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PLAYBOY ASIA - In 2019, and we’re still calling women “crazy” to invalidate their emotions

Written by Roslyn Talusan

Days before Mad Queen Daenerys Targaryen and her rage saturated the think piece market, social media was busy obsessing over the rage of another figure in pop culture. Constance Wu, star of Crazy Rich Asians, expressed her own work-related frustrations in two concise and deeply relatable tweets. “So upset right now that I’m literally crying. Ugh. Fuck,” she wrote. “Fucking hell.”

These tweets coincided with ABC’s announcement that Fresh Off the Boat, starring Wu as matriarch Jessica Huang, was renewed for a sixth season. She explicitly “disliked” the renewal, insisting that it was not good news in response to a fan congratulating her. Praised as the breakout star of the series, Wu’s nuanced and authentic portrayal of Jessica humanized the traditional Tiger Mom archetype. After six years, I’d imagine becoming exhausted of playing the same character, and given the current trajectory of the show, it’s not surprising Wu’s ready to move on.

While its first season was refreshing, Fresh Off the Boat is now a shell of its former self, watered down to appeal to wider and whiter audiences. Writer Inkoo Kang points to the infantilization and butchering of Jessica’s character as a sign of the downturn in the show’s quality. Jessica, once unapologetically confident in herself, is now annoyingly self-absorbed to her own detriment. Even Eddie Huang, whose memoir makes up the show’s premise, was unable to recognize any true resemblance to his real life and distanced himself shortly after it premiered.

Wanting to move on from a shitty job to do better and greater things is obviously a universal experience, so I was shocked at how strongly people jumped at the chance to condemn Wu’s actions. HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali was not surprised by her tweets, alluding to industry gossip regarding her “reputation for being rude, petty, mean-spirited, and ungrateful.” It’s astounding that it’s 2019, and we’re still out here painting women as “divas” to minimize and invalidate their emotions.

I couldn’t expect much better coming from the man who sicced his hundreds of thousands of followers on a traumatized college student in defense of Chelsea Clinton. As the story of Wu’s Twitter outburst spread, more people began to regurgitate Ali’s casually sexist argument. The backlash boils down to this: *Fresh Off the Boat *“made” Constance Wu the star she is today, and she should be grateful for the opportunity. She’s a spoiled diva, difficult to work with. So many people lost their jobs when their shows got cancelled, so Wu should keep her mouth shut and be happy for the rest of the cast and crew.

This intensely negative reaction to Wu vocalizing her frustration is rooted in her identity as an Asian-American woman. Popular media and social structures still code Asian women as being submissive, delicate, soft-spoken and respectful. Culture writer Clara Mae points to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s portrayal of Mantis (Pom Klementieff) as an example of the “Lotus Blossom” stereotype.

According to the comics, Mantis is a powerful celestial being and a capable martial artist with telekinetic abilities. Despite her strength, James Gunn completely nerfs her in his adaptation of her character. In the films, Mantis is introduced as a white man’s servant, whose only power is sensing and manipulating emotions. By reducing her to a socially awkward empath, the MCU perpetuates the harmful notion that Asian women are fragile and docile.

As visible Others, Asian women face nasty consequences when we refuse to conform to the one-dimensional ideals projected onto us. After Ariana Grande callously came for “all them blogs” last month and noticed my shitposts where I called her a “bitchass buzzard,” her fans spent over a week harassing me, flooding my mentions with disturbingly racist, misogynist comments. Using much more violent words, they demanded my silence and that I apologize to her. When I refused to back down, the hate only intensified—I should’ve been grateful that she was so benevolent so as to message me in the first place.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’ve been punished for standing up for myself, nor will it be the last. Even though I did directly apologize to Grande, it wasn’t enough to satiate her fans. Their issue wasn’t about accountability, it was that I needed to “learn my place.” Similarly, people continued to berate Wu after she posted a lengthy note clarifying her comments, and apologizing for her “insensitivity.” *Fresh Off the Boat* ’s renewal meant Wu had to pass on a project that she was passionate about, one that she saw as a challenge. She meant to express her disappointment at missing an exciting opportunity, and not necessarily her dislike of the show.

Even if Wu was actually vocalizing her dissatisfaction with the show, so what? Like the rest of us, the cast of Game of Thrones has been forthright about their disdain for the show’s ham-fisted and nonsensical final season. Lots of people lost their jobs when filming wrapped last year, and for many of the actors, this was their first big role. Yet no one has dared to brand Kit Harrington or Emilia Clarke as ungrateful or spoiled.

Regarding her so-called reputation on set, I think Natalie Portman did a better job of summing up my thoughts: “If a man says to you that a woman is crazy or difficult… That’s a code word. He’s trying to discredit her reputation.” Wu has a track record of being outspoken about social issues, speaking up for more diverse media representation (her understanding of blackface leaves much to be desired), and calling out the Academy for awarding known sexual harassers like Casey Affleck and Matt Damon. I wouldn’t be surprised if these rumors were just gossip to retaliate against Wu for refusing to tolerate someone’s bullshit.

The harshness behind the overall reaction to Wu’s tweets demonstrates the implicit yet widely-held hostility towards Asian women. It’s unreasonable to expect anyone to sacrifice their ambitions for the sake of their community, and punishing someone for safely vocalizing their frustration is outright dehumanizing. The egregious insinuation that Fresh Off the Boat “made” Wu, as if she has no talent or creativity of her own, simply reeks of sexism. Gratitude can exist alongside frustration—the existence of one doesn’t subtract from the other. Emotions are a complex part of the human experience after all, but as it stands, humanity isn’t afforded to angry, insubordinate Asian women.
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PLAYBOY ASIA - Based on the true stories of a Chinese-American pro-domme, this web series is flipping the script

Written by Diana Hubbell

Mistress Yin first sashays onto the screen wearing head-to-toe leather, mile-high stilettos and a facial expression that says she means business. By day, she’s a top law student, but when duty calls, she heads to her private dungeon full of artfully arrayed toys designed to inflict both pain and pleasure. The new 10-part web series Mercy Mistress delves into her life as a queer, Asian-American dominatrix in New York City. Each episode spotlights a different client with a different kink, while simultaneously advancing Mei Yin Chen’s character development—think High Maintenance with less weed and more orgasms—and tackling societal preconceptions about queer femme sexuality and sex work in today’s world.

