Monday, October 2, 2017

Partial defence of Hef

Hugh Hefner lived to 91. Sinatra made it to 82. Dino was 78 when he died. To me, this  suggests that 1950s swinger lifestyle was healthier than the rock and roll generation that followed.

When my family moved back to Quebec in the 1970s, we moved into a much more tolerant and more permissive culture than what we left behind in New Brunswick and Ontario, the two places we had lived previously. The TV stations in Quebec already featured nudity, there were strip bars and porn theatres  on the strip right beside the DQ and McDonalds. Playboy and Penthouse magazine were everywhere. As a young teenager, I was suddenly plunged into a very different world where access to porn was, by the standards of everywhere else I'd live up to that point, was ridiculously easy. And that is not to count the "erotic art photography" books that were found on coffee tables in the nice, middle-class neighbourhood we lived in. If it had any adverse effects on me, I don't know what they are.

Others I've read this week have been much more eager to chalk up really negative effects to Hugh Hefner's influence. There's too many to quote but Hugh Hefner's Legacy oF Despair:
This is also one of those stories where cultural conservatives and feminists line up, which is something that ought to give both those groups pause.

It's all dreadful nonsense of course. I'm perfectly willing to believe there were some pretty weird scenes inside the gold mine and that women were exploited. I'm also willing to believe that some aspects of our culture started to go bad around the time Playboy was first published and have only gotten worse since but I hoped that the editors at National Review were still able to understand the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and wouldn't let their writers get away with that sort of sloppy reasoning. (They've published at least four variations on the story I cite above now although I am happy to report there was one sane voice at NR.)

But even beyond that it's just insane to think that one man and one magazine could have had the sort of culture influence to caused all the negative effects Hefner is supposedly guilty of. We were going that way anyway and would have done so if Hugh Hefner had been run over by a bus the morning he got the idea for Playboy. (And Marilyn Monroe's sad pathetic life would have been every bit as sad and pathetic.)

What Hugh Hefner did manage to do was to get very rich by catching a wave and riding it. This had the effect of disconnecting him from reality enough that he went some pretty weird places. That said, I doubt they are any weirder than what we will eventually learn of current media stars when their stories begin to leak out. Before all that happened, though, the man did something absolutely brilliant.

He came very close to being a failure. As is well known, the original name for the magazine was to be "Stag Party". If it had gone out under that banner, it would be just another forgotten men's magazine today. Choosing Playboy with the suggestions of connoisseurship was a masterstroke. An entire generation of men were seeing a level of wealth that had never been possible in history until that point. Playboy  offered them a how-to guide to this new world.

But why pictures of naked women? If you really have to ask that, you're operating on a very poor understanding of men. In addition to which, most of us assumed that access to such things was one of the perks that many of the elite we set out to emulate took as their right. And we were right!
The sexual revolution came and it's still steamrolling along some seven decades later. Last weekend we had the annual Panda Classic College football game here in Ottawa and you should have seen how the college girls here dressed for it. Life changed and it's not going back to what it was anytime soon. Don't blame Hugh Hefner; he just caught the wave.

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