Hugh Hefner, The Man Who Undressed America

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When approaching Hugh Hefner’s life and legacy, one has entered a realm as contradictory and complex as human sexuality itself and how the phenomenon manifests itself in the psyche of individuals and within the culture at large.

On the propitious side, Hefner published the best writers of his age, interviewed leftist thinkers, championed civil rights, came out against the war on the people of Vietnam, and questioned fascistic US drug policy, long before doing so was fashionable.

Moreover, contemporary people forget this, he had the courage to addressed subjects such as human sexuality openly — subjects that had been banished from the public sphere by the US Calvinist/Puritan mindset — the Calvinist/Puritan imagination, that locates all the problems of earthly life in the human genitals i.e., the psychical legacy from which a large percent of the animus heaped upon the man, even before his corpse has cooled, finds its origin.

Regarding the less than propitious, Hefner’s views were freighted with naivety. He did not so much objectify the female form, as goes the boilerplate accusation, but fetishised it.

Evincing a fetish is an attempt to make the things of the world numinous but, as a general rule, stops at the level of concretisation.

One desires, as Rilke put it, “to make every moment holy.” But that is asking a lot from an airbrushed centrefold with a staple in her navel or a pair of spike stiletto heels or a “sex kitten with a whip.”

When we enter the dominion of human sexuality, we find ourselves in a landscape of the irrational.

The Greeks, in fact, found the realm so fraught with mystery and highly charged, psychical resonances they limned it as a precinct of the gods e.g., Aphrodite and her son Eros (i.e. the groom, after much mystery, suffering, and struggle with his chosen bride Psyche i.e., the soul).

Hefner retailed in the irrational side of the men of his generation, and his legacy evoked the irrational side (Is there any other?) of the Calvinist/Puritan imagination, then as now.

Human beings do not enter the soulscapes of Aphrodite, Eros, and Psyche in a rational fashion, in particular, on social media.

Therein, exists a void in regard to the musk and fury of the participation mystique inherent to human eros.

Beauty is banished. The psyche becomes a host of lurid, psychological projections that reveal more about the commenter than the object under scrutiny.

The phenomenon is unavoidable. The unconscious can only make itself known by a display of projections. There exist a reality insofar as these resonances of the gods.

But it is a phenomenon that is archetypal therefore is experienced and apprehended as subjective phenomenon.

To wit, the highly charged nature of discourse on the subject.

The Greeks viewed the situation as strife among the Olympians. The Greek’s Neoplatonic heirs viewed the phenomenon as a means towards soul-making, what the late archetypical psychologist James Hillman termed a means of migrating through the thoughts of the heart into the soul of the world.

Conversely, the punitive nature of the Puritan/Calvinist imagination stops the process in its tracks, if not to be shackled in stocks and displayed in the public square.

The ancient Greek imagination would regard Hefner’s persona as satyr-like — while the Puritan/Calvinist imagination insists on seeing him as Satan.

Brilliant tribute to PlayBoy magazine founder Hugh Hefner by Phil Rockstroh, New York based poet and commentator

Mr “Honest” Hugh Hefner, iconic Playboy Magazine founder, departs for the silent land of the majority at the age of 91.

The exceptional character hailed as media and culture pioneer has died due to natural causes.

Long live the legacy of Hefner. Rest in peace, Hugh.

(In a critical tribute, Gail Dines write, Hugh Hefner is dead! We are now going to be bombarded with eulogies about what a great man he was. Here is my “eulogy.”

He was the first major pimp who brought porn out of the backstreets onto main street. We will never be able to measure the damage he did by turning porn into a corporate commodity that legitimized and normalized the buying and selling of women’s bodies.

He hated women, referred to them as dogs, and made porn “respectable” by surrounding porn images with interviews and articles by well known literary figures. Long live anti-porn feminists!)

Hugh Hefner’s Legacy Is About More Than Sex

(1926-2017—Playboy Founder Hugh Hefner To Be Buried Next To Marilyn Monroe)

Hefner’s life will be derided as profane, but his work celebrates the sexual complementarity that has bound men and women together since the dawn of time.

The passing of Playboy creator Hugh Hefner at the impressive age of 91 marks the end of a life that had an enormous impact on media, culture, and sex.

Hefner will be for the most part hailed this week as having a legacy of progressive advancement of sexual mores, with nostalgic references to the culture of free love and plaudits as a champion in the libertine battle against prudish Bible thumpers.

But in fact, Hefner’s legacy is much more complicated than that, and much of Playboy’s struggles in recent years have more to do with the persistence of an underlying conservatism and traditionalism in view of sex roles and the nature of manhood.

His son Cooper and others have attempted in awkward fashion to shove the now-problematic aspects of Hefner’s worldview out of view – including, in a most obvious fashion, the very thing he was known for in the first place. But it turned out that yes, the magazine still needed pictures of naked ladies to sell.

Hefner’s bet in 1953 was an salacious one at the time, but now it seems practically quaint. Hefner saw art in the naked female form. He saw the value in a purposeful life, but preferred it be more hedonistic.

He liked fine tobacco and strong cocktails and stylish dress and fast cars, all while permanently surrounded by a habitat of gorgeous and willing women.

Hefner was creating a brand out of thin air, and his publication was a presentation. It was a thumb in the eye of contemporary mores.

But it was also a promise of a lifetime of escapist responsibility-free fun, and that if you followed his advice about being an American James Bond without the gadgets, you too could get that girl.

Along the way, he built a magazine that became known for excellent interviews and feature pieces written by some of the best writers alive.

Among them was William F. Buckley, who wrote frequently for Playboy on all manner of topics. The magazine featured his 9,000 word debate with Norman Mailer, an 8,500 word essay on Richard Nixon in China, and writings on everything from communism to Y2K. James Rosen has a lengthy piece on the relationship between WFB and Hefner here.

Why did Bill Buckley, if he found the Playboy Philosophy so abhorrent, write for Hugh Hefner’s magazine so often and for so long?

This question Buckley answered by noting that “the best writers in the world publish in Playboy”; but this alone did not explain the heresy, for the same was true, he acknowledged, of the Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s (for which he also wrote, though far less frequently).

There were also Playboy’s five million readers and, best of all, Buckley quipped, it was “the fastest way to communicate with my seventeen-year-old son.

(Buckley managed to conclude his 1970 interview with the magazine with the line “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, and he took obvious joy in subverting their aims in their own pages.)

Hefner embodied a culture of libertinism and excessive excess, providing his readers a larger-than-life example of what one could do, if not necessarily what one should do.

He also showed how the American entrepreneurial idea can be applied: with a thought and a little gumption, one can build an empire, and even if the magazine sales have dipped and fewer people read it for the articles, that sparkly little bunny with a bow tie slapped on all manner of product is as profitable as ever.

(Ben Domenech is the publisher of The Federalist.)

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