Hugh Heffner’s Legacy

Hugh Heffner died on Wednesday, September 27 in his Playboy mansion at the age of 91.  He was buried next to Marilyn Monroe, Playboy’s inaugural centerfold.

From the moment I heard that Heffner had died, I tried to process the significance of his life and death.  Part of me feels sadness and pity.  As a Christian, I can’t get one thought out of my mind.  What would it be like to stand before the Holy God and give an account of your life, when your claim of fame was bringing pornography into the mainstream?  Frankly, I’ve had to fight being too judgmental and too self-righteous.  After all, despite all my weaknesses, failures, and sins, Hugh Heffner makes me look good.  Yet, I too will one day give an account of my life before God.  Only by the grace of God, the blood of Jesus, and the cleansing of the Holy Spirit have my own filthy rags of unrighteousness been removed and replaced with the righteousness of Jesus.  Oddly, Heffner’s death has caused me to be more self-reflective and more determined to live righteously and to uphold high ethical standards.

Another part of me, however, is angry.  I’m angry because Heffner launched a magazine and an empire that pedals to our base, fallen, lustful desires and, in doing so, he bears the guilt of bringing thousands—even millions—of people into moral ruin.  For many men of my generation, Playboy was the introduction to pornography, a fascination that turned into a habit that turned into an addiction that resulted in personal ruin.  That fascination turned habit turned addiction is fueled even more powerfully today by easy access to internet porn that makes the original Playboy magazine look tame.  Indirectly at least, Heffner is responsible for aiding the destruction of the marriages, moral lives, and Christian walk of many friends and relatives of mine. Yes, I’m angry.  I pray my anger is “righteous anger.”  My heart breaks over the devastation that has been wrought by the sexual revolution of which Heffner’s legacy is a part.

Many authors of various news reports, articles, and blogs about Heffner’s life and death are not quite sure how to view his legacy.  For the most part, television news reports have been bland and blindly uncritical.  The obituaries for Hefner, even if they acknowledge the coarseness and unseemliness of his empire, have been full of praise for his great deeds as the conqueror of puritanism, as the advocate of progressive political issues, and as the successful businessman.

Feminists writers especially are at a wit’s end.  Take, for example, an article by feminist writer, Jill Filipovic (“No, Hugh Hefner Did Not Love Women”).  On the one hand, she commends Hefner for being “on the right side of many of the biggest issues of the modern era: free speech, reproductive choice, gay rights.” Personally, I don’t agree that Heffner and progressives are on the “right side” of these issues, but I concur that they are on the same side, as Filipovic notes.  While she upholds abortion rights as strongly as Heffner did, she does part company with him in one regard: “Hefner advocated for contraception and abortion rights, sure, but because those things benefited men’s sex lives, not because they were necessary components of female freedom.”

On the other hand, Filipovic condemns Hefner for reducing women to mere playmates, objects of men’s fantasies and unbridled desires.  I could not agree with her more on this point.  She observes, rightly in my opinion: “Hefner claimed to ‘love women.’ He certainly loved to look at women, or at least the type of women who fit a very particular model. He loved to make money by selling images of women to other men who ‘love women.’ He certainly met a lot of women, had sex with a lot of women, talked to a lot of women. But I’m not sure Hefner ever really knew any of us. And he certainly did not love us.”

Especially insightful is this point: “What Hefner and Playboy never did was present women as human, or consider us anything like men. Hefner made female sex objects more relatable and accessible — the Playboy centerfold was the girl next door, not the famous movie actress —but this wasn’t so much an elevation as a downward shift: social permission for men to look at all women through the zipper in their jeans, and not even bother to pretend it was otherwise.”

On this point, Filipovic is in agreement with conservative, Christian blogger Jon Bloom (“One Man’s Dream Destroyed Millions: The Pitiful Legacy of Hugh Hefner”): “Hefner and many others have become very rich by objectifying women and turning them into virtual prostitutes—mere bodily images to be used by millions of men who care nothing about them, who ravage them in their imaginations for selfish pleasure and then toss them in the trash. Hefner gave these women the fun name of “playmates,” a wicked mockery of both a person and play, adding a terrible insult to horrible injury.”

On at least this point, a progressive and a conservative writer can agree.  The objectification of women—the reduction of women to “mere body,” as if they were devoid of mind, emotion, and soul—is pornography’s ultimate evil.  I also agree.


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