What to make of Hugh Hefner's sophisticated legacy

Hugh Hefner made a fortune promoting sexual freedom for the twentieth century in Playboy journal. Now along with his passing at age 91, everyone seems to be making an attempt to make sense of the person’s legacy.

He defied repressive social and sexual attitudes within the Fifties by insisting that males may make martinis, speak about jazz, and need ladies. And ladies within the pages of Playboy may have refined pursuits and pursuits, together with sexual expression.


‘Playboy’ founder Hugh Hefner dies at 91

That was revolutionary for Fifties America, however it’s virtually quaint in comparison with the empire that Hefner finally constructed. That kingdom should not be recognized for its obsession with flesh however for the contradictions in the way in which it dealt with race, intercourse, and gender.

Hefner championed civil rights causes and revealed content material from black authors and activists like James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Playboy featured black ladies as centerfolds within the ’60s and ’70s, and was one of many first magazines to place a black lady on its cowl. It acknowledged black ladies as lovely in ways in which society refused to, and but the enduring picture of Hefner stays the shot of him, at varied ages, surrounded by younger, lovely, principally white ladies. That picture, and its symbolism, is seared into the minds of numerous males as the top of manhood.

Playboy and Hefner additionally imply various things to totally different ladies. For some, the Playboy life empowered ladies who needed a seat on the king’s desk — even when it generally meant first serving the meal whereas wearing bunny ears and a fluffy tail. Kim Kardashian West, Jenny McCarthy, and Carmen Electra, all of whom posed for the quilt of Playboy, shared fond recollections of Hefner on social media after studying of his loss of life. However for different ladies, the journal and model symbolized a brand new sort of repression: lust for the feminine physique disguised as liberation.

It is price remembering that Hugh Hefner launched(opens in a brand new tab) Playboy in 1953 by paying $500 for a nude {photograph} of Marilyn Monroe, which he used contained in the journal’s inaugural concern.

The struggling actress posed for a photographer years earlier than her film profession took off, in line with the Washington Put up(opens in a brand new tab). Hefner bought the picture from a calendar firm however reportedly by no means thanked Monroe, nor did he ship her any proceeds from the problem’s gross sales. Hefner did, nevertheless, purchase a crypt subsequent to hers in a Los Angeles cemetery and can spend eternity actually at her facet. So Hefner’s legacy is perhaps finest summed up as that of a person who seized monetary and private alternatives to glorify ladies in sophisticated, if not generally perverse, methods.

You might additionally think about Hefner a product of American tradition and its market calls for, says Shelly Eversley, a feminist scholar and founding father of the web site Equality Archive(opens in a brand new tab). Hefner made a enterprise alternative out of each the male gaze and rebelling in opposition to prudish norms.

“[D]id he actually put this in males’s minds or did he simply give them what he needed?” asks Eversley.

Certainly, capitalizing on males’s curiosity in ladies’s our bodies wasn’t Hefner’s invention. He simply excelled at advertising a product that made some males really feel worldly and virile and a few ladies really feel refined and proudly sexual.

These concepts should not essentially encourage a knee-jerk response, however how they performed out in the actual world is one thing that positively can. As Gloria Steinem famously wrote in her 1963 exposé(opens in a brand new tab) about working undercover as a Playboy Bunny in Hefner’s New York Metropolis membership, being manhandled and groped was routine enterprise. The workers, Steinem wrote, had been additionally paid poorly and subjected to STD testing in addition to invasive medical exams.

Hefner’s legacy could also be proof of how rapidly sexual liberation can turn out to be a predatory pursuit when solely males get to outline the expectations and requirements. His personal private life, and his behavior of residing with a gaggle of ladies who serviced his ego and sexual wants, would’ve appeared extra just like the Handmaid’s Story had he not marketed it as glamorous for everybody concerned. At the very least one account (opens in a brand new tab)from Hefner’s former girlfriend, Holly Madison, suggests he wasn’t all that serious about whether or not or not these ladies had any actual measure of freedom or independence.

Nonetheless, Hefner thought of himself a champion of gender equality, even supposing Playboy elevated sexist commentary from its inception and attacked(opens in a brand new tab) “superfeminists” within the ’70s. The journal, nevertheless, additionally revealed articles arguing in favor of abortion rights, and Hefner’s basis supported the Equal Rights Modification.

Contrasting examples like these display simply how a lot of Hefner’s legacy is a paradox. What you make of it depends upon your values, beliefs, and experiences. In Hefner’s case, the contradictions reveal the fault traces of American society — sexuality, race, and gender — and the way straightforward it’s to say you imagine one factor however do one other. In your efforts to dismantle one sort of oppression, you is perhaps profitable for your self however not others. You may additionally find yourself creating a brand new, sexier model of that oppression.

No matter occurs, it will not be easy or simple. Think about that the last word lesson of Hugh Hefner’s legacy.

Originally posted 2017-09-28 23:40:37.