Friday, 29 September 2017

When Hugh Hefner is a Revolutionary, where are we at?

By Isaac Withers

On Wednesday night, Hugh Hefner died. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know his legacy: you know about the Playboy magazine he founded in 1953 and his mansion in the Beverly Hills. You’ve probably also seen photos of him surrounded by women dressed as rabbits or as we’re supposed to refer to them, ‘the Playboy Bunnies’. But even if you’d never seen any of that, we’re all living in the post sexual revolution world, which Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Enterprises played a huge part in shaping. Hefner definitely was not the inventor of pornography, but Playboy has definitely played a big part in making pornography both an industry and a cultural norm.

As I scrolled the trending section of Facebook yesterday morning, every other thing would make me cringe a little. Tweets like, ‘RIP to the legendary Hugh Hefner! I'm so honored to have been a part of the Playboy team!’ from Kim Kardashian, or ‘Thank you for being a revolutionary and changing so many people's lives, especially mine’ from former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy. The more I read words like, ‘legendary’ and ‘revolutionary’, the more annoyed I became and the more convinced I was that I should write why. There’s an awful lot of rhetoric out there making Hugh Hefner sound like sexual Indian Jones, the exploratory hero we never knew we needed. They say you can tell a lot about a culture from its heroes, so I’d like to address this particular brand of revolutionary.

Porn drastically effects our ideas about Beauty

There’s absolutely no doubt that what we see effects how we behave, it is on this knowledge that companies pour an estimated 180 billion dollars into advertising each year. There’s plenty of protest about airbrushing in modelling and so forth, but very little is being said about how pornography is changing our ideas on what is beautiful or desirable.

In 2002, The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy conducted research that found that when men and women were exposed to pictures of female centrefold models from Playboy and Penthouse, ‘it significantly lowered their judgements about the attractiveness of “average” people.’ It shifted their ideas about what was attractive, and made the real women in their lives lesser by comparison.

Naomi Wolf, a leading feminist, writes about this same thing on American campuses in The Beauty Myth. She says, ‘Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete and they know it. For how can a real woman – with pores and her own breasts and sexual needs of her own… possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will… ? … Today, real naked women are just bad porn.’

The mainstreaming of porn via Playboy or any of the other 'adult entertainment' outlets, has led to women being put in the position of competing with the wealth of other options available to the modern man online. And yes, the women in porn consent (for the most part) to being in the content, but they creates this impossible situation for every other woman, either to allow themselves to be objectified too, or to give up. This effects you even if you’re Jennifer Lawrence, one of the most beautiful actresses in the world, because in 2014 she said this about her leaked nude photos.

‘”I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.”’

In an interview with Daily News in 2010, Hefner said that, 'the notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects. If women weren’t sex objects, there wouldn’t be another generation.I hope I don't have to explain why that one's wrong. The fact that people aren't objects should be pretty obvious, but not to this man.

Celebrating porn is not the same as celebrating sex

The idea that porn is just part of us being ‘cool’ with sex, or that it is part of a healthy sexual appetite is another thing that Playboy has propagated. Matt Fradd has a great analogy for this in his book The Porn Myth.

Saying that we need porn to avoid sexual repression is like saying that we need gluttony to avoid anorexia. Pornography is as much a celebration of sex as gluttony is a celebration of food. … we gorge the masses on industrialised, commodified sexuality. This does not celebrate sex at all. It cheapens it.

There a plenty of studies that show this in real terms. Pornography statistically doesn’t lead to people having more sex, it goes the other way. Serge Stoleru (a French neuroscientist) found that overexposure to erotic stimuli actually exhausts healthy sexual responses. Pornography seems to lead its consumers inwards. In one of his letters to his friends, C.S. Lewis has an amazing few lines on this:

‘In the end, they (women in pornography) become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself… After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of ourselves. … The danger is that of coming to love the prison.’

‘Coming to love the prison’ hits home every time. But speaking of the prison, I want to again quote you something from The Porn Myth. It blew me away when I read it and it’s why I’m writing this whole blog really.

Izabella St. James, one of Hef’s former girlfriends lived with him in the mansion for two years and shares in explicit detail the day-in, day-out happenings of Hef’s lifestyle in her book, Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors of the Playboy Mansion. Her description of Hef’s orgies is telling. The icon of sexual liberation needed Viagra, multiple women, and finally pornography in order to experience a sexual climax.

If a harem of real-life porn stars isn’t enough to satisfy a porn-imbued libido, what makes us think an average woman can compete?

This, to me, doesn't sound like sexual revolution, it sounds like addiction, it sounds like emptiness, it sounds like a man who loves his prison. Hefner needed porn in the end even when he was surrounded by beauty. Clearly, for all this talk of his boldness and experimentation, this is not healthy sexuality, far from it.

If you go to the Playboy website right now, all you can see is a picture of Hugh Hefner with a quote of his that reads, ‘“Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream."’ Well, if ‘the dream’ is the life he led, a mansion in L.A. with all the sex you could want, I can happily say I don’t want that dream.

And if we’re going to talk heroes and revolutionaries of this period, I’d suggest you check out Karol Wojtyla’s ‘Love and Responsibility’. It gave us lines like, ‘A person's rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use’ and ‘Love between man and woman cannot be built without sacrifices and self-denial.’ That’s St. Pope John Paul II preaching on sexuality around the same time that Hugh Hefner is saying the opposite. I know which narrative sounds more accurate to me.

But for all the damage I think he’s done, I don’t hate Hugh Hefner, I found myself praying for him yesterday (something I didn’t expect to find myself doing this week...). So pray for him too, and if you meet someone who thinks he was a revolutionary, ask them just what kind of revolution it is that they want, because objectification and feminism aren't compatible, and neither are love and use. Enjoy that conversation, it’s a good one and it’s not going away anytime soon.


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