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RIP Hugh Hefner, Playboy Creator

The man who created Playboy magazine and changed the world in the process has departed, passing away from natural causes at 91.

Hugh Hefner, the man whose synthesis of cultural curation, in-depth interviews, and softcore pornography made Playboy one of the most iconic publications of the 20th century, has died. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Hefner was ninety-one years old, and reportedly died of natural causes in his home, the famous Playboy Mansion.


An article this year in Rolling Stone describes a “docuseries” which tells this story, likely as he, and not as his critics, would have it told.

American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story, the new 10-part docuseries on Amazon Prime, asks us to imagine its subject as the Don Draper of gentlemen’s magazines. From humble origins, Hefner ascends the hierarchy of mid-century media, aided by a potent alchemy of ambition and chiseled instinct. He is – for the most part – amoral, though not without specific convictions. Stirred by Alfred Kinsey’s seismic 1948 report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, he determined in his junior year of college that sexual taboos were not merely hypocritical, but fundamentally damaging. American popular culture trumpeted a “Norman Rockwell view of the world” that Hefner regarded as wholly fictitious. Accordingly, his paramount aim in founding Playboy was to introduce sexuality as a crucial and healthy topic for public discourse. …

Here, five things we learned from the new documentary.

Hefner began his creative work as a cartoonist.  As a child, Hefner was shy, and took to drawing cartoons as a way to combat his social anxieties.

Searching for the perfect pinup girl was, predictably, a transaction between men …  whereas many of the pinup girls in other mags of the time had previously been drawn, Hefner decided to confront the issue of sexuality more squarely by including photos of nude women. This, on its own, was not revolutionary: sunbathing magazines existed at the time, and their female models posed naked. But Hefner wanted his magazine’s pinup to contain a pointed editorial message: sex was OK. Unsurprisingly, however, the means of conveying this message was deeply sexist. …

Playboy shaped Hefner’s lifestyle, not the other way around. Hefner did not model Playboy’s content after his own glamorous lifestyle – at first, it didn’t exist. …

Hefner and his colleagues looked to carve out a new kind of American masculinity What Hefner ended up realizing, as he drifted further away from his family, is that he disdained the prevailing expectation for men to “settle down,” as it were, immediately after college. …

Playboy invented the concept of the “girl next door.”
After the first issue of Playboy, Hefner realized that they had to shift their pinup strategy. The logic was that when one launches with Marilyn Monroe, it’s impossible – or so it seemed – to follow with someone of comparable desirability. So began the “Playmate of the Month”: the magazine chose beautiful, but unknown, women, to be featured nude with a short biography provided. The first, Miss January 1954, was Margie Harrison.

But before long Hefner wearied of the quality of centerfold pinups. Charlaine Karalus, Playboy’s subscription manager – and Hefner’s lover – suggested that the magazine take its own photos. Talented and beautiful, Hefner asked her to be Miss July 1955. She agreed, under the condition that she was provided an alias. And so, “Janet Pilgrim” became the first so-called “girl next door.” As the magazine explained, she came from their own offices – a reminder that gorgeous women were not only to be found on pinups or in the movies. Miss July 1955 became a genuine sensation precisely because she was not a professional model. There was excitement in the idea of an unexpectedly sexy woman, a woman who was extraordinarily attractive but, due to circumstances, approachable. After that, Playboy began to photograph women who were not models by trade: students, clerks, authors and so forth.

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Today things are much different than in the 1950’s, but isn’t it interesting that just as it was when Hefner started his crusade, we still have the strong societal division.

People (of both genders) in one corner hold (publicly) that nudity is dangerous, objectifying, unhealthy, sinful, shameful and shocking, while people in the other corner are just as certain that nudity, even in public, is 100% natural, appreciative, friendly, healthy and sometimes quite entertaining. 

We are, by customs, views and laws, a strange mess of contradictions and inconsistencies regarding gender differences and sexuality.

Does this explain a wildly popular video/song with over two billion views on YouTube with a pithy summary of the situation and how to deal with it from one perspective?

… the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

As of September 2017, the video has received over 2.3 billion views on YouTube, and is the eighth most viewed video on the site, and the most viewed by a female artist. (Taylor) Swift also became the first female to have a video on YouTube with 2 billion views.


Perhaps by January 2054, one hundred years after the first Playboy playmate of the month, the two camps will reach some sort of authentic peaceful agreement. Hmm. On second thought, give us another 200 years.

Rest in Peace, Hugh Hefner. You did something big with your life and, for better or worse, made the world a “bunnier” place.


About Xeno

E pluribus unum.


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