Monday, April 17, 2000

Week of 04/17/2000

Defending Playboy
- by David Matthews 2

Never before in the city’s history was there ever a such ruckus over the name of a street. Protesters were abound, carrying flashy signs and proclaiming the crudest of allegations. Supporters were equally numerous, but rather reserved.

Over 800 people were honored by street names on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Men and women of Chicago who have stood out in that city’s history. Quite often it is merely a matter of protocol for the City Council to approve of a name. A mere showing of hands, and the deed is done.

But not this time.

So one has to wonder just WHO it is that is provoking so much hostility? So many protesters? So much.. dare I say it? .. HATRED over using that name for a street? You would think that people were talking about naming a street after serial killer John Wayne Gacy, or of legendary mob boss Al Capone.

But no, all this fuss is for a lonely magazine publisher named H. Marston.

Good old H. Marston who started in 1953 with nothing but an idea, some money, and an old typewriter. He had an idea for a publication called Stag, which would be a magazine for men’s interests. He included in this magazine some photos he purchased of a lovely young pin-up girl by the name of Norma.

It was a hit-or-miss idea then. Nobody knew if there would be enough interest in the magazine to even warrant a second issue. But a second issue was published. And then a third, and then a fourth. Before anyone knew it, H. Marston’s publication was a huge success.

That idea for a magazine for men’s interests became a worldwide sensation, enabling him to live the kind of life he had always dreamed of. And he would even share that idealistic life with his friends and associates, and eventually with others through clubs around the world. His philosophy of individual freedom over government-forced morality helped shape a whole generation of young men and women. The magazine would be published around the world, and would eventually have its own television channel, a line of highly successful videos, and a dominant place on the Internet.

Of course, you’ve never heard of a successful magazine called Stag. That name was changed just before the first issue hit the stands. The lovely nude blonde named Norma who graced that first issue? Well, her full name was Norma Jean Dougherty, but you knew her best as the legendary Marilyn Monroe.

And that successful publisher H. Marston? Well, the "H" stands for Hugh, although most people recognize him more for the first three letters of his last name. Hef.

That’s right. Hugh Marston Hefner, founder and publisher of Playboy Magazine, is the target of so much protest in Chicago.

And suddenly, the sides become clear. Once again, the bane of moralism has reared its ugly head to stop the city of Chicago from recognizing Hef.

Now, in the world of adult-oriented publications, Playboy is relatively tame. Most of the magazine is comprised of stories, in-depth articles, letters to the editor, interviews, and advice on all manners of questions from what kind of condom to wear to how to configure your stereo speakers so you can get that "theater-like" experience when watching Star Wars. The women who make up the delightful "eye-candy" appear sporadically, although their presence cannot be missed in the magazine. Their nudity is what many would consider to be "tastefully-done", emphasizing an overall appreciation of the female form instead of focusing on one specific body part like other publications do.

Some of the women who have appeared in the pages of Playboy have gone on to do much more bigger and better things. Many have become actresses. Others have become models. Who would have even heard of Cindy Crawford if not for her appearance in Playboy? It would also be a sure bet that Carmen Electra would have never gotten where she did in the entertainment world without her own appearance in that magazine.

Certainly the entertainment world has benefited from Playboy. Who would have heard of James Bond if Playboy didn’t first publish a little story by Ian Flemming called "Doctor No"? Other noteworthy authors whose works have appeared in Playboy include Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, and Kurt Vonnegut. Celebrities from actors, singers, writers, journalists, athletes, politicians, and even one president-elect have been interviewed by Playboy.

Even the women who have been honored with the title "Playmate" (as compared to those women who simply appeared in the magazine) can boast their own success stories. The ranks of the famous include Bettie Page, Jayne Mansfield, Stella Stevens, Cynthia Myers, Shannon Tweed, Kathy Shower, Pamela Anderson, and Jenny McCarthy.

Hefner, Playboy, and the Playmates have also taken part in events that have contributed society besides just offering pleasing images. The Playboy Foundation has been on the forefront in preserving the First Amendment from the very critics who would silence them. Playmate Rebekka Armstrong, the first and only Playmate with HIV and the AIDS virus, has been helping educate people on safer sex. Hefner, himself, has been instrumental in the restoration and preservation of the classic motion picture movies so that future generations will be able to enjoy them.

And yet, despite all the good things that Hefner and everyone associated with Playboy have done, the critics still manage to do everything in their power to demonize Playboy.

