Enron Undressed?

One of the most distressing things about the American celebrity culture is the extent to which it exploits its citizens.

One of the most distressing things about the citizens is the extent to which they are willing to be exploited. In some cases, even eager. They want some fame, and they will settle for it even if it takes such ignoble forms as notoriety or ridicule.

Monica Lewinsky should have been ashamed of her notoriety; instead, she discussed its causes on ABC’s 20/20 and on an HBO documentary.

Paula Jones and Tonya Harding should have ashamed of their ridicule; instead, they invited more of it by boxing each other on the Fox broadcast network.

And now there is news that Playboy magazine is hoping to bestow some ersatz fame on past and present female employees of Enron by asking them to pose, either fully-clothed or partially nude, in an upcoming issue of the magazine. You’ve heard the expression "less is more"? Well, the less clothing they wear, the more money they get.

Rebekah Rushing, age 35, a founder of the Enron Ex-Employee Relief Account, is not interested. "When I was first told about it," she says, "I was kind of speechless."

Margaret Ceconi, who used to be Enron’s director of business development, is not interested. She calls the Playboy offer "hilarious."

And Debbie Perrota, a former senior administrative assistant, is not interested. "We’re fighting for our severance pay and reforms, and Playboy is just in it for the money."

But a lot of their co-workers are interested. When Playboy spokesperson Elizabeth Norris was asked about response to the ad, she replied, "It’s been good, and it’s going to heat up."

Playboy hopes to run "The Women of Enron" late this summer or early fall.

The magazine has a history of offering money to females who claim they cannot get along without it. Paula Jones agreed to take off her clothes for the camera, saying she could not pay her legal bills without Playboy’s kind assistance. Darva Conger agreed to take off her clothes, saying she could not get a job after her excruciating mini-marriage to Rick Rockwell. Jessica Hahn agreed to take off her clothes, graciously allowing America to see what the attraction had been for Jim Bakker.

But in each of these cases, the women had originally come to public notice because of their sex appeal, at least as it was perceived by a President of the United States, a standup comedian-turned-millionaire, and an evangelist-turned-con man.

"The Women of Enron" would be different; in this case, the subjects have come to public notice because of a business scandal, not a personal one, and why Playboy thinks the magazine-buying male population of the United States would be interested in seeing them sans attire is, at least to this writer, a mystery. What’s next? "The Gals of Arthur Andersen"?"The Babes of the INS"? "The Nymphets of Airport Security"?

Playboy, obviously, is desperate. Its circulation peaked at about seven million in the 1970s. By 1991 it had fallen to 3.5 million, and for the past five years it has held constant at about 3.2 milion, less than half of its glory days number. It is hard to believe that "The Women of Enron" will result in a boost.

Actually, Playboy is more than desperate. It is vulture-like. It is circling the culture from above, looking down and sniffing, then swooping onto the flesh of women who have been victimized either by others or their own foolish selves. One can only hope that the women of Enron, or at least most of them, having already been ravaged by their employers, will resist the talons of Hugh Hefner and company.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .

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