When I first heard that Hugh Hefner, godfather and embodiment of the Playboy empire, had died at the ripe old age of 91, I knew right away I had to say something about it. I was consumed with an odd mix of emotions. In the past coupe months, two heroes of mine have died (Nabeel Qureshi and Haddon Robinson), and now two days ago, a sort of antithesis to my heroes died.
The odd mix of emotions I felt was a combination of sadness (that a human life whom Jesus loved has ended) but also anger (at the empire and way of life this man created). With situations like these, Christians always find ourselves caught in an odd paradox. When Hitler or bin Laden died, were Christians to rejoice or grieve? What is the appropriate response? Yes, Jesus loved them but at the same time, they have left the world a worse place than they found it.
Many would disagree with me in the case of Hefner. Many see him as a secular messiah, coming to set the culture free from the restrictive bonds of sexual puritanism. He ’empowered women’ and broke the yoke which restrained them from fully expressing their sexuality.
But is that really the case?
I have read a number of articles already on how the Hef’s vision of the ideal woman has skewed and objectified them further and made them even more into objects than people. And I agree with them! I have seen countless women with a bunny-with-a-bent-ear tattoo, purse, shirt, or otherwise, and wondered why they would desire that for themselves.
Why would they want to be subjected to the brutal scrutiny of men, who would not love them or desire them, but merely their body (Or a more perfect version of it)? In essence, Hugh Hefner created a culture which convinced women that they wanted to be Playboy bunnies, thereby fueling his business and rocketing it to success. In a similar way to Planned Parenthood convincing lower-class neighborhoods they are doing them a service, Playboy promised to give women in the mid-1900’s sexual liberation.
With women brainwashed into wanting to be playmates, and men already desiring ‘the perfect female body,’ his market was cut out for him. Women clawed to grace the pages of Playboy and men tore copies from the shelves.
It all seems so glamorous, right? The elegant bachelor playboy and his beautiful harem around him: what could go wrong?
Ask the millions of boys who found discarded copies of Playboy on the sidewalks of America, perverting their eyes long before their time, placing upon their backs the burden of sexual shame.
Ask those same men who chased that dream, 50 years later in the basement of a cathedral in an SAA meeting. Sex Addicts Anonymous.
I’ve attended a number of these meetings, and I am consistently the youngest one. The ages reach all the way up to men in their 70’s, still grappling with the demons of lust and infatuation. If their wives are still with them, the flame of love is gone and the men feel no attraction to them. Their minds have been so numbed by these images of the perfect female form that any sort of reality is foreign and undesirable.
These are men who have lost hope in a good, healthy life.
These are men who would give anything to regain some sort of decency and innocence.
These are men who have been irreparably damaged by Hugh Hefner and his ‘dream.’
It’s a dream in which men can grow old yet remain suave and attractive, while women are discarded once they breach a certain age and begin to sag and wrinkle. This is evidenced by Hefner’s own life, as he married and discarded too many women to fit in Wikipedia’s bio sidebar, never mind the fact that he boasted over a thousand notches in his luxurious bedpost.
(I’m still baffled as to how this is supposed to be empowering to women…)
Not only did he treat women as decorative and entertaining objects, but he delved into the psyche of millions of men and convinced them that their lives are not good enough. Unless you’ve slept with too many women to count and have more money than you know what to do with, you’re doing it wrong.
The preacher of this sermon is now dead. He is survived by no family, but countless lovers; few friends but countless fans.
Solomon wrote, “A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct” (Proverbs 10:23), and “When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing”(11:7).
So we are left with the same question we began with: How do we respond to the death of a man who left a massively gratuitous, negative, and toxic mark on the world? I think that with any death, grief is first. Jesus did not design mankind to die. We bring that upon ourselves when we walk away from Him. We should grieve the loss of life. More than that, we should grieve the fact that Hugh Hefner (to our knowledge) did not know Jesus when he died, and lived a life apart from Him. That, for anyone, is tragic, especially in this case, where the knowledge of the Holy would have changed the course of Hugh’s life, and in effect, changed a gigantic portion of the culture he created.
But I am also grieving, or more accurately, I’m angry at how he lived his life while he was alive. His influence in my life, and the lives of countless men and women, has been nothing but destructive and toxic. He has split marriages and torn apart families. He has filled our eyes with unrealistic images leading to impossible expectations.
I don’t celebrate his death, I’m brokenhearted by the way he lived his life.
I want to be someone who sees men like this: men chasing notches in their bedposts and gratuitous wealth, and responds with love. While they are still alive, I have hope that they can change and be truly satisfied by the One who can completely satiate their desires. Men like Hugh Hefner need to be shown that they are loved and they can stop looking for it in their fast and shallow one-night stands; that they don’t need to impress the world with their wealth.
May we be people who grieve death in every form; people who show love to even the extravagant and misogynistic. May we be a light to the world as an example of true beauty, purity, and intimacy in our own relationships, that they may be more attracted to faithfulness than infatuation.
Hugh Hefner described himself as a boy with a dream, so may we be people with bigger and better dreams which leave the world better than when we arrived.