wife Debbie Clemens posing with a baseball bat; and model Molly Sims, shot from behind, fly-fishing topless in Colorado. Why, the next thing you know some crass, exploitive network will actually broadcast a show premised on mega-babes in bikinis doing deep-sea fishing! No, that's way too far-fetched.
Even the advertising for the Sports Illustrated issue has gone swimsuit. Numerous ads specially prepared for the edition feature bikini babes. Miller Lite binds into the issue a multi-page foldout which opens into a pinup poster of very well endowed model Sofia Vergara. There are seven total views of Vergara in the fold-out, which means a total of 14 ... oh, never mind. There's even a (non-swimsuit) ad for ESPN The Channel, broadcast using Microwaves The Force of Nature. So Sports Illustrated accepts advertising for ESPN? Well, it's a slack economy.
Plus there's a article on body painting -- a serious journalistic look at body painting -- recalling Sports Illustrated's famed photo of model Heidi Klum in nothing but body paint. Maybe body painting will become the next Olympic sport. Who at the International Olympic Committee would we pay off to arrange that?
And for your shopping convenience, there is a two-page index explaining where to buy any of the swimsuits shown in the issue, setting aside that there are perhaps 5,000 women in the entire world who can wear these suits, which would seem to limit the tie-in marketing somewhat. A few weeks ago, I estimated that the material in the micro bikinis featured in the surfer-babe movie "Blue Crush" cost $390 per pound. These suits are even smaller, and thus even more expensive per pound.
Not that I'm complaining!
Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor of New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is believed to be the first Brookings scholar ever to write a pro football column. You can buy his book, "The Here and Now" here ... and now.