Well, I've seen a lot of comments come through my feed over the last few days about Hugh Hefner. Some about how four generations of 13-year-old boys owe him a debt they can never repay, some about how he contributed to the moral degradation of our country, some about how he managed to die on Hump Day. I think the reality of Hugh Hefner and the changes he brought to society are a little more nuanced and complicated than a simple black and white “good vs evil” assessment.
Yes...he did help to bring sex out into the open. He helped make us able to talk about it openly, to admit that we enjoyed it. To admit that we (women as well as men) wanted it. He helped us to be able to joke about it in “polite company.” And yes, he gave many 13-year-old boys their first look at a naked girl who wasn’t their sister, and was much better built. He helped us to get out of the era of sexual repression that we had been in for way too long.
And that’s a genie that needed to be let out of the bottle.
Now...if you believe in sexual repression, then you obviously think that he was the personification of evil. But if you don’t believe in it, then things look a little different.
Did he help glorify the objectification of women? I don't know. Don’t we all objectify each other? I’ve taught high school girls, I’ve read Redbook and Cosmo, and I’ll tell you that there’s enough objectification going on by everyone on both sides of the fence. It’s what humans do as sexual creatures.
The difference here is that men tend to be a lot more visual than women. When a group of investors tried to put out a women’s magazine with photos of naked men, they found that women weren’t their biggest customers...but gay men were.
Seems that’s just the way we’re wired.
And I’ll let you in on a little secret...in my adolescent/young adult days, when I’d look at the pictures in Playboy, my first thoughts weren't “Nice tits, I’d like to f*** her”, although that was a close second. My first thought was, “She seems really nice. I wonder if she’d like me.”
You see...the genius of Hefner and Playboy from my perspective at that age was that he presented the women there as people with personalities, people with interests, people who you might want to get to know better...and then maybe sleep with...because it seemed like you'd both enjoy it. (And let’s hear it for my personal favorite from back in the day, Barbi Benton).
Those other magazines weren’t as classy as Playboy. They weren’t about getting to know…and maybe sleep with…the girl next door. They were about body parts and kinkiness. Does anyone remember that Playboy was first offered the infamous Vanessa Williams photos, and turned them down? He was not in the business of ruining people’s reputations for a quick buck…and especially not for the kind of pictures those were. Unfortunately, someone else across town was. Ah...if only Hef had bought the photos when he had the opportunity, and just sat on them...
But in the end, Hef was a victim of his own publicity. As he got older, he couldn’t seem to let go of the idea of himself as the stud able to surround himself with beautiful young women. He didn’t get that while it might seem cool to be seen with a hot 24-year-old at age 48, at age 84 most of us…most of us guys…were going “Eew…she could be your grand-daughter!” He didn't understand the “Eew Equation” of half your age, plus 7. It’s as if, having let the genie out of the bottle, he let it take him over. He couldn’t just quietly step back at age 69 and say, “You know, I’m really too old for this now.” He didn’t understand that there can be too much of a good thing, and became a caricature of himself…a garish caricature of himself.
Hugh Hefner is dead. And like so many of us, he was a mixed bag…who also gave us a mixed bag.