Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hugh Hefner did some good—but he was not a saint

By SJ Otto
Hugh Hefner was a revolutionary of sorts in his early days. He wasn't on par with such heroes as Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr. But he did bring down some of the more repressive rules controlling the US press. His magazine, Playboy, was the first major publication with nude pictures and articles about sex. Hefner ran his own recipes for his version of the sexual revolution. He also gave controversial public figures a voice.
He challenged US puritan laws and attitudes. That needed to be done and Hefner did it. There have been plenty of efforts over the years to ban Playboy, but no court ever deemed it pornographic. Vigilante groups tried using boycotts to stop the magazine. But it prints even today, even if they took out the centerfold. Groups such as the National Federation of Decency and Jerry Falwell's Liberty Foundation campaigned to persuade the 7-Eleven chains to stop carrying Playboy and other similar magazines.[1] But Playboy was always available somewhere.
Hefner built up his own philosophy on sexuality:

"Aiming to target the more cosmopolitan and intellectual male demographic, Hefner spent the several years developing and promoting the Playboy Philosophy, a manifesto on his ideas on politics, and governance as well as free enterprise and the nature of man and woman." -Yourstory.

Along with ideas on sexual liberation Hefner's publication gave interviews on controversial public figures who rarely got treated fairly in the US mainstream media.[2] People such as Timothy Leary, Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, Madalyn Murray and the Sandinista leadership of the 1980s, were all given lengthy interviews. 
Gloria Steinem and other feminists attacked Playboy for being sexist—and the magazine was guilty of that.
Hefner made millions on his magazine and one time he had Playboy Clubs all across the country. He built an empire. He was a bourgeois liberal and liberal on many issues. But he was not a radical, nor was he a selfless hero who lived for any real cause. He lived the life of a $ multi-millionaire. He lived the good life and he lived it up.
He was not a great hero like Malcolm X. He was not really all the far to the left. But he did contribute to press freedom on several levels. He was a sexist pig. His magazine did not treat women and men fairly. He treated women as sex objects.
Like many public figures Hefner was a mixed bag. He was right about some things and wrong about others. I don't agree with those who have condemned him solely on his treatment of women. He did some good for the country and he deserves to be remembered for those things that he did right.
He is gone now. Today his magazine would almost seem timid compared to others that have sprung up since Playboy began, such as Hustler magazine. Today there is nothing really that controversial in Playboy, with or without the pictures. In the 1950s when Playboy began, the US was way more conservative. Change was needed and today we have more choices, culturally, politically and visually. For some of this we can thank Hugh Hefner.

[1] Steve Otto, Can You Pass the Acid Test? (Publish America, Baltimore) 2007,  p. 101.
[2] Steve Otto, Can You Pass the Acid Test? (Publish America, Baltimore) 2007, p. 100.

No comments: