Hugh Hefner turns 80 next Sunday, and The Mansion is once again the place to be. “A major pajama party” is planned, as he told Maclean’s, along with other observances equal to the dignity of the occasion. But this milestone also has “Hef” in a reflective mood, wondering how he will be remembered and trying to sum up “the major message in my life.”
So begins today’s Wall Street Journal editorial entitled “The Playboy Legacy: As his 80th birthday approaches, Hugh Hefner is proud of his achievements. He shouldn’t be.” It really is a good article, and you should take the time to read the whole thing, but what I find interesting is that here is a man who thinks he has it all, wants to have it all, and yet is struggling because he’s come to the point in life where he is close to death, and knows he doesn’t have it all.
Case in point:
Still endlessly indulged by reporters, he has slipped into his best bathrobe for another round of clubby interviews in which to showcase his three salaried “girlfriends” and to reminisce about the original Playboy “dream.”
Who else do you know who has to pay women to be around them– three of them, with salary (we won’t ask how much!). Certainly, they may be around him because of his name, probably moreso because of the salary, and maybe a hope of some mention in a will, but not because of love.
And that’s what Hugh Hefner has sold all of his life– all of the look, but none of the love. In fact, I would argue that this man might be the loneliest on the planet– buying companionship, living up to a hype of being that well off, but missing out on what’s truly important.
And what does his life have to show for it? In his quest for “free love” what has he achieved?
He is certainly right to believe that he has left his mark in the world. Richard Corliss in Time magazine is overstating it a bit when he writes that “porn doesn’t affront contemporary community standards. It is a contemporary community standard.” But he is close enough, and we have Hugh Marston Hefner, more than anyone else, to thank for the great plenitude of porn we take for granted today.
He is not the worst of America’s celebrity pornographers, though being the first is no great distinction either, and but for Hef a few standards of public decency might actually have held awhile. Without his pioneering vision, we might, in our own time, rise every morning to face a world without “Girls Gone Wild” or Sex.com, without cable or Internet porn for all hours and all ages. Whatever the problems of those repressed, Puritanical types that Mr. Hefner is still using as strawmen, they did somehow manage to fill their days without such things, and we could use a little more of their self-restraint and modesty.
Pornography, Hef still assures us, is an antidote to social and personal troubles rather than an obvious source of them, and his own softer brand of the stuff is in any case so innocuous as to have no harmful social consequences whatever.
One hesitates to speak harshly of an old man, who somewhere along the way must have done a few worthwhile things. But as to the public legacy of Hugh Hefner, he should have no illusions. All of us have our share of faults and sins to account for. But the lowest of vices and “strangest secret of hell,” as G.K. Chesterton called it, is the desire to pervert others, to coax and corrupt them and drag them down with you. And any man who at the age of 80 has that to answer for is by no stretch the luckiest cat on the planet.
One mourns for this man and the sexual immorality he has foisted on the American people in the name of something he couldn’t get– love.