Playboy at 55
December 29, 2008
The 55th Anniversary edition of Playboy hit newsstands recently. Every five years or so they take a look back, and, typically, Hugh Hefner will congratulate himself for freeing America from the sexually repressive dark ages, i.e. the 1950s. One could well argue that a culture that wouldn’t allow a married couple on TV to share a bed needed some sexing up. As of 2009, however, the Playboy empire has gone mainstream and it bears asking if the magazine and its slimy offspring have been good for America.
Playboy does not consider itself pornography, but then what skin magazine does? In January 2000, Hefner admitted that Larry Flynt’s Hustler was different only in degree of taste. Furthermore, what timeline of porn’s ascension to acceptance, if not respectability, could not include Playboy? Author Pamela Paul in 2005s Pornified details the effects of porn use in such stark human terms as users (overwhelmingly male) hooked on cyber-images and socially ill-prepared to initiate relationships with real women, marriages ripped apart, salvaged in some cases only by the ever-expanding world of 12-step programs established to treat the addictive side-effects of the sexual revolution. Social policy, of course, has been molded and tweaked over the last 40 years to deal with broken homes, fragmented communities and diseases borne of a society less bound to monogamy and tradition.
Pornography is so embedded in our culture, the urge to view it so ingrained in individual psyches that it is hard to isolate it as a single cause of damaged lives and lost innocence. Because some men can peruse Playboy and Penthouse and still lead stable, normal lives, the porn industry absolves itself, and, in the realm of public opinion, anyone skeptical of pornography as a healthy release is labeled a busybody or a prude. Amazingly, prescription drug makers are required to disclose ‘some risk of dependency,’ and, of course, the tobacco companies must issue endless warnings of the dangers of their product. Pornographers need never admit risk of addiction from use of their product, as they, after all, not only enjoy First Amendment rights, they are, so they claim, the staunchest defenders of free speech rights for everyone.
Therein lies the key to how porn has woven its way into our cultural fabric. Slick skin magazines and sexual adventurism are marketed as the trademarks or freethinking sophisticates. No less than Larry Flynt was celebrated as a First Amendment warrior in 1996s The People vs. Larry Flynt, an account of his battle against obscenity charges. Certainly he and the 82-year old Hefner, featured on E! Entertainment Television with his trio of 20-something girlfriends, are cultural icons and much cooler than, say, Pat Robertson.
If producing porn is daring or shocking and makes one a First Amendment warrior, then surely consuming it is a morally justified jab at an uptight, hypocritical society. Pornography’s mere existence is proof of how daring and cutting-edge it is.
In truth, the idea that porn use is daring is no less a fantasy that the pinup girls and cyber-images consumed by men anonymously every hour. Porn is the ultimate comfort zone, provided by savvy businessmen who know how to keep their customers hooked. They offer no incentive to initiate human relationships, only the thrill of the hunt as a stimulating time-killer. Men surrender their identities to tawdry screen names and credit card numbers, and women peddle their body parts, often anonymously, all in a world that places little value on the quirks and traits that define a human being.
One cannot entirely blame the porn industry. They see a void, they fill it, and our relativist, nonjudgmental society is nothing if not morally vacuous. Playboy lists ‘The Most Important People in Sex,’ ranking porn superstar and best-selling author (!) Jenna Jameson at #32. They note that she recently became the first adult-film star to have a wax figure created in her likeness at Madame Tussauds. Not even once family friendly museums have escaped the pervading slime. The fluff newsmagazine, Entertainment Tonight, which airs at 7:30 PM locally, recently and matter-of-factly profiled upcoming X-rated features based on The Facts of Life and Gilligan’s Island, two shows universally loved by children.
Cynics scoff at the notion of sexual innocence, though the prudes and busybodies are realists who like sex, too, they just venerate the act as more than the recreational co-mingling of body parts. Adult-entertainment empires, including Playboy, do not truly celebrate human sexuality, they exploit it for profit. Can High School Musical: The X-rated Edition be too far off? It’s Hugh Hefner’s world, we’re just privileged to watch his cavort through the entertainment pages. Happy 55, Playboy. Job well done.