You might think that Hugh Hefner might be a pretty primo target for Federalist Catholic guy, Ben Domenech. But in today’s up-is-down-Trump-is-president world, you’d be wrong. See, Hefner may have been a libertine smut-peddler, but he was a manly one. And that makes his legacy suddenly more complex.
As Ben puts it:
The Playboy Philosophy was inherently a part of the sexual revolution, yes, and Buckley was right to critique it. But it is apparent in retrospect that Hefner was not, as he perceived it, the captain of that revolution. What separates him from the more lurid members of his industry is an appreciation for manners and a particular form of American masculinity: he advised you to be a gentleman, not a cad, in your pursuit of the centerfold or the girl next door.
How one maintains the label of “gentleman” while publishing a nudie magazine and keeping a stable of women half your age around to service you sexually is beyond me, but I certainly admire Ben for trying to make it happen. Then again perhaps he means Hugh Hefner built an empire by objectifying women but did it while wearing a top hat and an monocle. Who knows? Anyway, clearly Hef was–because he was virile and manly–a gentleman and scholar.
Hefner’s death comes at a time of deep confusion for the country about all sorts of things sexual in nature. Embedded in his work was the idea that what we appreciate in one another isn’t sexless. It’s deeply rooted in our differences. Without those differences, sex itself becomes much less interesting. So while he was derided as selling prurience and stereotypes to the profane and stereotypical, he was actually celebrating the sexual complementarity that has bound men and women together since the dawn of time. The fact this idea has become a problematic one in some pockets of American culture is one Hefner would doubtless find absurd – he built an entire empire on it, after all.
This is a cute way of saying that he’s deathly afraid of trans, gender-fluid, and feminist folks, but it’s still what he’s saying, nonetheless. And aside from the fact that this fear is offensive, it’s a fear based upon strawmanny arguments that depend upon the idea that “you do you” is some sort of directive from libs that Ben stop masturbating to skinny, bleach-blonde women with fake breasts.
But for normal people, “you do you” means just that. It means that if Playboy types are your thing, fine. (That Hefner has an extraordinarily boring, narrow, and I’d argue- -dangerous–conception of female beauty is a whole ‘nother post…but the bottom line is that people are entitled to have preferences, even if I don’t approve of them.)
But “you do you” also means that some people are queer. And some women don’t want to perform femininity. (And some men do). And this apparently makes people like Ben so scared that suddenly libertine dudes like Hefner get the vaseline-smeared camera lens treatment. It’s bullshit.
Should you instruct your sons to follow his example, or your daughters to follow the example of those in his orbit? No, obviously not.
But why not, Ben? Why not? If Hef is cool now.
But his joie de vivre, his appreciation of the beautiful, the finer things life has to offer? As Walker Percy wrote in Love in the Ruins: “What does a man live for but to have a girl, use his mind, practice his trade, drink a drink, read a book, and watch the martins wing it for the Amazon and the three-fingered sassafras turn red in October? Art Immelmann is right. Man is not made for suffering, night sweats, and morning terrors.” RIP.
I love this world that Hef and Ben live in–where only men live and yearn and lust and strive and women are mere accessories that dot their manly lives. I just don’t live in it and I never will.