Smut's Savvy Peddler

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

Born 12 days apart, the Queen and Hef embody what’s good and bad in modern culture.

When Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born to the Duke and Duchess of York on April 21, 1926, it would not have been expected that she would, by her 80th birthday tomorrow, have served as Queen Elizabeth II for nearly 55 years, presiding over the transformation of Empire to Commonwealth with skill and diplomacy, over five decades of public life with elegance and dignity, and over the serial fiascos of her children’s unruly lives with long-suffering patience. In many ways, the Queen greets her 80th as one animated by the disciplines and virtues of another — now apparently lost — age. Certainly her heir has not followed in her footsteps, to the great detriment of the Royal Family and the monarchy itself.

Born the same month in Chicago was Hugh Marston Hefner, an ordinary boy born into an ordinary family, who would, in time, preside over a vast pornography and commercial empire. He marked his 80th birthday (April 9) in Hefner style — a grand pajama party in which the girls were cheap and the self-congratulation lavish. Respectable news outlets covered Hefner’s birthday in, well, respectable fashion.

And why not? The stigma of pornography is much diminished. Hefner has made money in six decades. He has remained famous at the same time, an even more remarkable achievement in a celebrity-centred culture. And, above all, Hefner is just about the most influential cultural figure of the last 55 years — far more influential than the Queen Regnant herself.

That their birthdays fall 12 days apart is a just a coincidence. But their long, public lives frame the great cultural change of the postwar period. The essence of being a hereditary monarch is that one is born to certain duties, alongside of which are certain privileges. The Playboy philosophy, on the other hand, is that one is born with certain appetites, and the goal of life is to achieve enough privilege that they may be indulged, unrestrained by duties of any kind. The monarchy may reign, but it is the Playboy philosophy that rules.


The essence of being a hereditary monarch is that one is born to certain duties, alongside of which are certain privileges. The Playboy philosophy, on the other hand, is that one is born with certain appetites, and the goal of life is to achieve enough privilege that they may be indulged, unrestrained by duties of any kind.


The grandiose term “Playboy philosophy” was coined by Hefner himself, who has always fancied himself something more than a savvy peddler of smut. The Playboy philosophy, written in the early 1960s, is an extended (150,000 words) riff on the findings of Alfred Kinsey, the nowdiscredited but massively influential sex researcher. Hefner’s argument was that the sexual appetite was unruly (something one does not need Kinsey to confirm) and therefore should not be subject to rules, lest the personality be suffocated by repression. The Playboy philosophy argued that the uninhibited libido was the path of personal liberation.

That ran directly counter to the more traditional wisdom that the task of civilization was precisely to domesticate the appetites, so that the sexual energies of men in particular would be channeled toward marriage and children, upon which the future of a free and virtuous society depends.

The older wisdom disdained the playboy as just that — one who played like a boy instead of assuming the responsibilities of a man. Hefner’s philosophy was to recast the playboy not as a dissolute cad, but a refined sophisticate.

“What is a Playboy?” Hefner asked. “Is he simply a wastrel, a ne’er-do-well, a fashionable bum? Far from it: He can be a sharp-minded young business executive, a worker in the arts, a university professor, an architect or engineer. He can be many things, providing he possesses a certain point of view. He must see life not as a vale of tears but as a happy time; he must take joy in his work, without regarding it as the end and all of living; he must be an alert man, an aware man, a man of taste, a man sensitive to pleasure, a man who — without acquiring the stigma of the voluptuary or dilettante — can live life to the hilt. This is the sort of man we mean when we use the word playboy.”

Taste. Pleasure. To the hilt. Nothing about sacrifice, or endurance, or anything oriented to another. And it was, and remains, Hefner’s style not to say too much about the most relevant other: the women — or playmates, or bunnies. Like most poor philosophers, Hefner uses language mischievously. At the moment, he has a reality TV show featuring his three “girlfriends,” though most men who put their multiple sleeping partners on the payroll are not considered “boyfriends.”


Taste. Pleasure. To the hilt. Nothing about sacrifice, or endurance, or anything oriented to another. And it was, and remains, Hefner’s style not to say too much about the most relevant other: the women — or playmates, or bunnies. Like most poor philosophers, Hefner uses language mischievously.


That’s the difficult bit about the Playboy philosophy — the unrestrained male appetite requires a certain bit of servicing. The man who enjoys a nude layout alongside his book reviews and feature profiles requires somewhere a naked girl to do the posing. So Hefner devoted his energies and money to mainstreaming the porn industry. The married man suffocated in his marriage and seeking a little play on the side needs to be free of his wife. So Hefner’s philosophy championed easy divorce. And above all, the playboy needs to be protected from the threat posed by the child, so Hefner was zealous in promoting easy contraception and abortion. The explanation for why feminists let Hefner off so lightly is to be found in his longstanding generosity to the abortion industry.

The Playboy philosophy, much like its photographers, airbrushes out the blemishes. Hefner never mentions, and is rarely asked, about the role of his philosophy in creating a society of disposable marriages, wives and children. The link between pornography and sexual abuse and assault is unremarked. The staggering rebellion of nature against the playboy’s promiscuous practices, measured in the astonishing spread of sexually transmitted diseases, is kept discreetly out of sight, like an ugly girl who shows up at Hefner’s mansion.

The detritus left in the wake of the Playboy philosophy is most evident in the lives of those at the margins — the poor single mothers who have been abandoned by the men in their lives; the girls enticed into the seedy world of pornography, where walking the street is a more likely outcome than strolling the corridors of the Playboy Mansion; the children who have learned that their needs are secondary to the sophisticated needs of their playboy fathers. Yet the damage of the Playboy philosophy is not limited to those on the margins; it touches all strata of society — including the Royal Family.

It is a strange fact that the Queen would have been spared most of the trauma of her long reign if her children had taken more seriously their marital and family duties. The monarchy has not been assaulted from great forces without, but from something like the Playboy philosophy from within.

If the Prince of Wales had taken more seriously his duty to marry, rather than prolong his extended adolescence throughout the 1970s, he would have married Camilla thirty years ago and saved himself, and his future subjects, much grief. Even less, if he had simply kept his marriage vows to the Princess of Wales, he would not have humiliated and abased himself as he did. Instead, he ended up as all old playboys do — whining about how difficult it was for him to conform to his duties. His indulgent behaviour seems to have made its mark; last week the British press reported that Prince Harry was the “first royal” to visit a strip club. There was no comment from the Prince of Wales. What would he say?

Two long lives, utterly different, but archetypes for the cultural choices made these past generations. The playboy is above all indulgent, moved only by his own appetites. The prince is supposed to be different, putting the good of the realm above his own inclinations. A playboy prince is, consequently, an impossibility. At one time, when the young Queen took her coronation oath, that was understood.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Smut's Savvy Peddler." National Post, (Canada) April 20, 2006.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright © 2006 National Post


Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter

 

 

Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.