When I meet the real Mistress Yin, a.k.a. Yin Q, she’s sipping pinot noir in a plush downtown Manhattan hotel bar, seated across from director Amanda Madden and actor Poppy Liu, both of whom co-run Collective Sex, a group that aims to decolonize stories about sex and sexuality through media. In person, Q has a soothing, almost meditative voice and speaks with precision and authority. She is an activist, a published author, a mother, a Barnard grad with an MFA from The New School, and for more than two decades, a professional dominatrix and BDSM practitioner. Though there’s a thin fictional varnish over the show, everything in Mercy Mistress from bondage to foot fetishes is grounded in her own experiences.

“Every character is based on a person or a conglomerate of people that I’ve met and the stories are true stories,” Q says. “I’ve seen an incredible spectrum—everything from a circus clown to lots of artists. One of the things I wanted to stress through our story was the healing component. Even if people are coming to heal from a certain trauma in their life, there is the capacity to ritualize desires and create a connection that can be transformative.”

Although the show offers viewers an undeniably voyeuristic pleasure, Q hopes that it transcends mere entertainment and helps educate the general population about a world that is often marginalized or misunderstood.

Mercy Mistress comes at a moment when the future of sex workers in the United States is especially precarious. In March, President Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), a move that would hold website publishers responsible for any third-party content soliciting sex work. FOSTA-SESTA makes no distinction between consensual sex work and coerced sex trafficking. It also punches a gaping hole in Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, a vital piece of legislation that states that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” As a result, the bills have already drawn widespread criticism from internet freedom of speech activists, as well as sex workers and those who advocate for their rights.

Courtesy Collective Sex/Mercy Mistress

“Over the last few years with the internet and social media, sex workers have been able to create alliances and become a stronger political force. The bill that has just passed basically takes away those platforms of information sharing and will further criminalize legit sex work and drive sex traffickers underground,” says Q. “There are survivors of sex work traffickers who are protesting against SESTA and FOSTA. They are with us in our meetings saying if these bills had been in place when they were being victimized, they would never have been rescued.”In this climate, she argues, it is crucial that the population understands what’s going on and what’s at stake. “That why it is so important that we make mainstream media that people can relate to on a story level,” says Madden. “I feel that’s sometimes the best defense against misinformation.” Mercy Mistress is hardly the first commercial work to attempt to shed light on sex work and BDSM. The last few years alone have given us The Deuce, George Pelecanos and David Simon’s gritty tale of the rise of the porn industry; The Girlfriend Experience, inspired by the 2009 Steven Soderbergh sleeper drama starring Sasha Grey as a high-end call girl; and the inescapable 50 Shades of Grey juggernaut. Unlike Mercy Mistress, which features a diverse cast and crew, many of whom have ties to the queer and kink scenes in New York, all of these more mainstream productions keep the lens focused on predominantly white, heterosexual characters.

While there’s no shortage of bare flesh in any of them, each in its own way fetishizes commerce more than copulation. In The Deuce, sex work is inseparable from hustle and exploitation in a ruinous depiction of 1970s New York. The Girlfriend Experience follows law student-turned-escort Christine Reade (Riley Keough) through a dream-like, glass-encased world of luxury hotel rooms, lobbies and restaurants, all rendered in a muted palette of beige, onyx and ash. Sex here is transactional, regardless of whether or not fat envelopes of cash change hands. Meanwhile in 50 Shades, the camera lingers seductively over Mr. Grey’s (Jamie Dornan) fleet of automobiles and blingy watches, while the two main characters engage in a whole lot of bland missionary.

Actors and directors in all of the aforementioned productions did some measure of homework. Maggie Gyllenhaal of The Deuce admits to changing her mind about pornography after speaking with retired sex workers. After a number of Skype interviews with escorts, The Girlfriend Experience’s director Amy Seimetz remarked, “I think what they really wanted to see was an actor’s portrayal that wasn’t villainizing them or making [the job] look super-easy, because it is work.” Dornan, however, claims to have needed a shower after visiting a BDSM dungeon and appears both ignorant of and disgusted by his subject matter.

“That is so damaging to the community that you’re trying to portray, that you’re monetizing,” Q says. Attitudes like that are part of what Q, Madden and Liu are hoping to combat, in part by going as far as possible to humanize their characters. Mistress Yin is neither a victim of circumstances nor a sensationalist happy hooker à la the 2007 series Secret Diary of a Call Girl, but rather a fully realized, functioning member of society. Much of show’s dramatic and comedic potency rests in the tension between her steely-eyed dominatrix persona and her day-to-day life. When the PVC comes off, we find out that like Liu, who was born in Xi’an and raised in Minnesota and Shanghai, she has a Chinese immigrant mother. And unlike The Girlfriend Experience, in which the protagonist snaps that she has no friends, Liu’s character has a healthy social and sex life outside of work.

“I have friends who hold gatherings for pro-dommes to get together to talk about how they handle clients and share dangerous clients—basically everything from self-care to how to file your taxes,” says Q, who insists that consensual sex work isn’t inherently alienating. That network of industry professionals helped when it came to research. To get into character, Liu followed real pro-dommes into their dungeons to observe sessions with the clients’ permission.

“Some of the clients were OK with me domming as a baby domme,” Liu says. “There was a lot of support in all of this and I definitely felt humbled going in as a student.”

