Hugh Hefner’s death: Eulogize or criticize?

Graphic by Jared Shapiro

Jess Kaplan, Contributing Writer

On Sept. 27, Playboy Magazine creator and controversial American icon Hugh Hefner died in his Holmby Hills, Ca. mansion at the age of 91. While it cannot be disputed that he had an impact on American popular culture, it can be debated as to whether his impact was for the better or for the worse.

Hefner decided to create a publication of his own after being denied a $5 raise while working as a cartoonist for Esquire Magazine in 1952. With only a bank loan of $600 and an additional contribution of $1,000 from his devoutly religious mother, Hefner launched Playboy magazine. By 1958, Playboy was deemed a success — the magazine’s annual profit was $4 million and “Hef” catapulted to fame.

Playboy pushed the boundaries of free expression with its explicit nude photography and its open discussion of sex.

“Sex is the driving force on the planet. We should embrace it, not see it as the enemy,” Hefner once said. Hefner was also a staunch civil rights advocate, making his entertainment empire a platform for black civil rights activists. In the 1960s, Hefner hired a string of black comedians for Playboy night clubs at a time when segregation pervaded public spaces. He even scored an interview with Martin Luther King Jr. that was published in Playboy magazine in 1965.

Although Hefner was a champion of free speech, civil rights, and sexual liberation, he was certainly not an advocate of gender equality. Hefner’s crusade for free speech was largely directed towards men. He brought porn (for better or worse) to millions of American homes and created unrealistic perceptions of women and sex for many young men. He promoted the notion that monogamous sex gets old and promiscuity, in contrast, is liberating.

Additionally, Hefner’s magazine was no place for women. The Playboy creator bluntly stated in his first editorial, “If you’re somebody’s sister, wife or mother-in-law and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to your Ladies’ Home Companion.”

Hefner definitely practiced what he preached. He bragged about sleeping with over a thousand women. Ex-playmate Holly Madison revealed the truth about Hefner’s lifestyle in her bestselling memoir, “Down The Rabbit Hole,” describing how Hefner often created conflict between his playmates by making comments about their bodies or the sex that night. Hefner used his women as objects to please and entertain himself. According to Madison, Wednesdays and Fridays were “club nights” where Hefner and his Playboy bunnies would receive VIP treatment at various clubs; however, at the end of the night, sex was required. Hefner offered his ladies the drug Quaaludes, which he referred to as “thigh openers.”

While the silk pajama clad icon is gone, Hefner’s legacy remains. The icon’s dying wish was for his ashes to be scattered next to Marilyn Monroe’s grave. This resting spot seems fitting, uniting the premier male and female sex icons of the 20th century for eternity.

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