Having never referred to my own place as a bachelor pad, I guess I’ve never been quite sure what one might – or should – look like. Luckily, Jessica E. Sewell spelled it all out for me Friday in her talk on “Seduction Machine: The Libidinous Modernism of the Bachelor Pad.”
In analyzing the physical and ideological make-up of bachelor pads in the 1950s, Sewell was able to paint a picture of how (and why) certain angst-ridden and women-laden young men of half a century ago might have crafted such a disarmingly sexy space. Emerging really for the first time and in all its glory within the pages Playboy magazine, the bachelor pad was the quintessential modernist abode: an apartment with sleek angles, an entertainment center, overstuffed swivel chairs, and a mini-bar located off the living room. Largely fabricated on the model of an all-male sweat lodge, the ideal bachelor pad of yesteryear was bedecked in leather, dark-colored wood, glossy white bathroom tile, and the latest in electronic devices. With everything frilly or precious dutifully omitted, and all unduly comfortable or “swish”-looking pillows resolutely banished, this “man’s lair” was one geared toward the sensual pleasures and entertaining. Mood lighting and music were able to be cued and tweaked with the simple flick of a switch from a master control panel hidden in the headboard of the bed, and the miniature wet bar loomed creepily in the corner. Bathrooms were envisioned as entire apartments unto themselves: a ‘layover’ from the days when the downstairs water closet was a boy’s only respite from his mother and sisters, and a room which promised hours of uninterrupted self-exploration.
Yet with all its sneaky buttons and ultra-modernist design and comforts, Sewell is sure to point out that the quintessential bachelor pad’s focus on entertainment was a bit misdirected at times. Actually, it’s entire design scheme called into question the host’s most prized possessions: his hyper sociability and ardent heterosexuality. Rather than participate in any hetero-normative act, such as having reproductive sex, the confirmed bachelor’s life revolves mostly around practicing tricks alone. With the constant petting of his vain narcissicism, coupled with the intense focus on areas of solitary pleasure within the “home,” the Playboy spread of photos highlights the actual playboy’s loneliness and his masturbatory reversions. Perched atop his entertainment center with his pipe in hand, the playboy of the 1950s is typically pictured alone in the apartment, fumbling with some blunt device in his hand. The pad is entirely emptied of people so as to more effectively diagram the rote movements one might rehearse when alone and then put into action when (and if) the guests ever arrive. And breakfast-in-bed? Well, it’s always for one.