Unlike Dornan, Liu says she enjoyed the learning process and never flinched at the show’s risqué scenes. From masturbating in a backroom to wielding a cane or a flogger, everything stayed within her comfort zone, with one exception: “The only discomfort was when I was in a full leather catsuit. Trying to rest basically meant being bent at a 45-degree angle,” she says with a laugh.

“Welcome to the femme-domme paradox,” Q says wryly. “What it means to a powerful, dominant woman and yet you can’t move.”

Courtesy Collective Sex/Mercy Mistress

Clearly, Collective Sex’s inclusive approach struck a chord, since people from all over pitched in more than $77,000 to their crowdfunding campaign. “We saw so many people from the leather community come together to make this,” Q says. “Emails poured in about how relieved they were to have an authentic voice from within the community speak their story.”Still, even with more donations than they ever bargained for, the pilot’s budget pales in comparison to the cool $12 million poured into the pilot for *The Deuce. *The trio in front of me describe working for little more than “Metrocard money” and scrimping to stretch their resources as far as possible. “Making film is expensive. Who’s going to have access to that to get their story out into the world and whose stories are left out?” Liu says. “That’s why we have these huge gaps in stories and why we keep seeing the same narrative over and over again.”

One thing is certain: The crew behind Mercy Mistress has no interest in repeating that narrative. They’re not trying to compete with glossier productions, but rather to do something entirely new and tell a story in a way it hasn’t been told before.
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PLAYBOY ASIA - Irreverent and revolutionary, Art Paul brought to life Hugh Hefner’s vision of a sophisticated urban lifestyle

Written by Dan Hyman

Nearly 40 years ago PLAYBOY’s then editorial director Arthur Kretchmer shared a cab from the airport with a stranger. An international consultant, the woman proved an intriguing chat. When Kretchmer mentioned he worked for PLAYBOY, the company whose logo, he boasted, was the second most famous on Earth—behind only Coca-Cola—she smiled and proceeded to disagree. She’d spent much time in Asia and had just returned from Africa; without a doubt, she told Kretchmer, “yours is the most recognized logo in the world.” Kretchmer chuckles as he retells this story. The woman may have thought she was toasting him or PLAYBOY or perhaps Hugh Hefner. But she was in fact saluting Art Paul.

Paul was Hefner’s very first hire—founding art director of the nascent PLAYBOY—and he quickly proved his worth, drafting the now ubiquitous Rabbit Head in less than an hour. Certainly his best-known creation, the symbol is just one of his countless contributions to PLAYBOY.

As Hef put it in his cartoon diary, Paul’s fundamental mission was to “really give the magazine a class look.” Charged with crafting the publication’s overall visual aesthetic, Paul had loftier ambitions.

“I set out to change illustration itself by pushing artists and illustrators to be more personal, expressive and innovative,” Paul tells me via a long e-mail correspondence before we meet in person. And he doubled down on the magazine’s progressive attitude and voice, he says, through its design. “I was guided by PLAYBOY’s spirit of change and the idea that there should be no ‘high’ art or ‘low’ art, that good design could be applied to anything.”

He aimed to make each issue of the magazine a flight of graphic fancy. To read PLAYBOY, Kretchmer says, was to be taken on “an adventure, a visual experience as much as a reading experience.” Indeed, within the design community PLAYBOY quickly became the go-to destination for the world’s hottest artists and illustrators to showcase their talent. Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, James Rosenquist and Ed Paschke are a small selection of the well-known artists whose work appeared in PLAYBOY thanks to Paul.

Above: In 1969, the 10th-floor entrance to the art department at Playboy's Chicago headquarters showcased pieces across a variety of media. Photo by Dwight Hooker. Inset: Paul circa 1985. The Art of Playboy, a documentary about Art Paul by filmmaker Jennifer Kwong, is currently in development. (Inset photo courtesy Suzanne Seed)

In the magazine’s inaugural issue Hefner wrote about the PLAYBOY man, who enjoys life’s finer things: “mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” It was Paul who translated this ideal into visual form.

“The idea that PLAYBOY was a sophisticated product, that’s all Art Paul,” says Robert Newman, former design director of New York and Details, among other publications. “He’s the one who gave PLAYBOY its up-market, sophisticated and sensual feel.” The proof was in the pages, which regularly featured fine art that could have come straight out of a gallery. And Paul didn’t limit himself to the traditional options of paintings and illustrations to accompany articles; he also solicited work across wildly varying mediums, from mixed-media creations to plaster and resin sculptures to stone and acrylic assemblages.

Paul’s approach to design—liberating artists from the constraints of strict editorial direction—was radical at the time.

“In the 1950s, illustrations tended to be dictated by editors, with art directors following orders,” Paul says. “Someone would pick a scene from a story and present it literally, with a caption in case it was not literal enough—a real straitjacket of a formula.” By contrast, he says, “I asked that the illustrator interpret the sense or feel of the story—what gave it its power.”

Paul expected illustrators to deliver bold, metaphorical and even discomfiting works—whatever best complemented an article. “He let them rip,” one art director says with a laugh. Take, for example, Jerry Podwil’s painting that accompanies the December 1974 article Getting Off: a diapered baby slumps near a broken rattle, hand burrowed into its nappy in an apparent act of masturbation. That kind of freedom was attractive to artists.

“I never called anybody to do work for us who said, ‘Nah, I’m not interested,’” says Tom Staebler, who started in PLAYBOY’s art department in 1968 and eventually became Paul’s protégé, then successor. “I don’t care who it was or how big a name they were—they all wanted to work for PLAYBOY.”

But suggest that his work was highly influential and the modest Paul will shrug it off. Then again, he doesn’t need to sing his own praises; others do it for him. “He was a brilliant visionary and truly a master of magazine architecture,” says Newman.

