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A documentary series on Playboy and Hugh Hefner is an eye opener in many ways – a ‘progressive’ yet sexist man, Hefner built an empire, but did so by reducing women to their lowest being.
I was watching the Playboy documentary on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a 10 episode series detailing the life of Hugh Hefner called American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story. These are my thoughts after watching the whole series.
Playboy is credited in bringing Sex out of the closet for 1950’s America and redefining masculinity.
Hugh Hefner hired many women, but actively objectified them as ‘bunnies’ and ‘playmates’. The term bunny or playmate while being used for a woman as she is dressed in a costume while serving drinks or dealing cards, degrades her to an object, and she stops being a human being with rights and feelings.
Though this section is but a footnote, the Bunnies are shown as the happiest people and Playmates as the ultimate goal for a young woman. But by this same definition older women and women who didn’t conform to the popular idea of beauty were considered as unworthy, and the entire identity of the woman was her body and her ability to be photographed naked.
Hefner hired women as personnel incharges of the Bunnies and called them ‘Mother Bunnies’ which is nothing but how patriarchy holds up itself in society by recruiting women to the ideology to enforce it on other women! I doubt any of Playboy’s male employees would have liked their official designations and identities to be Bunnies or Playtoys or so on.
Hefner didn’t invent naked women posing for photos but he did take the idea and used it to sell everything else he wanted to. There are very few women who feature in the documentary who hadn’t posed naked or been objectified in some way.
The series touches upon the scandals, Hefner’s failings as a married man, and a father. I also give kudos to the series for dwelling on the critisism the brand recieved by feminists of the time like Gloria Steinem with Hefner deciding that this was not a fight he could win.
The series also shows an interview Steniem did with Hefner where he responded by saying that he believes “women are attractive to men” to which Steniem responded that, “yes and men are attractive to women but that can’t become their entire identity, when you call women bunnies you have made them objects, women are not animals”. This interview happened after she went undercover as a bunny in a Playboy club and wrote about it.
I understand that he built an empire. He also brought to light a lot of issues like getting sex out of the closet, racism, abortion, he redefined masculinity, and supported women’s right to vote in some instances, gave employment to women when no one did.
But this he did by objectifying women, always. Any time the magazine or the business had a setback he made the female models more nude. He wanted to be seen as the good man with principles and an ally to women, but he just couldn’t see what he had reduced women to! He ran away from monogamy while expecting his girlfriends to be monogamous to him. And at the age of 60 and 70 decided to get married, because now that you are old you need a partner to look after you.
I believe that we cannot judge a past generation by the yard stick of the current one. Maybe what they did then was indeed revolutionary. The definition of what is right keeps changing, so perhaps Playboy was revolutionary for its time on the conversations it encouraged. It was after all a men’s magazin,e but it soon became more in its own monstrous garb and defined sex only from a male point of view!
He called Playboy a ‘progressive brand’ and said he got people talking about sex at a time when more puratian tendencies of society was encouraged.
The truth however is that he got sex out of the closet only for one gender while actively grinding down the other gender. The epitome of male entitlement, he also identified as an ally to the women’s movement.
The documentary is well made in showing how a geeky man Hugh Hefner turn an idea of a ‘progressive men’s magazine’ into reality and slowly becoming the brand himself!
The documentary takes you through various periods and different generations of America and the main turning points for American culture and for Playboy the company.
It was very interesting seeing the birth of an idea, the hustle, the various fights the company had with censorship but I must say it feels heavily tilted in its narrations.
Image source: YouTube
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