View Full Version : The Playboy Legacy

03-31-06, 06:51 AM
The Playboy Legacy
As his 80th birthday approaches, Hugh Hefner is proud of his achievements. He shouldn't be.

Friday, March 31, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

Hugh Hefner turns 80 next Sunday, and The Mansion is once again the place to be. "A major pajama party" is planned, as he told Maclean's, along with other observances equal to the dignity of the occasion. But this milestone also has "Hef" in a reflective mood, wondering how he will be remembered and trying to sum up "the major message in my life."

The founder of Playboy, says a Reuters profile, has become "utterly obsessed with his own legacy" and lately has "filled some 1,500 leather-bound scrapbooks about his life and history to date." From the first issue of Playboy to appear on Chicago newsstands in 1953 right up to the latest clippings on his current reality show, "The Girls Next Door," no trace of Mr. Hefner's storied adventures will be lost to posterity.

Lest we forget that there was actually a "Playboy Philosophy" to go with the pictures, Mr. Hefner has also reissued, online, all 250,000 words of his early-1960s disquisition on the good life and the evils of sexual inhibition. Still endlessly indulged by reporters, he has slipped into his best bathrobe for another round of clubby interviews in which to showcase his three salaried "girlfriends" and to reminisce about the original Playboy "dream."

Always a "dreamer" and "romantic at heart," in Hef's telling of the story, he dared to challenge the repressive attitudes of his day and left America a freer, happier place. He is guilty only of living out "every man's dream," and if anyone thinks otherwise it must be envy. "I consider myself the luckiest cat on the planet," he often says--a sort of graying libertine's version of the Lou Gehrig line. Hef is also devoted these days to various charitable causes and, he eagerly notes, was recently voted American Charity Events Man of the Year.

Looking to the day when Shangri-La falls silent and dust returns to dust, he has even made arrangements for a final resting place, with that exquisite Hefner touch. It turns out that there is a tomb in Los Angeles's Westwood Memorial Park directly adjacent to that of Marilyn Monroe--the first "girl next door" to appear nude in Playboy--and no one had yet claimed it. "When I found the vault next door to Marilyn was available," he explained to the Daily Telegraph, "it seemed natural." So there, next-door to Marilyn, his permanently pajamaed remains will lie, and all who come to remember her can cast a glance at his name, too.

One might have thought that the woman, in life, had enough trouble with users and operators. But of course Hef, an exploiter to the end, doesn't see himself that way, and what's clear from all his legacy projects is that he wants to be remembered as anything other than what he is. We're to think of him as Hugh Hefner, social philosopher and cultural revolutionary. Hugh Hefner, entrepreneur and Charity Events Man of the Year. Hugh Hefner, friend of Marilyn. Hugh Hefner, luckiest cat on the planet. Anything, please, but the truth about Hugh Hefner, pornographer.

He is certainly right to believe that he has left his mark in the world. Richard Corliss in Time magazine is overstating it a bit when he writes that "porn doesn't affront contemporary community standards. It is a contemporary community standard." But he is close enough, and we have Hugh Marston Hefner, more than anyone else, to thank for the great plenitude of porn we take for granted today.

There was a dark and joyless time in America when one could actually go about daily life without ever encountering pornographic images. A child could grow up scarcely knowing that "adult entertainment" existed, much less acquainted with its many varieties. Hotel stays, in that prudish, stuffy era, had to be endured without pay-as-you-go porn, in-room and On Command. American males could not avail themselves of hundreds of millions of obscene films every year--as they do now, courtesy of even respectable corporations like Time Warner and Comcast--or take in the show at "gentlemen's clubs" when porn is not enough.

It was Mr. Hefner who put the real money in porn, a business hard to go poor in under any circumstances (except for the unfortunates given starring roles) and today a $57 billion-a-year global industry. He brought it into the central stream of culture, so that now even upscale bookstores stock Penthouse or similar offerings without a second thought. He gave porn that "classy" feel and its phony creed of "artistic" expression and protected "speech" by which far livelier fare than Playboy would soon ease into popular culture.

Playboy Enterprises itself, years ago, dropped the pretense of refinement and delicacy, following the money into hard-core cable. Soft-core, hard-core, these were all along just degrees of exploitation and self-debasement and for the procurers a purely legal and commercial calculation.

He is not the worst of America's celebrity pornographers, though being the first is no great distinction either, and but for Hef a few standards of public decency might actually have held awhile. Without his pioneering vision, we might, in our own time, rise every morning to face a world without "Girls Gone Wild" or Sex.com, without cable or Internet porn for all hours and all ages. Whatever the problems of those repressed, Puritanical types that Mr. Hefner is still using as strawmen, they did somehow manage to fill their days without such things, and we could use a little more of their self-restraint and modesty.

Pornography, Hef still assures us, is an antidote to social and personal troubles rather than an obvious source of them, and his own softer brand of the stuff is in any case so innocuous as to have no harmful social consequences whatever. It is not license, he tells us in a typical bit of pretentious blather, but repression that "twists the nature of sexuality. What causes all the sickness, the perversion, the rape, is a repressive society--a society that can't be open in a loving and positive way." Likewise, Playboy and all it brought were "not just for the guys. The major beneficiaries were women."

Enough to say that police investigators, in the sex-crimes units that have expanded roughly in proportion to mass-market "adult material," rarely conclude that the rapist or child predator lacked for pornographic inspiration before committing the crime. As to those "major beneficiaries" of porn, you won't find too many women these days who think that the world is better because of Playboy or the smug, selfish ethic it has always purveyed. For good reason has the Playboy Foundation long been a benefactor to NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood: The Playboy Philosophy has always been for the ladies, too, all right--just so long as they remember what they're good for, don't get too sentimental and feel grateful when the playboy in their own life offers to pay for the abortion.

One hesitates to speak harshly of an old man, who somewhere along the way must have done a few worthwhile things. But as to the public legacy of Hugh Hefner, he should have no illusions. All of us have our share of faults and sins to account for. But the lowest of vices and "strangest secret of hell," as G.K. Chesterton called it, is the desire to pervert others, to coax and corrupt them and drag them down with you. And any man who at the age of 80 has that to answer for is by no stretch the luckiest cat on the planet.

Mr. Scully is the author of "Dominion" and a former deputy director of speechwriting for President George W. Bush.