My highest political value, the one that informs everything from my vote to my political activism, is individual liberty. An ideal America is one where every consenting adult is allowed to live their life in whatever way they choose. As long as you do not touch the tip of my nose, feel free to swing your fists however you like.
Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine who died last month at age 91, furthered the noble cause of live and let live. In 1953, when Playboy first launched, ours was a society that not only used the power of the state to outlaw certain behaviors and beliefs, but was one with countless societal scarlet letters, countless stigmas that banished certain kinds of misfits, mostly sexual deviants, from society.
Simply put, and although I disagree with both, I want to live in a country where a flaming homosexual who demands I bake his wedding cake is allowed to serve in Congress alongside a flaming Muslim who believes sodomy should be added to the long list of unhealthy behaviors prohibited by the government. Until a crime is committed, until violence is used or excused, no one in America should face banishment over their beliefs or for living life on their own terms.
Hefner’s example of living on his own terms was that of an American success story, and even if his destiny was one of godless hedonism, as my colleague Joel Pollak wrote last month, he was still the author of that destiny, a man who transformed himself from a maladroit copywriter into a maladroit publisher, and who then spent more than a half-century posing — rather awkwardly — as Ian Flemings’ idea of a pipe-smoking swinger.
Also in the plus column is Hefner’s early support of the Civil Rights movement. Like Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, Hefner climbed on board that righteous train in the early 60s, before it was cool, and helped to make it cool. And that is no small thing.
Without a doubt, Hefner’s relentless crusade against certain pieties and prejudices removed countless scarlet letters, and that is all good … but that is only 20 percent of his legacy.
The remaining 80 percent unleashed hell.
Filled with intentional lies, Alfred Kinsey’s dual (and now debunked) reports — Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) — told normal Americans that they were abnormal; that everyone was enjoying pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, and homosexual sex; that America’s moralistic society was an inferno of suppression and hypocrisy; that those who saved themselves for marriage, believed in marital fidelity, and chose not to engage in loveless sex, were society’s true freaks and misfits.
This was not true. Far from it. In fact, American society today is still not as permissive as Kinsey portrayed it some 70 years ago.
Nevertheless, thanks to the demonic Kinsey and his unquestioning enablers among America’s elite, every man or woman looking to be hip; anyone looking for a reason to stop controlling their own worst attributes, now had science on their side to worship self, to pursue the empty pleasures of sexual deviancy over the fulfillment and happiness that is only possible through a moral life governed by moderation.
Hefner declared himself Kinsey’s pamphleteer, and there is no question that on the pornographic pages of Playboy, that is exactly what he was.
To begin with, by taking pornography out of the backroom and mainstreaming it into urban chic, Hefner forever altered our view of women. Before Hefner, mainstream American culture idolized and idealized women, placed them on pedestals as goddesses, never went beyond presenting them as the precious objects of our dreams (see here, here, and here).
But with the turn of a page, Hefner demolished that pedestal, stripped off the goddesses’ clothes, and spread her legs wide open. Goddesses plopped to earth as flat-out sex objects, things created only to serve man’s basest desires.
No longer did we have to better ourselves, civilize ourselves, or make ourselves worthy in order to obtain the gift of femininity, because for the price of a magazine, there it was — stark naked and staring right into our eyes; stapled for our consumption and folded into three.
In an instant, that precious gift that comes with the sacramental union between one man and one woman was cheapened into an entitlement and, worst of all, done so through a goddess’s act of self-degradation.
And that was the least of it.
Aided by the Pill, a welfare state that rewarded single-motherhood, and America’s ruling class normalizing deviancy through the unholy alchemy of “sophistication,” those acts of self-degradation flew off the pages of Playboy and into a very real sexual revolution.
In defense of Hefner’s cultural impact, the great Camille Paglia told the Hollywood Reporter last week:
Hefner reimagined the American male as a connoisseur in the continental manner, a man who enjoyed all the fine pleasures of life, including sex. Hefner brilliantly put sex into a continuum of appreciative response to jazz, to art, to ideas, to fine food … and the art of seduction[.]
This is all true, but it is only true for some, very few actually, because those like Hefner who could afford “all the fine pleasures of life” could also financially afford to paper over the emotional and physical wreckage that comes with decadence.
No matter what the system looks like, America’s Beautiful People will always survive and flourish. But Hefner was the first to come along and warp the system into one where only the Beautiful People could survive and flourish.
And so, among those who could not afford “all the pleasures of life”; who could not afford the abortions, alimony, and child support; who did not look like a Playboy Bunny; and could not surround himself with Bunnies willing to not complicate his life after a loveless encounter — among us everyday folks who actually have to look into the eyes of life’s consequences, the casualties mounted…
Divorce, broken homes, bankruptcy, generations of children raised by a single parent, sexually-transmitted diseases, addiction, AIDs, early death, loneliness, despair, guilt, spiritual ruin, and 58 million innocent children butchered in the one place they should be safest, in their own mother’s womb.
That was the analog fallout.
The digital fallout is somehow worse.
These days, one ill-considered click of your browser’s setting instantly reveals the truth, that pornography is a satanic drug, something that went from just being dirty, into something that is so unspeakably degrading towards women I dare not describe it.
Like any drug, in order to produce the desired effect, the potency must be increased and increased and increased… This means that with the hollow promise of Kardashianism, and after just a few months of living the dream as a porn queen in a meat market always looking for fresh meat, countless young women are being chewed up and spit out, their lives ruined forever by an Internet that is forever.
And those are the lucky ones, the ones who don’t try to heal a soul wounded by self-degradation with the kind of illegal drugs that can only be paid for through even more self-degradation.
On the other side of that computer screen is a generation of boys just a click away from a drug that will physically and mentally warp them into the dysfunctional freak Hefner himself eventually became — a lonely, frustrated recluse living in someone else’s decrepit home; a pathetic sex addict surrounded by a harem of living centerfolds, but one who could only perform with the aid of hardcore porn in one corner and his Bunnies pretending to have a lesbian orgy in the other.
Hefner was a media icon, a limousine leftist, the winner of countless First Amendment awards, and a warlock who manufactured a lifestyle filled with perfect cocktails, ideal stereo systems, the most comfortable leather slippers, and the prose of John Updike. But according to a number of witnesses, including late porn star Linda Lovelace, that was all a shiny veneer to cover over a hopeless degenerate who allegedly needed to see women get humped by German Shepards; a man who abandoned a wife and daughter; a man who even into his seventies slipped young women the Quaaludes he called “thigh openers.”
Yes, Hugh Hefner helped to spread freedom, but he is also a reminder of the many terrible costs that come with freedom.