Hef was as much a cultural revolutionary as America could produce at mid-century. Began Playboy right after the Kinsey studies were published, while McCarthyism was in full swing. Got called a “Communist” for undermining American morals, “weakening” American society against the threat of godless Communism. Insisted sex should was essential and should be enjoyable for all. Gave a lot of great journalists their starts. If you got Playboy “just for the articles” you read about Civil Rights, Ban the Bomb, Vietnam, and homosexuality there probably before anywhere else. He was a good liberal when the term meant something. Time, Newsweek, or The Saturday Evening Post never gave a long, free-wheeling interview to Martin Luther King.
Gave tons of money to progressive causes. Had a late night show featuring not just celebs, but writers, political figures, philosophers, etc. Today he most assuredly would have Colin Kaepernick as a guest. Loved jazz and created the idea of the Playboy Man, who didn’t just love women but believed in seeing the world, reading, treating people with respect. Trump is the antithesis of the Playboy image. As the best minds of that generation were “destroyed by madness,” Hef offered refuge.
I know he wasn’t a 3d Wave feminist, and Playboy Bunnies worked in often difficulty-if-not-hostil environments, but few have made American culture more tolerant and created a space for marginalized people in the media and told Americans the truth about power more than Hugh Hefner did.
Media today is in crisis. So many people read 140 character tweets rather than reasoned articles. The corporate media is a powerful wing of the ruling class. Social media spreads contrived information via memes. But Playboy still writes about class, poverty, inequality, war, justice, and other issues that are no longer sexy.
Hef’s death reminded me of something a friend said to me about Bob Dylan years ago, “he’s a genius, not a saint.”