PASSING OF AN ICON
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org