Playboy founder Hugh Hefner once remarked in a Vanity Fair article that “The major civilizing force in the world is not religion, it is sex.” If what the now-dead Hefner is saying is true, then my cultural education began in elementary school when a careless family member left their stash of Playboy magazines in plain sight. When I stumbled upon the glossy stack of centerfolds there was no innocent confusion or immature amusement at the nudity. Instead, I hastily ripped out a few pages and shoved them into my pocket for a more private inspection later.
By the time I was in Junior High, most families had access to the world wide web via clunky, beige computers. I was well acquainted with pornography by then, but dirty magazines were nothing compared to what I could find on the internet. I would have been twelve or so when I first downloaded porn from the web. That first download took almost two days to complete, but when it did I watched with amazement as a large group of men choked, punched and spit on a woman during the act of sex.
It didn’t feel civilized.
My parents either somehow found out about my dial-up exploits or had the most coincidental timing ever, but shortly after I saw that horrible video each one of them attempted to have “the talk” with me.
My parents were nonjudgmental and open about sex; everything child psychologists say parents should be when discussing the birds and the bees. But after watching a gangbang on the internet, the whole “when a mommy and daddy love each other very much…” routine was like trying to put a band-aid on a gunshot wound. I had likely seen more sexual content by the age of twelve than they had in their entire adult lives. By the time my mom and dad had muscled up the courage to talk to me about sex, I was already well on my way to a pornography addiction that would span over a decade.
Obviously, Hugh Hefner is not responsible for the sin of some kid in the midwest, and he didn’t invent internet porn. I may of had this problem with or without his magazine, and I have to own my behavior. But my generation was the first to have their sexual cravings catered to in such an effortless manner, and our parents weren’t ready for the consequences. This was nothing new, but the delivery system of the internet was.
Throughout history there have been thousands of people willing to capitalize on sexual desire, and Playboy isn’t solely responsible for that. But Hugh Hefner is soley responsible for making the perverse seem very normal and suave. Civilized even.
When Hefner founded Playboy in the 1950’s, the profane got a facelift and entered the mainstream consciousness. Libertines of earlier generations were scorned by most decent folk. But Hugh was different. Every boy I knew in school wanted to walk about a mansion wearing a velvet housecoat, surrounded by babes. Every girl I went to the tanning beds with would put Playboy stickers on their hip to get that famous bunny silhouette toasted into their skin. Not only was Playboy a marketing success, but the man himself was a cultural fixture. Hefner was portrayed as a lovable scoundrel, and every celebrity who was cool enough got to visit the famous Playboy mansion.
Nobody sold Caligula purses, no one wanted an invite to Marquis de Sade’s house. But the average Joe admired Hefner’s brand of licentiousness and would give nearly anything to go to Hugh’s pad for a glass of scotch and a very civilized leer at the bunnies.
But as with most things in porn, even the civility was airbrushed. Many of the women living at the Playboy mansion have gone on record as despising their time with Hefner. His famous mansion was poorly maintained and often filthy. And this stud of a gentleman who always had the hottest girls on his arm was deeply addicted to porn.
Combine this with the public exploitation of women and readers for profit, and there doesn’t seem to be anything civilized about Hugh’s product. The class that Playboy worked so hard to portray was a sham, and today’s porn addicts are no longer concerned with civility anyway. As the years went on, I would go on to consume porn far worse than that first video I downloaded. And I can say with some confidence that far worse porn exists on the internet today than ever before. Because when human beings and image bearers are turned into mere consumers or consumables, there is nothing too low, there is no bottom. BDSM is breaking records at the box office, child pornography has grown 200% in the last decade and the demand for pornography is actually driving the human trafficking crisis.
At the end of the day, Hugh’s contributions to civilization are nothing more than misery and oppression.
If this is what civilization looks like, count me out.