Happy Thanksgiving everyone. This Thanksgiving, I wanted to give thanks by paying tribute to my hero, Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy Magazine, who recently passed away.
Hugh Hefner was the original Mr. Playboy, and he has been the primary influence of my Showstopper Lifestyle. While the world will remember his lavish lifestyle and bevy of beautiful blondes, it does not even begin to sum up his incalculable impact on popular culture and our society. It is widely known that I was a regular guest at the Playboy Mansion for years and Vice had done a documentary on me entitled The Showstopper: The Next Hugh Hefner. The reason for that namesake is that they saw the similarity between my adventurous views on life and my hero’s ideology. I read Hefner’s seminal Playboy Philosophy as a teenager, and it changed my life, and his views literally opened up the minds of the world.
Here are five ways that Hugh Hefner changed the world.
1.The Sexual Revolution
In the 1950’s, the world was a different place before Playboy. Social mores were very conservative, especially when it came to sex. Movies were governed by the Hayes code so you did not even see couples sleeping in the same bed. Interracial romance and homosexuality were taboo topics and even extramarital sex was considered forbidden. Of course, much of this was masked in cloaks of hypocrisy, but Playboy brought sex to the forefront and made it acceptable to have the discussion. I highly recommend watching early interviews with Hefner defending his lifestyle and also discussing how sex is the single most important thing men are interested in. At the time, those were shocking topics for television, but Hef was one of the primary forces in the sexual revolution and erasing some of the conservative Puritan origins of America.
2.The Civil Rights Movement
Although slavery had been abolished for decades, in the 1950’s, the country had a stark racial divide, Jim Crow laws still pervaded and most institutions were yet to be integrated. Hefner staunchly supported the Civil Rights Movement. He would invite such African American thought leaders like Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson to his home to discuss issues. His publication featured interviews with King, Malcolm X and others to give a voice to the movement. Additionally, he would not allow discrimination in his Playboy Clubs at a time where many such institutions were racially segregated. When he launched his television show, Playboy’s Penthouse, it was one of the first shows featuring whites and blacks in a casual setting presented as equals. Hef eventually won an NAACP Award for his contribution to the Movement. When Barack Obama won the presidency, Hef was ecstatic because he was friends with King, and he said proudly, “It was my dream too.”
I finished law school, and to this day, obscenity laws are extremely vague, but at the outset of Playboy, a mainstream magazine that featured nudity was unthinkable. It had been charged by the conservative religious community, whose leaders were later exposed for hypocrisy, that Playboy was an obscene publication. The case was brought to the Supreme Court and Hefner won setting a precedent that allowed magazines that were more sexual in nature to be considered not obscene. It paved the way, for better or worse, for other magazines of a much more explicit nature such as Penthouse and Hustler. His legal victory opened up the avenues for a more sexually open country.
4.Blending Sex, Pop Culture and Politics
It has long been joked that people “just read Playboy for the articles.” Although there is a humorous irony there for a magazine that features gorgeous nude models, but they also feature the finest writers, hottest celebrities and major political figures. From its launch, Hefner was determined that the magazine be a respected publication and thus he was able to feature respected authors and journalists including Alex Haley, Shel Silverstein, Kurt Vonnegut, Truman Capote and Ray Bradbury. Famous celebrities have given exclusive interviews with the magazine for decades. Additionally, it has been a platform for free speech for views that were considered unpopular at the time. The seamless manner Playboy has blended sex, pop culture and politics in a glossy, high-class publication was revolutionary and yet to be replicated.
5.A Guide for Contemporary Gentleman & Sexual Liberation of Women
What primarily attracted me to Playboy beyond the obvious was that it was a lifestyle guide for the sophisticated gentleman. You can almost rename it, “How to be James Bond?” Hef always had a pulse on what was cool and how a guy really wants to live. He celebrated consumerism and living life according to your own standards. In a great interview in his later years, Hefner stated that it was not about having money, it was about an “attitude on life” that allowed one to live the Playboy lifestyle. This projection of confidence, bravado and living life with style is something that influenced millions of men.
Additionally, his philosophy for the magazine as an illustration that “nice girls like sex too” opened up popular culture for a more sexually liberated female. Of course, there is a double standard when it comes to sexuality between men and women, but Playboy played a role in making it acceptable for a ladies to be more sexually open and comfortable with their bodies. Obviously, there is an argument that they presented an unrealistic representation of the female form, but it is entertainment and they were catering to what people want to see. Having been to the Mansion many times, it was amazing to me to see that although it was a man’s adult playground, it was the women that seemed to be having the most fun in this environment where freedom ruled and traditional rules were second to a life of fantasy.
In the film Alfie, a Casanova character that would be the target demographic of, Playboy they ask the question, “What’s it all about?” I think Hef showcased that a person can create their own reality instead of being stifled my by tradition and social restrictions. If you only live once, shouldn’t that life be a fantasy? If that is the way the world works, then nobody lived life to the fullest like Hugh Hefner, the greatest playboy that ever lived. Although he may no longer be with us, Hef’s legend and the lifestyle will live forever.
~The Showstopper Shawn Valentino
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