Hugh Hefner — 1926 – 2017

playboyHugh Hefner is dead, and I’m not feeling that well myself.  It’s too bad the old boy turned himself into such a caricature because, now, blinded by the neo-Victorian morality of the 21st century, all we can see is boobs.  However, I’m certain history will absolve him.

Hugh Hefner was a uniquely American phenom who, like Joseph Pulitzer and William S. Paley, saw an empty space in the media marketplace and filled it.

In the early American 1950s, World War II was still fresh, but the soldiers were home. They’d gotten the girl next door, a couple of kids, a corporate job, and a GI Bill of Rights house in the suburbs.  Life was ordinary again, and these aging ex-warriors found themselves losing their hair and their testosterone, sitting on the sofa night after night with Milton Berle and I Love Lucy.  Then came Playboy.  It was a full colour glossy, foldout fantasy of all the things a 30-something family man thought he shoulda/coulda/woulda done with his life.  It was urban cool — sweet jazz, dry martinis, deep-throated stereos, street muscle cars and beautiful women.  It set the standard for hip because anybody who was anybody appeared in the pages of Playboy.

There’s no doubt our world thinks Hugh Hefner belongs to a different time and his creation Playboy is a misogynist relic.  However, here’s something I wrote two years ago that shows just how large an impact Playboy had on our society.

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October 16th, 2015

Now that Playboy Magazine has renounced nudity, it’s become an easy target — a misogynist relic of the 20th century — more silicone than substance.  Perhaps — I don’t know — like most people, I don’t actually read Playboy anymore, so I’m in no position to judge.  However, I do know this.  If you’re over 35 and not dead, you’re part of the massive impact Playboy has had on our society.

Take a look:

The Playboy Interviews read like a history book of our times:

Malcolm X, Jimmy Hoffa, Federico Fellini, Fidel Castro, Orson Welles, Ralph Nader, Marshall McLuhan, Ray Charles, Germaine Greer, Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Carter, Barbara Streisand, David Frost, Marlon Brando, G. Gordon Liddy, Lech Walesa, Ansel Adams, Jesse Jackson, Carl Bernstein, Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, Yasser Arafat, Donald Trump, Martin Scorsese, Michael Jordan, Salman Rushdie and on and on and on.

In one single year, 1964, Playboy interviewed Vladimir Nabokov, Ayn Rand, Jean Genet, Ingmar Bergman and Salvador Dali.  And Playboy didn’t just follow what was trending; it tried to understand.  It interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965; Timothy Leary, when mainstream drug use was a brand new phenom in ’66 and Steve Jobs, immediately after getting booted out of Apple in 1985.  Plus, Playboy took some chances, like sending Alex Haley, the author of Roots, to interview George Lincoln Rockwell, the leader of the American Nazi Party.

Yes, Alex Haley wrote for Playboy and so did Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson and Gore Vidal.  There were others too, but the list of fiction writers is even more overwhelming:

Joseph Heller, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Ray Bradbury, Bharati Mukherjee, Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Ursula Le Guin, Martin Amis and, once again, on and on — including four Nobel Prize winners: Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Doris Lessing.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the boobs, Playboy would be considered a literary magazine — one of the best.

But what about those boobs?

Some of the most beautiful women in the world have voluntarily taken their clothes off for Playboy:

Farrah Fawcett, Olivia Munn, Robin Givens, Katarina Witt, Ursula Andress, Tia Carrere, Kim Basinger, Elle Macpherson, Kate Moss, Catherine Deneuve, Shari Belafonte and Raquel Welch among many, many others.  The numbers alone take Playboy pictorials beyond sleazy.  Besides, is there any great distance between Charlize Theron and Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” or Naomi Campbell and Goya’s “The Nude Maja?”  Argue all you want about objectifying women, but if you want a lesson in that, go to the pages of Vogue or Fashion or Harper’s Bazaar.  Rhetorically speaking, is a pouting, uber-skinny supermodel a more acceptable female image?  Or is it just that she’s covered up the naughty bits?

At 62, Playboy Magazine is old and grey and nodding by the fire.  In a one-click universe where the most outrageous porno is at your fingertips and few people are willing to wade through serious pages of unbroken prose, Playboy is passé.  Eventually, it will dissolve into history — the history it helped shape.  Like it or not, Playboy changed the world — no doubt.  But, mostly, it let us be adults about sex and it single-handedly transformed sexuality from Downtown smut to Uptown sophistication.  It made smart sexy, and that’s what made Playboy cool.

