Until recently, Michele Zipp was gainfully employed as Editor-in-Chief of Playgirl. But an article she authored in the April issue appears to have crossed some (party) lines, resulting in her abrupt dismissal. Drudge Report has covered the story, as well as numerous other news outlets and blogs, but Gothamist thought we’d go directly to the source.
Avocation: Unemployed by day, GOP Sex Tigress by night
Day job: Writer, Voyeur, Provocateur
Place of birth: East New York, Brooklyn
Location for formative years: Ozone Park, Queens
Current location: Brooklyn
Length of time in New York: Forever
Relationship status: Secret lover
Online guilty pleasure:MySpace, Drudge Report, random blog spying
Let’s start with the juicy stuff, you were recently dismissed as Editor-in-Chief of Playgirl. We’ve read the statement on the Playgirl website, now we want to hear your side of the story. Does it really all come down to that article?
The article in question “Who’s More Liberal In Bed: Democrats Or Republicans?” is about sex…sex and politics, which do go together, history has showed that, whether we like it or not. I believe sex can be incorporated into everything, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea to merge sex and politics, but that’s what makes kinks. The article does not enforce any republican ideals; it does not state why I voted Republican this past election. One thing I tried to incorporate into Playgirl with the redesign was sex on every level, behind every corner, not just article after article on anal sex, fellatio and things like “10 Ways To Satisfy Yourself In Bed.” Boring. So after last year’s heated election, and after Primetime Live did their survey on how Republicans are kinkier in bed, I ran with it for Playgirl.
In your wildest dreams, did you ever think it would come to this?
No. Since I had just received a raise and the work that I produced for Playgirl was highly regarded, supported, and encouraged by my superiors and co-workers, this came as a shock.
Can or are you taking legal action against the magazine?
My lawyer advises me not to answer this question.
Ok, so are Republicans really better in bed? We want names, numbers, measurements…
Just look at Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Ted Nugent. Republicans have it all—sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But of course, sex is bipartisan.
Why did you go Bush in the last election?
Ignorant people seem to think that I voted for Bush because I thought he was sexy or better in bed, but actually his ideas on Homeland security, the Middle East peace process, and fostering democracy led me to vote for him.
Do you always vote Republican?
I don’t vote by party, I look at the issues at hand and base my vote on current needs. The only party I affiliate myself with fully is the one in my pants.
New York is pretty blue, where and/or how did you celebrate George Bush’s win?
By having really hot sex with a Republican of course! Election Day was my birthday last year, so I felt Bush’s win was quite a gift for me.
Getting back to Playgirl, you sort of grew up there and made it what it is today. How did you come to work at the magazine?
My first job was fashion PR and I was spending too much time thinking about what these models would look like undressed, so Playgirl was the natural progression.
What did your family and friends think about your decision to work at a “porn” magazine?
My uncles wanted to pose if that gives you any idea.
Did you ever think you’d stay there this long?
Although my time there was long, and at times hard, I thoroughly enjoyed every inch of the ride.
You mentioned a redesign of the magazine. Can you talk about the changes you implemented or the things that are in the works?
I redesigned the magazine to encompass editorial that explored sex and sensuality, and included imagery that possessed mystery and romance. My goal was to make the magazine more women-friendly and erotic, rather than explicit and distasteful. I believe there is a void in the market for an erotic magazine for women and I wanted Playgirl to be that magazine.
What do you think will happen now that you’re gone?
Utter chaos and various resignations?
Playgirl was birthed as a response by the feminist movement to magazines like Playboy or Penthouse. Do you think this spirit is still alive at the magazine?
Not if the straight-male-dominated corporate mentality of management has anything to do with it. With my demise, I fear the spirit I was trying to rekindle with women, may have now fallen on weak shoulders.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I think all women inherently adhere to feminism. Feminism is furthering the empowerment of women, full equality is the objective, but saying it like that makes it sound militant. I think there is way too much force-fed feminism. I believe it means something different to every woman, even every man. But then again, women make 76 cents to every dollar men make, so maybe there is a need for militance.
Is it true that about 25% of Playgirl’s readership is gay men?
For starters, take that number and double it. Secondly, all of my superiors and final decision makers were straight men, which created some inner turmoil. But in my mind, Playgirl has always been for the sexually empowered woman, with no other print format out there for just women, while gay men have other magazines to enjoy. I didn’t want to alienate anyone, ideally I wanted to satisfy both, but I think that is why gay readers came to Playgirl as their source of erotica—because they enjoyed a more subtle approach to the male nude.
An editor at The Advocate interviewed me a couple of years ago when Playgirl’s 30th Anniversary Centerfold came out to their publication. The editor asked why I didn’t mention that the model was gay. I never asked. I didn’t care what his sexual orientation was. My criteria for a model is for him to have a great face and to look great naked, and he fulfilled that.
For Playboy we hear all the time about these celebrity women that posed nude and somehow, “mysteriously” the pictures turned up and were published - people use the magazine as a way to jump start their career or change their image. Does the same kind of thing happen with Playgirl?
We had the occasional celebrity, but most times, the guy doesn’t want to show full-frontal nudity. Once there is a penis in a magazine, people go crazy and label that magazine pornographic, too explicit, not classy. So it was always a struggle. There is a double standard when it comes to male nudity versus female nudity.
Typically, what are the aspirations of the men that pose for the magazine?
They are aspiring actors and models, and we got the occasional cocky exhibitionist.
Back in 2002 Playgirl did a spread featuring the men of Enron. Thought we’d bring it up because of the new Enron documentary by Alex Gibney. Who participated? How did it go?
I got five men to pose, four of whom did full-frontal, which was a huge coup to get these businessmen to get naked in Playgirl. I flew out to Houston, Texas, to meet the men and direct the photo shoot. They were all smart men who were ousted from a company full of so many wrongdoings. Come to think of it, I have a lot in common with those five guys right now. Maybe Hugh Hefner will call me and offer me more than my severance?
Anything stick out in your memory about the shoot…
One of the Enron guys was worried about getting an erection for the shoot, so he asked if he could take Viagra. I don’t condone that, nor did I want to be involved in his decision, so I told him that he was a big man and had to decide on his own. He ended up taking it and was hard for hours.
Playgirl also did a piece on the sexiest news anchors during your tenure. Can you talk a little bit about that? Who did the judging?
I had met Anderson Cooper when I was promoting the Enron issue, and I had always thought he was so handsome. He was even more handsome in person. Then we were brainstorming at the office and the PR team suggested politicians. Considering recent events, I’m glad we went with the newscasters at that time. But reporters are an often-overlooked market of great-looking men. The public voted and we had no system set up to count the thousands and thousands of votes that came in so my managing editor and I counted each one by hand. The newscasters loved it. Some of them called me to say how flattered they were that Playgirl thought of them and in the end there was a close race for the title with Keith Olbermann and Sean Hannity. Olbermann came out with the prestigious honor; his campaigning really set him apart. Determination is very sexy.
Any other interesting anecdotes, memorable moments or favorite things you worked on when you were with the magazine?
Like the time our Man of the Year showed up unannounced to use the bathroom and after emerging fifteen minutes later, asked for five dollars? Or the time another model ejaculated four times in front of a team of five of us while prepping himself? There are so many….
Coming from the magazine world, what do you think of the charges that the media is biased?
The media are beginning to understand that there is something out there for everyone. Television is still entertainment, regardless if someone is reporting on war or the Dow. News channels have expanded to lure in every type of viewer, young or old, and every party affiliation. Stations like Fox News and Air America radio, cater to their audience. It is more entertainment news geared toward like minds, with ideological points of view on both sides, so opposing arguments begin with rhetoric, which limits the chance for an open exchange of ideas. I would hope someday there would be more people watching C-SPAN or PBS for their unbiased information.
What source(s) do you turn to for news?
Insiders. I have some amazing secret sources.
Aside from Playgirl, your erotic and romance short stories have been published by Cleis Press and Pretty Things Press. Do you think you will continue writing in this genre?
As long as I can derive inspiration, I will always write erotica.
Given you were employed in the sex industry, where do you recommend people go in New York to get their kink on?
Kink is anywhere you choose to find it; you just have to find out what your kink is. This spring air is making me feel really kinky, so I just go outside or open my window.
Since this is the "city that never sleeps", tell us a good 3am story.
The 3AM story is just the preface to the much better 5AM story.
You have a time machine that will take you to any day in New York history, what day would you go back to and why?
Positively 4th Street in the 60s. Dylan’s lyrics are so fitting, especially that song, especially for me right now.
Bloomberg, 4 more years?
He is trying to clean up all the smut in Times Square, even though there is a loophole allowing those sin-peddlers to set up more shops…. But why doesn’t anyone rag on him for being Republican just so he could win the election? No one talks about that. Isn’t that a form of cheating? Or maybe, being a Republican might have allowed him to ride Giuliani's 9/11 coattails. Maybe it's also because he spent more money running for Mayor of a city than anyone else in human history—around 60 million. Not that I have any disdain; I did vote for him.
I’ve heard rumors that Bob Kerrey is considering running for mayor. If that's the case, Bloomberg should start packing. Oh wait, he never lived in Gracie Mansion anyway.
What’s next for you?
I am putting together a Brooklyn Kickball Cheerleading league for the upcoming season and in my spare time, I am going to finish my novel.