Hugh Hefner died this week. It’s not fake news. Three different women in my life blurted out the same words, almost immediately upon hearing it: “good riddance!”
Another female friend of mine on Facebook had a different reaction. She loved Playboy magazine, the interviews, the advertising, the cartoons, the Vargas girls and the photographs of beautiful women in various states of undress. I think it’s important to note that this woman is no libertine; she’s been happily married to her husband for many years, and when they met, she tells us, he thought there might be another man in the picture when he saw the copies of the magazine laying around. Nope. She just liked the pretty pictures.
Now, for me, with respect to Hugh Hefner, separating the man from his magazine, I find it hard to see his image without thinking of an ash tray. He always seemed spent, burnt-out, cynical, and more than a tad canine. He loved the female form, to be certain, but I always got the sense he loved it in the way a dog loves meat. His magazine began lobbying for abortion ten years before Roe v. Wade, and that conjures up the weird nexus between sex and death. Your witness on behalf of beauty is horribly scarred if it turns you into a baby killer.
Hugh, like some of his detractors, learned all the wrong lessons about sex. I’ve written about all of this so much it’s a tad embarrassing, and I suppose that’s because most of us have a difficult time understanding how to reasonably “schedule” sexuality on the agenda of life’s hungers. I can almost guarantee someone reading this had a fight about sex in the last few weeks, or someone feels isolated, celibate, unloved, and frustrated.
Enter Hugh’s magazine, sitting underneath the copy of Sunset, at your neighbor’s house when you’re a little boy and you’re five years old. Something sweeps over you that has such spiritual intensity you find yourself short of breath. It’s not just the sterile, cold beauty of moonlight. It’s more like hot, baked bread, with honey and butter — except that it’s taunting, and unattainable, and weirdly good and bad at the same time. It’s something both holy and secret. I can hear the school marms among us, of both sexes, yelling, “what’s holy about that? That’s pig lust.”
Oh, shut up. The Bible spends so much time on female beauty you get the sense God had intense love for us when he fashioned Eve, “naked and unashamed.” When God’s people are under the bondage of slavery, and under the threat of potential extermination, He saves them with a beauty pageant. It’s in there. You should read it sometime. Christ speaks of the beautiful woman adorning His feet with tears, and His picture of heaven is a kind of honeymoon. “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”
I really do get tired of pointing out all these verses, and others, to Christians. Whether it’s a Catholic church so falsely addicted to universal celibacy in their priesthood or an outright crackpot like John Harvey Kellogg attempting to prevent masturbation in little girls by applying carbolic acid to their privates, over the centuries, some “teachers” in the church have many apologies to make.
They actually created Hugh Hefner. Whether it’s a pastor who lathers red-faced over cleavage in the sanctuary or a mother who demonizes her son’s sexuality, failing to understand that the centerfolds themselves — their beauty — is a glittering testimony to God’s glory, well that failure creates, in people, an internal conflict that can break out in weird, ugly ways. Sexuality is a God given hunger. To deny it, or demonize it, is the path of fools.
I never bought the feminist lamentations about images of the female form objectifying women. Are there men who can’t get past the image, who can’t have a real relationship with a real live women because they are addicted to an endless stream of images? Yes. Do the images themselves have that effect on all men? No. You can actually behold beauty without hatching some scheme to seduce it, or debauch it. It really is possible — I’ve learned this with age — to see the image of a woman and simply conclude, “God, you are one fine artist.”
Hugh Hefner painted the images most men want to see in their bedrooms, with their wives–if they allowed that Song of Solomon freedom to exist in their lives, or if their wives allowed it and didn’t feel burdened by it. It’s also true that men’s hearts are a bit larcenous. We share that with Solomon, who collected wives, but there’s a treatment for that larceny — a good woman who understands it, and even celebrates the nature of a man’s desire. A Christian woman I know effectively wrote her husband these words yesterday: “come home tonight, honey; I’ll be your playmate.” She gets it.
I do wonder what our sexuality would be like without so much color lithography, and video, and the non-stop lingerie-to-Laker-Girl continuum. We’re probably over-sexed but emotionally under-served, but it would be a mistake, in considering Hugh’s mistakes, to throw out the babe with the bathwater.