Disremembering Hugh Hefner
True, Hefner was an original. When he founded the lifestyle magazine Playboy in 1953, there was nothing like it at the time. Starting with its inaugural issue, which famously featured the archetypal blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe in an unethically-attained, pre-fame, nude photo, the magazine successfully combined a whim for sexual imagery with intelligent journalistic content. Of course, the monthly would become more notorious for featuring young upstarts and popular celebrities in naked photoshoots than it would great writing.
The popularity of the publication also led to the purchasing of the Playboy Mansion in 1971, where Hefner lived, hosted wild parties, and held lewd orgies. The Playboy Mansion is also associated with Hefner’s keeping of a steady stable of much-younger side chicks and the inception of the reality series The Girls Next Door (2005-10), which revolved around the lives of the women residing in the aforementioned sleaze palace.
In a relatively short time frame, he went from an acceptably unconventional businessman to a skeevy libertine unhealthily preoccupied with his own gratification and status. His morals and customs could be described as, in a word, trashy.
So the celebration of Hefner and his legacy these past few weeks has unsettled me, even though I agree with his sex-positive mindset and recognize his vital role in doing away with various sexual stigmas. What has unsettled me is that this man, who objectified and commodified women in the name of his own prosperity and pleasure for decades, is being so lionized in lieu of a widespread understanding of his blatant disregard for the female gender.
For the entirety of his career as a smutty tycoon, Hefner cashed in on the ugly cultural trends he helped fire up in the first place. He turned a profit from fashioning women’s bodies into products to be commodified for the pleasure of the consumer. He invented a dreamworld where sex didn’t come with responsibilities or consequences — if you were a man, that is.
He pandered to juvenile fantasies, instilling ideas in the heads of both developing teenagers and stunted adults that it didn’t matter how you treated women: You could spit demeaning remarks through a crusty pipe on the regular and still gain approval from the opposite sex. And by making romanticized, airbrushed depictions of bare bodies so accessible to the masses, he also helped normalize the prevalence of the male gaze in popular culture.
As an effect, Hefner set an impossible-to-reach standard for female beauty and sexual availability, prompting understandable feelings of inadequacy from anyone who didn’t have physical characteristics similar to that of his Playmates.
We don’t need to analyze Hefner’s other wrongs (more directly touched upon in a plethora of behind-the-scenes accounts and cinematic takes) to understand that he was responsible for more tainted lives than he was positive cultural changes.
Now that he’s gone, I’d like to forget him. But a few days after his demise, it was announced that Jared Leto, the vexatious method actor, would be playing the squalid icon in an upcoming biopic. Whether the film will be a romanticized account or a more honest, conflicted illustration doesn’t matter. Rather than bring further attention to Hefner’s persona and company, we should be more focused on stepping away from his lecherous empire and more healthily defining the connection between sex and the entertainment industry. He dirtied our culture for six decades. Why give him more air time? We already have to contend with a misogynistic cretin running the country.
- OCTOBER 13, 2017
This piece also appeared in The Daily.
Why give the sleaze king more air time?
DO WE REALLY NEED ANOTHER SAW MOVIE?
By now, creatively hacking off limbs is so blasé. >
little over two weeks ago, the pornography kingpin Hugh Hefner passed away at the age of 91. In the days following his death, obituaries idolizing the figure proliferated, with most journalists painting him as a shrewd businessman, philanthropist, and provocateur who helped kickstart the sexual revolution. Additional praises regarding his supposed deconstruction of society’s sexual frigidity and his personification of a fantastical brand of bachelorhood followed.