There Is News Beyond Tr**p

In the big wide world of ours, there are tons of things going on that don’t include President What’s-His-Name.  In the great mediagasm journalists are having with the guy, here are a few things you might have missed.

news-world

In Mexico, the American DEA found a catapult that drug dealers were using to fling narcotics across the border — I assume marijuana.  And this wasn’t just your average medieval rock-tosser, either — the thing was huge.  There’s an “A” for ingenuity in there somewhere, but honestly, why didn’t anybody notice?  I can pick out where my car is parked with Google Earth, and one would think government satellite surveillance was a little bit more sophisticated than that.  But I guess it’s the same old story: when you don’t need a catapult, they seem to be everywhere, but the day you’re looking for one, they’re nowhere to be found.

Apparently, China has discovered that they have a gigantic gender imbalance.  They estimate that, by the end of the decade, there will be 30 million more men in China than women.  To put things into perspective, that’s more single men than the entire population of Austria, Switzerland and Sweden — combined.  The Chinese call them “leftovers,” and there are a number of academic studies trying to figure out how and why this happened.  But honestly, does it matter?  (Toothpaste out of the tube, etc. etc.)  Unfortunately, nobody is addressing the elephant in the room– which is what do you do with 30 million horny men, bubbling over with enough testosterone to melt the polar ice caps?  After all, baseball and cold showers can only do so much!

Oddly enough, the same day China admitted their gender situation, Playboy decided to bring boobs back to its pages.  Coincidence? Yeah, probably!  Pen and paper magazines continue their trudge to the grave, and a little nudity isn’t going to stop that for a nanosecond.  But there’s no law against full frontal irrelevance, I guess.

And finally, my favourite:

Grace Mugabe, wife of 92 year old President Robert Mugabe, who’s been running and ruining the beautiful country of Zimbabwe since 1980, was in the news.  (Honestly, I didn’t know he was married to anything but evil.)  Anyway, she maintains that her husband is so popular in Zimbabwe that, if he died, he could run for president as a corpse and still win the election.  Strange as this sounds, it actually happened — in Missouri, in 2000.  Incumbent Republican Senator John Ashcroft was beaten by Democrat Mel Carnahan who died in a plane crash two weeks before the election.  What a major kick in the self esteem!  When your opponent is dead, and he’s the one who gets elected — well — that pretty much seals the deal that the people of Missouri don’t want you around, John.  All’s well that ends well, though, because in 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Ashcroft Attorney General.  And we all lived happily ever after.

Go In Peace, Pamela Anderson

pamela1Go in peace, Pamela Anderson.  I’ve got bigger fish to fry than analysing the nuances of a society that chose you to be the last Playboy Centrefold.  I know it’s just a salute to all those guys staring 40 in the face and remembering Pammie with autoerotic fondness, but really…?   Marilyn Monroe to Pamela Anderson in one generation is the biggest indictment of our times since the Kardashian girls replaced Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly on the elegance chart.  Let’s face it, people!  We’ve screwed a few things up.

Don’t get me wrong: I love our contemporary world.  We’ve managed to produce the most risk-free, benevolent society in history.  Yay for us!  But man, did it cost us!  I miss those things we offhandedly discarded to get here.

University Students — God, I miss those folks!  Remember when college campuses were swimming in horny, brawling, loudmouthed young people, drunk on their own opinions?  They just couldn’t wait to grab their God-given right to change the world.  Talking to them was too cool.  It was like intellectual gymnastics, and I loved it.  Try talking to the lock-step, politically correct robots on campuses these days.  I don’t even say “Hi” anymore.

Anger — Remember slamming the phone down when you were just totally pissed off?  That used to feel s-o-o-o-o good.

Adults — Now that extended adolescence has reached 40, and early retirement starts at 55, the window of opportunity to have an adult conversation with anyone is closing down.  Most people don’t want the responsibility and just go from whiny teenager to grouchy senior citizen without ever pausing in the middle.

Love — Love is still around, but many people are just too timid to take the risk and so they settle for the generic “relationship.”  It’s safer, more secure, less emotional, and nobody really gets hurt except a few teenagers.

Private — Not privacy, that’s different (we haven’t had that since before Baywatch.)  Private is the time we spend alone with ourselves; that look in the emotional mirror that tells us who we really are.  As we spend more and more time connected, we have less and less time to be private, and so we’ve become less and less aware of what actually makes us tick.

And finally, what has this got to do with Playboy?

I remember when Playboy used to take risks.  Is there anyone on this planet who hasn’t seen Pamela Anderson naked?  Just sayin’!