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Lewis Morris / February 3, 2022

The Real Problem With Hugh Hefner

A new documentary reveals that the smut peddler also committed serious crimes against women.

A recent A&E documentary on Hugh Hefner, the late founder and longtime publisher of Playboy magazine, has been creating a buzz in the media because it seems some folks have finally discovered he wasn’t that great a guy. Interviews with his former girlfriends and Playboy models reveal a sustained pattern of emotional and physical abuse, manipulation, and even rape while living in Hefner’s orbit.

Some of the accusations in the documentary are new, such as those by former Hefner girlfriend Holly Madison, who called Playboy “cult-like.” But others go back several years.

This all seems a delayed reaction to an issue that should have drawn more attention while Hefner was alive but for several reasons did not. Hefner, who died in 2017 at the age of 91, was framed in the media at the time of his passing as a pioneer in publishing, a fighter for freedom of the press, and even a supporter of women’s rights. Yes, people said that last part with a straight face.

It is true that Hefner used some of the profits from his magazines, casinos, and merchandising to support progressive causes. After 30 years of amassing a fortune peddling nude photos of women, Hefner recast himself in the 1980s as a philanthropic member of LA society. Several big names in entertainment helped with the public face lift, mostly actors, filmmakers, and rock stars who frequented Hefner’s Playboy Mansion parties, which were a rite of passage in Hollywood for decades.

This whitewash was an attempt to make the public forget that Hefner spent decades grossly objectifying women on an industrial scale. He became a multimillionaire for this exploitation, and along the way he inspired numerous “men’s magazine” imitators and made porn mainstream. The cultural damage caused by that was enormous and impossible to calculate. To put it mildly, porn is a significant problem in society today. It is far too easy to access, it is addictive, and it can lead to serious emotional and relationship problems.

Are we shocked that the man responsible for so much of this was also committing crimes against women?

Hefner’s defenders want to focus on how he helped empower women, or at least empower them as a misogynist might imagine an empowered woman to be. They also want to celebrate his support of progressive foundations and causes. Yet another example of leftists doing one thing and saying another, professing support for women while objectifying and abusing them for personal and political gain.

Hollywood and Hefner were a perfect match for each other — amoral and hypocritical. But the entertainment industry has done far more damage than Hefner ever did, even as “inspirational” as he was in smut publishing. Film, television, and music use sex to draw audiences almost as a matter of course in the modern era. Women are objectified to the extent that we rarely notice when it happens. The harm this has caused society is already evident. What is not evident is what can be done about it.

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