PASS­ING OF AN ICON

The East African - - OPINION - JENERALI ULIMWENGU

Hugh Hefner’s Playboy was be­fore its time and rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

You could have thought he was a ji­hadist boy who had just blown him­self up along­side 50 in­fi­dels, and had now ar­rived to col­lect his prize of a bevy of vir­gins.

For, oth­er­wise, what was this man do­ing in a pink dress­ing gown, sur­rounded by a dozen daz­zling beau­ties, all fawn­ing on him and ap­pear­ing ready to do his bid­ding at a snap of his fin­gers?

But this was no ji­hadist. This was Hugh Hefner, the founder and boss of Playboy, the men’s magazine that en­ter­tained and out­raged peo­ple down the years since 1953, and es­tab­lished a strong cult that is cer­tain to long sur­vive its founder. He died a cou­ple of days ago at the young age of 91.

Hefner made him­self a leg­end by do­ing what other men might have wished they could do but dared not. It was not ex­actly pornog­ra­phy that sold the magazine and en­sured its fame – or in­famy -- but rather it was erot­ica, the sug­ges­tive semi-nu­dity that set the minds wan­der­ing with­out quite get­ting there. It al­ways stopped short.

Some have called Hefner’s work the ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women, mak­ing women ob­jects for the grat­i­fi­ca­tion of men’s li­bidi­nous urges and fan­cies, but some young women saw Playboy as an op­por­tu­nity right there for any girl who wanted to ex­press her­self and see what the world thought of what it saw of her.

Ca­reers were launched, dreams built and sweet mem­o­ries as­sured. A suc­ces­sion of fu­ture film stars passed through Heff ’s hands on their road to the Milky Way. Many prud­ish gov­ern­ments did not ap­pre­ci­ate the ex­po­sure of so much skin in a pub­li­ca­tion, and so they banned Playboy, but the is­sue here was more to do with the warped and dis­torted psy­ches of gov­ern­ment prin­ci­pals than any­thing Playboy pub­lished.

The pu­ri­tan­i­cal streak in the minds of some of our rulers would have us be­lieve that sex is evil and dirty. They are not even think­ing of the cal­lous ex­ploita­tion of women, such as those who rail against com­modi­ti­sa­tion of girls, who have a point as far as I am con­cerned.

But that is a far cry from want­ing peo­ple to be­lieve you are “holier than thou” in public when be­hind the scenes, the worst abuses are played out with im­punity.

The Catholic Church is in­fa­mous for this. On the one hand, you have th­ese stric­tures about moral­ity and ab­sti­nence, while on the other, known abusers are helped to avoid cen­sure un­til hun­dreds of young peo­ple have been hurt and de­stroyed.

Once in a while I en­joyed read­ing Playboy — when abroad, of course —- not only be­cause of the amaz­ing belles it of­fered, but also for the ex­tra­or­di­nary big ar­ti­cles and in­ter­views. Playboy must have had some of the best jour­nal­ists in the busi­ness.

Big is­sues

I re­mem­ber one is­sue had an in­ter­view with Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer from Ge­or­gia who was as­pir­ing to be pres­i­dent of the United States in 1976. This was a time when, af­ter the fall of Richard Nixon in 1974 and his suc­ces­sion by vice pres­i­dent Gerald Ford, is­sues of moral­ity were gain­ing cur­rency. Carter was build­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a good, pi­ous man, re­li­gious and all.

The in­ter­viewer latched onto that im­age cul­ti­vated by the can­di­date and asked Carter if he had ever com­mit­ted adul­tery. His an­swer was yes, but only in the imag­i­na­tion. Which pro­duced a flurry of com­men­taries from all sorts of quar­ters, in­clud­ing those who wanted to know if com­mit­ting adul­tery in the mind of a Chris­tian was not com­mit­ting adul­tery enough. Carter was elected.

Hefner was also a com­mit­ted sup­porter of the civil rights move­ment, which en­deared him to many fight­ers of those times when racial seg­re­ga­tion and vi­o­lence against Blacks and other mi­nori­ties was the or­der of the day. He for­bade racism in the clubs that he owned, and when he had to, he bought back his fran­chises from abu­sive own­ers.

This is a guy who lived his life to the full. I do not know, and I doubt I could ever want to know, how much of it was en­joy­ment and how much pure

Playboy must have had some of the best jour­nal­ists in the busi­ness.” He was a com­mit­ted sup­porter of the civil rights move­ment, which en­deared him to many fight­ers of those times when racial seg­re­ga­tion and vi­o­lence against Blacks and other mi­nori­ties was com­mon­place

stress. Just imag­ine a man who wakes up ev­ery morn­ing to join an­other party, af­ter the one he walked out of last night. It seemed like all his life was one, long, un­in­ter­rupted Happy Hour. Aren’t you jaded? Who would like such a life? Hugh Hefner, I guess. RIP . Jenerali Ulimwengu is chair­man of the board of the Raia Mwema news­pa­per and an ad­vo­cate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: ulimwengu@jenerali.com

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