“PLAYBOY used illustration in a completely different way,” says Bart Crosby, a Chicago-based designer and former colleague of Paul’s. “They used it metaphorically, representationally. They used these dramatic illustrations that were disturbing sometimes. And Art perpetuated that. He encouraged it. That changed the world of illustration. Even the more conservative publications started to be a bit more bold in what they were doing.”

On a warm fall Chicago morning, Paul welcomes me to the high-rise apartment he has shared for more than four decades with artist Suzanne Seed, his wife of 40 years. Sporting a scraggly white beard and wearing a checked button-down with black pants, he smiles as he rises from his wheelchair, grabs his wooden cane and pats me on the back. He turns 93 this January and has suffered several strokes in the past decade; macular degeneration has left him nearly blind. Still, he moves through his apartment with a joyful curiosity. The space, with its panoramic view of the city and the occasional peregrine falcon soaring by, is breathtaking—not least because it is a tribute to a creative and collaborative life. Nearly every inch of the apartment is covered with art, photographs and trinkets, many created by Paul, Seed and their friends and peers.

Seed serves as my tour guide for the afternoon, Paul trailing behind, nodding in approval when she showcases one of his favorite or most revered works: a whimsical collection of his drawings that seem almost to interact with one another (he calls it “Conversations”); a colorful collage of concentric circles that cries out with youthful whimsy; sketches of faces and heads that line the entryway and lead to an adjoining studio space. Despite his vision problems, Paul sketches frequently. He also plays the keyboard, conjuring ideas that he then commissions one of his composer friends to transform into fleshed-out recordings. Today he plays one of his most recent pieces for me, loudly, over the apartment’s speaker system. The song, a serpentine waltz, floats through the room. Paul closes his eyes and allows it to wash over him.

Art Paul was born in Chicago on January 18, 1925 to Jewish parents who had emigrated from Ukraine with two older children. When Paul was just one year old, his father died. “We were struggling for many years, including during the Depression, but my mother was determined to keep the family together,” he says. He credits his brother, Norman, who wanted to be a sculptor but instead worked to support the family, with stoking his interest in the life of an artist. His development was also aided by his mother, who supported her son’s artistic ambitions; he recalls that she let him paint in the middle of the house “because the light was best there.” Paul accompanied his big brother on weekend trips to the Art Institute, sparking a lifelong fascination with creativity in its endless forms. He came to admire the work of Michelangelo, but he also thought highly of the illustrations he saw in the popular Modern Library books and in the magazines of the 1930s, such as Norman Rockwell’s work in The Saturday Evening Post. High art, low art—it was all simply art to him.

Paul began looking at the world through an artistic lens. Specifically he became fascinated with faces. He preferred to draw them from his imagination, he says, “but when I’d look at each face as people streamed by on the street where I was selling newspapers, or at those faces coming off the train when I went to meet my brother coming home from work, I’d see faces as amazing to me as those I’d dreamed up.”

He won a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but his studies were interrupted by his service in World War II. Upon his return to Chicago in 1945, he enrolled at the Institute of Design, often referred to as the New Bauhaus for its adherence to the precepts of the seminal German art school. “Design seemed more connected to the world than painting,” Paul says. After graduating, he opened his own illustration and graphic design studio downtown, where he created ads and other work for top-tier clients including department store Marshall Field’s and publisher Scott Foresman. By the time a mutual friend connected him with Hef, Paul was enjoying a comfortable life thanks to his design business.

The two met in the spring of 1953, after Hef had quit his job as a copywriter at Esquire. Hef arrived for their initial meeting at Paul’s downtown studio “looking disheveled, harried, tired, a bit of a wild man seemingly, with a huge roll of tattered papers under his arm,” Paul says. Hef told Paul all about his idea for a new men’s magazine—Stag Party was its title. Hef did his best to persuade Paul to join him.

“I was hesitant, as I had great clients I hated to give up,” Paul says, but he ultimately decided to take the job as art director of what was soon renamed PLAYBOY. Paul says he was swayed by Hef’s promise “to give me the complete freedom to commission the experimental, personal kind of work from artists and illustrators that I had struggled to promote to clients for myself.”

The early days of PLAYBOY were harried ones. It was in large part only Hef and Paul putting together the magazine, working so closely that the two would argue about whose turn it was to take out the trash. “The first few issues were like a sketchbook in which Hef and I were feeling our way,” Paul says. “We were clear, though, and of like mind in wanting to do something new and experimental.” Their relationship was one of symbiotic growth: Hef showing Paul how an editor built an issue with gripping content; Paul demonstrating how solid design could complement that content.

“There was a great deal of mutual respect and cooperation,” Paul says. “It was the best of working relationships.”

Top left: Paul's family, including his mother (pictured with Paul), supported his early artistic ambitions. Top Right: Paul climbs aboard a practice flight in the Army Air Corps, circa 1943. Bottom: For Paul's 25th anniversary as art director, the Playboy team thanked him with an appropriately customized card. (Top photos courtesy Art Paul; lower photo by Patty Beaudet)

The first issue they assembled, the landmark December 1953 PLAYBOY, remains of special importance to Paul. After visiting newsstands to research what made a magazine stand out, he realized that a white background would be eye-catching—other designers avoided stark white or black covers because distributors frowned on them.

“Hef had bought a black-and-white news photo of Marilyn Monroe sitting on a car, waving, in a ticker-tape parade,” he recalls. “I blocked out everything but her and added a few blocks to the side to suggest confetti—in which I put a very few small cover blurbs.” He placed it all atop a sea of white, with red text accents. “It looked fresh in the riot of color and mess of cover blurbs on all the other magazines—as did Marilyn’s smile.”