So who are these people who consider Hefner to be the devil incarnate?

Well let’s start off with that waste of oxygen that calls themselves the "American Family Association". Essentially it is a lobbying group with one goal - to turn America into a theocratic police state. Their leader, Gary Bauer, recently tried to run for President, and found out that people have a hard time supporting someone who resembles a cross between Adolph Hitler and that talking Taco Bell dog.

Let’s continue with the whining of Chicago Alderman Carrie Austin, who complains that Hefner made his money "on the backs of women." Austin was one of the people who used her power on that board to suppress the creation of "Hefner Way". So you want to talk about making money on the backs of women, Alderman? As compared to what? Using women as a human political shield to further your own legislative agendas? As exploiters go, politicians have done far more damage to women than any publisher ever could.

Then there is the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, who claims Hefner furthers "his social agenda of irresponsible sexual behaviors." You want to talk about irresponsible sexual behaviors? Who is responsible for premarital sex? It certainly isn’t Playboy. Try it is the Catholic Church, which has piously decreed that sex is for procreation only. Who is more responsible for the spread of AIDS? Playboy, which has pushed for safer sex? Or the Catholic Church, which has encouraged ignorance?

And then there are all of the allegations made by the Council that Playboy uses "pictures of infants and children." Allegations that were supposedly based on a book by anti-sex feminist Judith Reisman. Well I hope the Council has good lawyers, because such allegations could be considered very slanderous without any kind of credible proof. Speaking of which, given the number of lawsuits involving priests and alter boys, the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women should rather be looking towards their own church for pedophilia than trying to find fictitious allegations manufactured by a discredited author.

Then there are the jackals of this quasi-Inquisition, the journalists themselves. The members of the media who are ever so quick to grab the most baseless of quotes by the critics of Playboy, but are hesitant to summon even a quick soundbite from those who would speak in support of Playboy. People like Peggy Wilkins, who spoke to the press in support of Hef, but never received even one reference. I have yet to read in any of the news services how while the City Council was in debate, hundreds of people were lining up just down the street to see Hefner and some of the beautiful women by his side. I say again, HUNDREDS of people. Eligible voters, one and all, who would shout down the critics easily if given the chance. The press loves to proclaim themselves to be unbiased, but clearly their own bias shows when they pander to the moralists instead of adhering to their own proclamation of journalistic integrity.

Let’s get brutally honest here… There is a reason why the moralists have pulled out all the stops in trying to prevent "Hefner Way" from becoming a reality, and it is a reason that nobody would ever admit to.

They’re scared.

Up until now, moralists and theocrats have all taken comfort in belief that their dysfunctional philosophy would be eternal. Publications come and go. Oui magazine certainly didn’t last for very long. Clubs come and go. The Playboy Clubs, even though making a resurgence overseas, went out of business in the 1980’s. The faces of buildings change with every owner. Societal attitudes shift constantly. What was once liberal is now conservative, and vice-versa. Men certainly come and go. Hefner himself is in his seventies. But some things are constant. Churches remain. Universities remain. Street names remain.

The naming of a street after Hugh Hefner is a terrible symbolic blow to moralists. It means that Playboy is considered to be more mainstream than they would ever admit it to be. It would mean that the changes that Hefner has espoused through his Playboy Philosophy are more than just temporary, but something that has become a permanent part of society. This would not be something that they could zone out of view, or regulate to oblivion, or banish outright like they have piously done in the past.

And what a slap in the face it would be to moralists to know that there is a street called "Hugh M. Hefner Way" in Chicago! To know that there would be buildings with a street address saying "Hugh M. Hefner Way" in phone books and directories. To know that people would be giving directions using "Hefner Way" as a reference point. To one day turning on the TV set and seeing an ad for a business on "Hefner Way".

In short, it would mean that the moralists have lost.

Sadly for them, the moralists can only blame themselves. It is their dysfunction which created the need that made Playboy such a success almost fifty year ago. It is their zeal to censor that which offends them that summoned the curiosity of the public.

Playboy and Hugh Hefner have contributed much to society. They have helped challenge traditional prejudices about sex, women, and civil rights, and encouraged individual freedom, and subsequently individual responsibility. Things that the dominant religions in America and the traditional political groups have only given lip service to at best.

It is right to recognize Hefner for his achievements, and a shame on those who would attempt to squash it.

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