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Pretending to be evil and rich at Playboy's annual Comic-Con party

We could be villains just for one night

Jason Kempin/Getty Images

If we lived in a not-too-distant future where millionaires paid top dollar to live forever, Hugh Hefner would be first in line. And if any brand in 2015 would publicly align itself with the near-universally panned body-swapping movie Self/Less, it was Playboy.

On Friday night, I took a break from the crowds of Comic-Con to attend a bash the House of Hefner was throwing for the new sci-fi thriller starring Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds, currently clocking in at 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. To be clear, this was a party for a bad movie — but I was not deterred. If anything, I wanted to see firsthand how wide the gulf is between pure schlock and crazy branded fun.

I wore beige shoes for this occasion. I wanted it to be special

The fête was happening at Parq in downtown San Diego. My Lyft driver was excited on my behalf. "It’s the hottest nightclub in the city," he said as we rolled down Broadway, suddenly the Turtle to my Vince. "Well, the second hottest." I never did learn what club is the number one hotspot in town (I probably never will), but I couldn’t help but resent Playboy for not pushing the envelope just a little more. I wore beige shoes for this occasion. I wanted it to be special.

We got to the club, and Turtle wished me luck, a knowing look in his eyes. I was excited. I’d arrived. After proving my worth with three separate line attendants, I made my way inside. And lo, the beautiful people — journalists, models, Hollywood types alike — were there in all their finery (which is to say tight dresses and lots of gingham), just standing by an inexplicable indoor tree, looking pleased with themselves and their bespoke cocktails. The soundtrack was Diplo and Fetty Wap, and the room seemed to vibrate with the bass. Playboy bunnies bopped here and there, smiling and taking selfies. Trays of sliders and tater tots glided from clique to clique. It looked like the start of a good party. Alone, I resigned myself to the bar, had a drink, and played fly on the wall.

The scene felt forced at first. I made small talk with one of the guests. A writer too, she got an awkward vibe from the place, a feeling I couldn’t quite deny. Looking up, I saw LCD screens alternating between Playboy vacation videos and select scenes from Self/Less. And there Ryan was, staring down at us with his bland face, judging us for celebrating his cinematic misfortune for being cast in this flop. It was weird. Kind of discomfiting. I kept drinking.

And there Ryan was, staring down at us with his bland face

I made my way upstairs to see where else the night could take me, and sure enough there was a dance floor with aerialists hanging from the ceiling. Because obviously. There were smoke cannons firing on either side of the DJ, and everyone was drinking or dancing or both. Models streamed by holding sparklers and champagne. At one point I may have sung along to a Katy Perry song with one of them, but all I remember was clutching the bar with someone who was suddenly my new best friend.

Last Night in San Diego #ComicCon

A video posted by Kwame Opam (@kwames) on

Now, I’ve been to promotional PR parties like this before. Nothing about this particular party was all that debauched. But something dawned on me after my third drink. Everyone at this party, whether they were aware of it or not, was a cosplayer. The theme of this party was the kind of excesses of the upper class that Reynolds indulges in in the first third of Self/Less, you know, before he thinks better of sacrificing beautiful yet poorer people for the sake of immortality. Presumably, we were all pretending to be rich and ancient on Playboy’s dime, living out new lives in the bodies of the less fortunate.

And the sick twist? It felt good. There was a perverse thrill in pretending to be just one in a roomful of supervillains, reveling in our conquest of the world. The movie got it wrong, I thought. Who needs high-minded moralizing about the effects of runaway wealth when all we want to do is have fun forever?

You can't have fun forever without being sick forever, too

I woke up the next day with a hangover. Back in the real world. Back with the common folk of Comic-Con. It turns out, you can’t have fun forever without being sick forever, too. And the same goes for the real-life Playboy, which in recent months has been unable to avoid its shady past catching up to it. For the rest of us, supervillain cosplay is enough.