I read an op ed piece in the New York Times the other day that trashed Hugh Hefner. Apparently it’s unseemly, no, more like revolting and nauseating, for a man in his eighties to be marrying a twenty-four year old Playboy Playmate. The Times piece has festered since I read it, and I’m finally ready to reply, to offer a defence of a man who needs no defense, but mostly to express my disgust with the writer and my appreciation if not admiration for Hugh Hefner.
Timothy Egan begins his pointlessly nasty rant on Hefner with:
“Let’s just get this out of the way before the new year is all backed up with highly consequential events of much greater urgency: Hugh Hefner is repulsive.
There. I feel guilty already violating a resolution to be less snarky and judgmental in 2011. But while on a sugar high as I vow to diet, I might as well take another bite: Hugh Hefner is reptilian and should never be looked upon as a role model for anything except how not to grow old.”
This is pretty much the cutesy tone of the rest of the piece, and one can just imagine the middle-of-the-road-brain-dead of America nodding their heads in self-righteous agreement as the portrait of senile decadence rolls out. I could pick his attack apart, point by point, but that would be… rather pointless. This hatchet piece and hack job isn’t really about Hugh Hefner. It’s about Timothy Egan and his superficial and judgmental assessment of a man he has, in all likelihood, never met and knows only through his extensive reading of the popular media – National Enquirer, People Magazine, that kind of high toned intellectual fare. Egan even consults his daughter on the topic of the Hefner marriage, and gets the predictable teenager grimace in response. Timothy Egan and his, by his own admission trivial, shallow as a soap dish, paid by the word opinion is not worth another word from me. So I’m not going to talk about Timothy Egan any more. I want to talk about my youth, Playboy Magazine, and the man Mr. Egan says should be a roll model for nobody, Hugh Hefner.
Hefner has taken a lot of flack over the years. Some is no doubt valid. You can’t look at a Playboy bunny without seeing a woman objectified. The feminists do have grounds for complaint. But Playboy also objectified men and gave us a glossy and superficial vision of success and shallow materialism. It’s always been a far cry from “Wooden Boat”. What we should put on the plus side of the ledger, though, is that the magazine presented the revolutionary idea for its day that woman just might like sex too. Maybe it’s time somebody pointed out that the Hefner has been IMPORANT. Yes. Important. If for nothing else than for making my generation of men better lovers. That’s no small thing.
I’m old enough to have a sense of history. I came from the tail end of an age of oppression and repression that Egan’s teen-aged daughter can hardly imagine. In high school I owned a pocket dictionary with one or two word definitions, surely the worst dictionary I ever owned. For example, it defined “circumlocution” as “prevarication” and then defined “prevarication” as “circumlocution”, which, when I think of the circular nature of this set of definitions, is hysterically ironic but not very useful. It also contained the incredibly enlightening two word definition for masturbation: “bodily self-pollution”. You got that? Aside from being more an expression of disgust than a definition, all connotation with no denotation, it was stupid and destructive. To me it sums up the attitude toward sex of that age: The healthiest sexual activity one could ever encourage a youth to practice, a release of sexual tension that should be taught in schools, in today’s world the ONLY truly safe sex, was in my childhood blamed for every medical problem from heart disease to failing eyesight. In that thankfully dead world, masturbation was not just a sin, it was positively dangerous and, just like smoking pot, could lead to death. Death from masturbation? Absolutely. Just consult any sex manual, or ask Dr. Kellogg.
In my childhood, sex was seldom mentioned and then only with disapproval or a snicker of embarrassment. Ours was a repressive culture. A culture dominated by men. A culture in which sex education was presented disguised as a dirty joke, or a good technique to trick a woman into giving you sex. A culture in which sexual harassment in the work place was an executive privilege and farm boys headed for the big city to beat up queers for fun on Saturday night. A culture in which sex was usually coercive and pretty darn ugly. Women were “made”. If my father spoke of my penis, he called it “your weapon”. Words have meaning. It took men of courage to suggest that sex could be good clean fun, for both men AND women, and even for LGBT men and women. It took a man like Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Magazine, in particular The Playboy Forum, which discussed in very frank and open terms the concerns and problems men have with sex.
When I was just starting university, my mom found my stack of Playboy Magazines under my bed. She was outraged that her son was reading what she considered to be porn. I told her she could throw them out, but she had to read them first. She did. Then she gave them back to me.
Oddly enough, I wasn’t whacking to the pictures all that much. I never found the Playboy “bunnies” all that attractive. They always looked too plastic. Too artificial. Or maybe just too unattainable. But the magazine published the best minds of the day, and introduced me to everything from world politics to civil rights. It was a good magazine.
It’s easy to look back at those days of my callow youth and squirm inside with embarrassment. Playboy Magazine now seems so utterly juvenile, with it’s big titted airbrushed beauties and totally silly comics. We all need to go through a juvenile phase before we emerge as mature, thoughtful adults. Playboy was a huge part of that process for me. The Playboy Forum discussed sex in a way that was intelligent and totally politically correct. The emphasis was always on consensual sex, loving sex, enjoyment and respect. It seemed to cover anything, and I vividly remember being introduced to the concept of (What? Yuck? You’re kidding? What would the young Egan daughter say to this?) eating an anus, or “eating the rose” as the Playboy Forum told me the French would put it. It took me thirty years to get around to trying that one, but without The Playboy Forum the experience would not be in my memory bank. And while I’m not a dedicated rose eater these days, I must say it was worth the visit. My life has been enriched.
The Playboy Forum also spent a fair bit of time on cunnilingus and fellatio, two other rather large stumbling blocks for the previous generation. And those are part of my sexual repertoire that I am ever so grateful to Mr. Hefner for popularizing.
When the movie Deep Throat came out to a lot of fanfare and media attention, my parents asked me what the fuss was all about. What was the plot of the movie? I told them that it was a silly fantasy about a woman whose clitoris was in her throat, hence the title. My mom and dad looked like they were going to vomit. “That’s disgusting,” was all my father could manage to say. I realized that my old man had probably never been blown, and had for sure never gone down on my mom. This made me sad. It also made me appreciate the heroic and courageous men and women who had changed the sexual landscape so completely. Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, and, yes, Hugh Hefner.
I have a dear friend who once told me: “They criticize me for liking younger women. I don’t like younger women. I like the same women I’ve always liked.” And ain’t it the truth. Hefner has had, in all probability, more pussy than anybody else on earth. He deserves it all. If, with the aid of our modern miracle drugs, he can still get it on with a healthy and athletic young woman, more power to him. We might suspect that sex at his age is, in the immortal words of George Burns, “like playing pool with a rope”. But I also can imagine and believe that there is a lot more to their relationship than sex. I suspect that Crystal Harris is a very lucky young woman. I suspect that she’s found a good man, and knows it. But who can say? A friend of mine opined that this is more a business deal than a real marriage. Again, who can say? It’s none of my business, and certainly none of Mr. Egan’s.
I think we can all recognize the ick factor in the marriage of a man in his eighties to a twenty-four year old, but then so many things associated with coupling and sexuality kick up the gag reflex that this should merely be cause for a moment of thought, rather than a reflex regurgitation. I know an incredibly handsome gay movies star whose dumpy middle aged lover is hardly the erotic wet dream one would expect. Who knows what attracts people to each other? Mr. Egan doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that the young woman may actually love Hugh Hefner, even if Mr. Egan and his daughter find the old fossil reptilian. Hefner has been fighting taboos all his life. I’m glad to see that there is still some fight in him. The tut tutting of this puking and puling journalist is only an indication that the fight hasn’t yet been won.