Many of Paul’s early PLAYBOY covers are risk-taking and unorthodox, and sometimes strikingly minimalist. The June 1957 cover, for example, is entirely white but for two black Rabbit Head cuff links; inside, the fiction story echoes this design with a nearly all-white two-page spread save for a lone fly in the upper left corner. Paul hired a technical artist to draw the insect hyperrealistically. “It’s a favorite of designers,” he says of the layout. “They love that I dared to make it almost entirely white space, as if a fly had just landed on the actual page of the magazine.” Inventive design flowed through PLAYBOY, with Paul frequently incorporating die-cut or folded pages into his layouts—something he calls “participatory graphics.”

PLAYBOY’s art department was a thrilling place to work. With set designers and model makers on staff, the art directors had no creative boundaries. “If you could think it up, you could make it happen,” Staebler says. The creative community took notice: In its first 15 years, PLAYBOY received more than 150 honors and was recognized by the likes of the Art Directors Club of New York and the Society of Illustrators. Paul won several hundred awards for his work and toured the world with his Beyond Illustration exhibit, showcasing some of the magazine’s most celebrated art pieces in museums and galleries from Europe to Asia. He even helped shape the magazine’s editorial content: He’s credited with conceptualizing the annual Year in Sex feature, which first ran in February 1977—though, as Kretchmer says with a laugh, in the meeting where Paul introduced the idea, Hef jokingly said, “This is a great job you’ve done. I’m really glad I suggested it.”

Few other art directors become as synonymous with the magazine they work for as Paul did, says Rolling Stone art director Mark Maltais. But after nearly three decades at the helm of Playboy’s art department, Paul sensed his life there had run its course. He left the magazine in late 1982.

Paul spent the ensuing decades working out of his home studio (contributing illustrations to PLAYBOY from time to time), hosting exhibits and showing everywhere from Japan to his native Chicago. In 1986 he was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, and he received lifetime achievement awards from the Society of Publication Designers, AIGA and Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design.

He has stayed busy into his 90s, continuing to live a life in the arts. In 2016, in partnership with the Chicago Design Museum, Paul created a custom handwritten design for Threadless, the online community of artists: “Tomorrow is a wonderful invention—it is the best definition of hope,” it reads. In 2015 the makers of the popular game Cards Against Humanity commissioned him to create a piece for their limited-edition Design Pack that features illustrated interpretations of George Carlin’s infamous 1972 monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”

Paul chose to illustrate Fuck.

Back at his apartment, sitting on his couch, Paul flips through a collection of his work. He’s quiet but deliberate, his eyes following the pages as they drift past. He stops and points to the February 1967 cover, a beautiful brunette lying under an unkempt white bedsheet, her body forming the outline of a Rabbit Head as she gazes up with a coy smile. Paul runs his fingers over his long-ago design. In a whisper he says, “That was a good one.” (Playboy)

Art Paul died on April 28, 2018, at the age of 93. The Rabbit Head that he designed remains one of the most recognized logos in the world. Art Paul will be deeply missed by the Playboy family.
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PLAYBOY ASIA - Mushroom powder by way of Four Sigmatic is the new health craze
Written by Mary Ladd

Food fads in the social media age are inevitable and this time it’s coffee’s turn to get a makeover. Thanks to a new superfood company called Four Sigmatic, everyone from athletes to models are all about adding a double-extracted mushroom powder to your brew. Sure, at first read, it might sound unbelievable that a food you’ve had access to all along has such power, but not when you look at the endless positive studies and how other societies have and continue use them: They’re used daily in Asia, and have been used for centuries in Slavic countries for their proven ability to increase energy, fight tumors and support immunity. Ancient Romans actually used to refer to them as the “Food of the Gods.”

The powders listed on Four Sigmatic’s website are divided into, you guessed it, four options: (1) Reishi for better sleep, relaxation and fighting sickness; (2) Chaga for skin, hair and stress management; (3) Lion’s Mane for memory, concentration and digestion; and (4) Cordyceps for athletic performance, energy, sexual performance and libido. “That said, proceed with caution,” Four Sigmatic founder, Tero Isokauppila, jokes. Isokauppila is a Finnish-born, LA-based 13th-generation farmer who grew up foraging with his mother and later studied plant-based nutrition and chemistry at Cornell University. He credits a steady diet of mushrooms for keeping him from being sick for over a decade and also mentions that he naps on a mat made from nails, a modern form of acupressure, that helps him stay energized. Just like his product, Isokauppila is eccentric, but that seems to be what today’s consumers are into — going beyond the normal prescription medications and doctor’s visits in hopes maintaining a their youth. That’s why Moon Juice is an entrepreneurial force and kombucha is in such high demand it is even available in some gas stations now. Really, it’s not much of a surprise that just four years after its launch, Four Sigmatic’s retail products have spread to 55 countries and currently beat out the cold brew category in Amazon sales.

Four Sigmatic has become so popular, that it now has a brick and mortar location in the pseudo-hippie haven known as Venice, CA. Nestled in the Abbott Kinney enclave—betweenice cream shops, clothing boutiques and artisanal stores—is the world’s first ever mushroom coffee shop, The Shroom Room. Packets of mushroom coffee can be ordered to go with mild Central American Arabica beans. There’s also mushroom hot cocoa and a mushroom smoothie enhancer said to better sleep and boost brainpower and energy. Ceramic mushroom mugs and ninja pants line the shelves atop mushroom stools. While it’s all a bit gimmicky to the naked eye, Isokauppila opened the shop in a sincere effort to promote community inspired by his forest-covered birthplace. The staff is friendly—like genuinely friendly—and eager to tell customers about how mushroom can alter their daily lives.

In case you can’t make it to southern California, Isokauppilia also has a book called Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health (Penguin Random House). It’s got an average of 5 stars from 145 customer reviews and yes, as the title suggests, it too is all about his favorite fungus, with tips and a guide to the ten specific types of mushrooms that enhance whole-body health and sustain wellness. It also includes 50 recipes for mushroom-heavy salads, soups, cake and even bacon.

Obviously, Isokauppilia is mushroom obsessed, and his staff is mushroom obsessed too. Some could say maybe a bit too obsessed, but talk to anyone of them and we dare you to not at least question why you haven’t invested in some Reishi powder sooner. At the very least, we suggest you don’t knock it until you try it. The results of fungi consumption just might astonish you. (Playboy)

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PLAYBOY ASIA - Playboy examines the agony and the ecstasy of an awards show that still can’t quite get it right

Written by Candice Frederick

It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. That’s the best way to describe Sunday night’s confounding Golden Globe Awards, which patted itself on the back for its “diversity” while also reminding us that it won’t be straying too far away from the political status quo anytime soon.

It’s strange because, leading up to the ceremony—in a year when #MeToo and #TimesUp were part of the cultural zeitgeist—the Golden Globes seemed to be mildly interested in accommodating the demands of a woke TV and film audience. They hired Sandra Oh as the cohost of the evening, along with Andy Samberg. It was a move that stuffy conservatives may have considered “risqué” or “edgy.”

But weeks after this announcement, the Hollywood Foreign Press seemed hellbent on appeasing their buttoned-up stakeholders and baby-boomer audience with press statements implying that just because they hired an Asian-American host following a year when Asian talent flourished on the big screen, they were not going to get all political on us, OK? There would also be no mention of, say, Donald Trump, or Kevin Spacey, or the slew of other toxic male offenders—at least not from the hosts.
So, how do you tread that line of being a politically enlightened host and keeping the evening fun and entertaining? Well, as it turned out, by staging a round of flu shots for the (mostly repulsed) “liberal,” white Hollywood crowd. And by starting the evening with the two hosts double-downing on fun, lighthearted “jokes”—including, “Spike Lee! Mr. Do the Right Thing! Well, I’ll tell you who does the right thing: you, as a director. Lifelong fan, can’t wait to see what you do next”—that landed with a kerplunk. It was … cringey.

Thank goodness Oh knew to take a brief moment to genuinely reflect on the variety of diverse Asian talent on screen in 2018, which was met with what was probably the most on-brand Hollywood response from someone in the live audience: a loud laugh. Ironically, too, because that was the one time throughout Oh and Samberg’s monologue that wasn’t desperate for a punchline. And yet, there it was—for that one person, anyway.

Moving past the mostly awkward opening monologue, there were some truly great moments of cultural diversity among the winners that are worth celebrating. Oh herself finally—finally—won her first ever Golden Globe for her stunning performance on Killing Eve. And right before her big win, Regina King took home the coveted award for her heartbreaking portrayal in If Beale Street Could Talk. Gotta love that back-to-back winning streak for two of the most well-deserved women in Hollywood.

Likewise for the nominated men of color, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which race-swapped the iconic superhero with an Afro-Latino lead, won for best animated film. Alfonso Cuarón was finally recognized for directing a film (the wonderful Roma) that does not star a white lead—though his Best Director win came in a category with only-male nominees. Darren Criss won for playing the hell out of gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Rami Malek prevailed for portraying the late, great queer icon Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, and Mahershala Ali earned a Best Supporting Actor award for his performance as the gay musical genius Dr. Don Shirley in Green Book. So, kudos to the Hollywood Foreign Press for giving respect when it’s due—for a whole, maybe, 15 minutes in an exhaustive two-and-a-half hour ceremony.

But once again, this big step forward was met with several giant steps backward because the aforementioned Mercury biopic, which practically erased his queer and racial identity and also wasn’t good, had the audacity to win for Best Picture—Drama in a category where literally every other nominee was better: If Beale Street Could Talk, BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther and A Star Is Born. Oh, and the credited director of Bohemian Rhapsody, Bryan Singer, was accused of multiple cases of sexual assault in the past. Stay woke, Golden Globes.

And just so we’re all clear on where the Hollywood Foreign Press stands as far as diversity goes, the voters couldn’t stop showering Green Book with awards. In addition to Ali, the film—another one that pushes the queer identity of its co-lead character, a black man, to the background and reduces him to an elusive stereotype—won for Best Screenplay and Best Picture—Musical or Comedy. It’s a movie that’s been condemned by many critics of color, as well as Shirley’s own family, but clearly the Golden Globes isn’t going to let a little thing like cultural reverence get in the way of their own agenda.

Last night’s Golden Globes was merely the latest Hollywood attempt to get politically engaged without exacting any real change in its voting procedures or actual politics. Seeing how last year’s prevalent conversation around gender and racial equality took a backseat throughout last night’s ceremony and on the red carpet—save for one or two acceptance speeches—I can’t help but wonder how sincere the Hollywood Foreign Press is in its stride toward diversity. Only time will tell. (Playboy)
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PLAYBOY ASIA - Inside the philosophy of the most famous Asian pick-up artist in the world.

Written by Zachary Schwartz

I’m waiting in a Manhattan diner to eat lunch with the most famous Asian “pick-up artist”—a man whose craft is seducing women, and teaching other men how to do the same—in the world, when a chunky, 5’5” 33-year-old gentlemen with a Fu Manchu mustache sits down next to me. “I’m JT Tran,” he says, extending his hand.

A short Asian guy, Tran does not exactly fit Western society’s archetype of a ladies man. “I’ll never be tall, dark and handsome,” he admits. “No one looks at me at first sight and thinks, ‘He’s the one.” What Tran does have though, is “game,” a concept as universally understandable yet undefinable as the Taoist “Dao.” Like the “Dao,” it can be mastered with time—at least that’s what Tran claims.

Tran’s Facebook is bedazzled with photos of him kissing and holding tall, beautiful women at high-end clubs around the world. He officially defines himself as a “dating coach,” and pens advice columns for LA Weekly, speaks at Ivy League universities, and runs “Asian Dating Bootcamps.” These three-day retreats allow virginal Asian males to study Tran’s secret methodology, “The ABCs of Attraction,” after which they are taken “into the field”, to clubs and malls, to practice techniques under his supervision.

Tran wasn’t always like this. He remembers being a shy middle child of a Vietnamese immigrant who could barely make eye contact with others. “Like most Asian American males, I was a late bloomer,” he says. “I didn’t kiss my first girl or go on my first date until I was 20. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or how to make friends, so I mostly stayed home and read books.”

Photo of JT Tran, Courtesy of Levan TK for LA Weekly.

After college, Tran landed a job as a rocket scientist, literally, at NASA. At age 26, he had everything: a Mercedes, a six-figure salary, a seaside apartment on Hermosa Beach—and yet absolutely no one to share it with. No matter what he did, Tran couldn’t find a girlfriend. He recalls going to a speed dating event and saying ‘yes’ to all 60 girls he met with. “Not a single one said ‘yes’ back,” he says. “At that point, I realized that something wasn’t wrong with the 60 girls who turned me down, something was wrong with me. Somewhere along the line, maybe because of my Asian upbringing, I wasn’t taught the same social skills as everyone else.”

Tran, determined to lift the curse of his stereotype, attended a pick-up “bootcamp” run by pick-up artist Mystery. He then spent the next five years mired in the shadow world of night clubs and bars, applying, as he describes it, his “systems engineering” mind to his game. He started writing a blog, the “Asian Playboy Blog,” about his experiences. One of his readers was a Chinese-Canadian mother whose son, at 16, was so traumatized by bullies that he refused to make friends and had never been on a date. Desperate, she rang up Tran. “I told her, ‘Ma’am, I’m going to be the big brother he never had this weekend,” he remembers. And so the first “Asian dating bootcamp” was spoke into existence.

As a biracial first-generation Taiwanese kid from the Midwest, I understand the struggle. An Asian guy in America, among all demographics, can expect to have the lowest total average of sexual partners, three, in his lifetime. At the age of 18, nearly 75 percent of Asian-American guys are virgins, compared to 43 percent of other boys.

Any number of conspirators can be fingered for the emasculation of Asian men, but the media, which often portrays Asian men as weak, effeminate foreigners who rarely “get the girl,” plays a huge role. In the 1984 coming-of-age film Sixteen Candles, Asian student Long Duk Dong’s—whose every entrance is announced with a gong—romantic aspirations are seen as comic relief. Jet Li originally kissed Aaliyah at the end of Romeo Must Die—a 2000 action-film remake of “Romeo and Juliet”—but the scene tested so poorly with audiences that filmmakers were forced to remove it.

Racism comes from the outside, and after a while, from the inside. Growing up, I internalized stereotypes about who I was supposed to be: comic relief, academic co-conspirator, but never an American Romeo. By seventh grade, I was sitting in the back of my dad’s car, crying as I told him of my realization that “no girl will ever like me because I’m Asian.”

I eventually had positive experiences with romance and sex, but because they came so much later than that of my other friends, I always felt like I was playing catch-up on love. Many of my Asian friends still feel downright doomed. Their options are few: to accept a life of involuntary celibacy, embrace it, or—for those with money and a willingness to work with the dark arts—swallow the red pill and jump down the rabbit hole of pick-up artistry.

At the end of our meal, Tran invited me to attend one of his “Asian Dating Bootcamps,” which normally costs a little over $1500 to attend. He was eager to brag of its effectiveness. “I’ve had guys have their first kisses, I’ve had guys lose their virginities on this bootcamp,” he says. “People’s lives change in one weekend.”

Let’s face it—there are worse things than not getting laid. But the psychological effects of never having a mate, of never having anyone want you, can be devastating to any gender. Every yin needs a yang—that’s the essence of “Dao,” which literally translates to “the right way.” But for now, there was Tran.

The art of pick-up has been practiced for centuries, maybe forever. Seduction is a puzzle shared between species. Birds sing melodies, gorillas beat their chests, hooded seals blow huge red air sacs from their nostrils. Robert Greene writes about Ninon de Lenclos, the most infamous French courtesan of the 17th century, who advised a young Marquis to approach a certain countess with an “air of nonchalance” as to create a “state of emotional confusion that is a ‘prerequisite for successful seduction’”.

The modern pick-up community for men can be traced to Ross Jeffries, who wrote a 1992 book titled How To Get the Women You Desire Into Bed. Jeffries observed that the Sexual Revolution had liberated—for the first time in modern Western history—a massive, unmarried population of heterosexual women. While men watched their local Schwarzenneger effortlessly sleep with whomever he liked, the “AFC” —average frustrated chump—was left clueless as to how to compete in this new dating market, where traditional markers like religion and money mattered less and less.

Jeffries pinpointed traits like confidence, mystery, and the ability to make one feel safe—not just being a “nice guy”—as attractive to women, and taught associated conversational trees and body language to convey that. Empirical evidence shows that pick-up training does, in fact, improve men’s dating skills, though the dominant, aggressive approach practiced by many modern pick-up artists has been proven to work better on women with conservative views.

The internet is a sweltering jungle for subcultures, filled with life and shade, often evolving them into something more gigantic and dangerous. Much of the pick-up artist community today is made up of scummy white men who, among other transgressions, prey specifically on Asian women’s documented preference for white men, referring to them as a “cheat code.” Pick-up artists like Julian Blanc have bragged that a white man can do “whatever he wants” to Asian women, and films himself in Asia convincing girls to cheat on their boyfriends with him.

This makes Tran, as an Asian man teaching other Asian men, a unicorn in his field. He’ll willingly critique his peers while offering himself as their moderate alternative. “Ethics, unfortunately, is not a hallmark of our industry,” he says. “But, I think you can build up your confidence without tearing anyone down.”

I arrived one Friday afternoon to the Manhattan studio in which Tran would be conducting his three-day seminar. Each student was immediately given a thick, 300-page textbook: “The ABCs of Attraction by JT Tran.” In the book were jokes, conversation-starters, body-language diagrams, sine graphs illustrating the optimal flow of conversation when meeting a girl at the club, and so on.

The seven students stood up to introduce themselves. Mostly Asian, they ranged from 30-something entrepreneurs, to 20-something graduate students, to late-teens cooks. One was Will, a Chinese immigrant from Canada who had spiky hair, an eager face, and square-rimmed glasses that often flooded with fluorescent light. “God gave me so much talent in academics, but paralyzed me in social life,” he said in a heavy accent. The room murmured in solidarity.

For the next six hours, Tran went through the ABCs, starting with “A” for attraction, “B” for banter, going all the way to “F.” He taught the importance of posture, good eye contact, asking interesting questions, touch, and so forth. The students practiced introductions with the help of “Katie,” Tran’s 6-foot-tall assistant, and Jeff Khan, Tran’s Taiwanese apprentice.

After one particularly rough session in which Tran barked “Stop!” and proceeded to chew Will out on his total lack of a smile—“Don’t be creepy,” he admonished—he offered a story as encouragement to the group.

“I wasn’t always like this, guys,” Tran recalled. “Once, I was at the club, and I approached these four Asian girls and a blonde white girl. I thought that because she was with Asian girls, she would have liked Asian people, but as soon as I approached, she put her hand up. ‘Stop! We don’t like Asian guys,’ she said. So I walked away, whatever. Then I hit it off with this Latina girl. I brought her over to my friends, and my white friend puts his arm around me, looks at her and says: ‘What are you doing with this Asian guy! You know they have the smallest dicks in the world right!’ And, of course, it was all over from that.”

Tran paused. He wiped his forehead. “And you know what I did that night, guys? I went home and I cried. I cried and felt sorry for myself. But—and this is the important thing—I got up the next morning and I tried again.”

We met outside the club later that night and formed a huddle. Tran gave us last-minute advice: “Remember, we’re not here to get anyone drunk. You want to be sober, and you want them to be sober. And don’t form a sausage zone. Okay, go!” He yelled. As the group shuffled in, he remarked to me “When they clump together like that, I call it the Great Wall of Chinamen.”

At the club—a thumping, multicolored rooftop affair—I took a seat and watched Will approach a few women. The first girl forcefully rebuffed him. “Excuse me, can you give us some space,” she hissed, and turned back around. Will scratched his head and moved on. He walked up to another girl. “Hey, I’m Will. It’s really nice to meet you,” he spat out breathlessly, before she rolled her eyes and walked away.

Meanwhile, Tran was swaggering around in a fiery beige-and-scarlet suit. He walked up to a group of women walking in. “Hey, our table’s having a birthday today, why don’t you come and celebrate it with us?” He said. He lifted one of their hands, kissed it, and led them to our table.

The table became a sight to behold—five awkward Asian males surrounded by a group of chattering, attractive women in a club. Will put his arm around one of them, and she kissed him on the cheek. Another student was sloppily making out.

Tran came up to me. “Fobby power!” He declared, shaking his fist. “We’ve had bootcamps where there’ve been 10 Asian guys and 10 white girls at the table,” he said. “And literally, a circle of white guys will form and stare at us looking pissed off. Asian guys aren’t supposed to do this.”

It can be tempting to think of this as a story of revenge: Asian women have a 36 percent rate of out-marriage, the second-highest rate in the United States, mostly to white men. Asian men dating white women might satisfy a lust for evening the score, but it doesn’t end the karmically damned cycle of internalized racism. “I make it a point to tell my students to be open to women of color,” Tran tells me, and over the course of the night, he also brings Asian, Latina and black women to the table. “We Asian men hate being discriminated against because of our race, and we should not impose that on women ourselves.”

At the end of the night, we reconvened at a late-night Manhattan diner. The students swapped stories of first kisses, slow dances and trading digits—like high school boys after the bowling alley, fist-bumping for just getting a number.

“This is just the beginning,” Tran told me. The next day, the group would cover “Future”, the surprisingly placid “F” in ABCs of Attraction. Tran would talk about becoming a person that’s easy to fall in love with—having a fulfilling career, picking up interesting hobbies, continuing self-education. In short, becoming self-actualized. “You’re here to be in love,” he instructed. “To love a lot, or to love one.”

After the bootcamp, there is the option to go all the way down the rabbit hole—to continue paying Tran and become his apprentice, traveling the world with him, seducing women on an international level. “That takes, frankly and realistically,” he says, “a massive amount of discipline, persistence, and the ability to just push yourself physically and emotionally, day after day, night after night.”

But, Tran admits, “Most of my students grow into what would be considered ‘a decently successful white guy who has a few girlfriends in his life before he gets married.’ They’re no longer Asian guys who feel totally emasculated and like they’re going to die alone. They’re getting to the point, where they can say, ‘Hey, I’m just as cool, attractive and successful as my peers now. I no longer have this unfulfilling love and sex life. I’m finally in the norm of American society.’” (playboy)
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PLAYBOY ASIA - The beautiful Playboy Muse, Kit Rysha, returns to Playboy with this romantic pictorial from the photographer, David Merenyi. Absolutely radiant, Kit is on the location of her patio in Thailand, dressed in soft pink tones to match her calm and mesmerizing energy. “I think my best quality is listening and understanding other’s problems,” she says.

Kind, talented, and charming, Kit has been modeling for several years and has had much success in the industry. “I feel very natural when I pose whether I am dressed or nude,” she says. “For me, it’s important how I wear my feelings, and I think nude photographers emphasize beauty and emotions even more.

Playboy fits my way of posing — I like being sexy, innocent, and provocative, all with a smile or a glance.” See more of Kit by checking out all her galleries, right here on Playboy.