Don’t blame Hefner for your son’s Brazzers obsession

A MAN IN HIS MILIEU: Entrepreneur Hugh Hefner forever immortalized the bunny costume, but is he the worst person on the planet for doing so?

In my adventures as a sports reporter for a community newspaper, I’ve covered high school games. And one time, when I found myself rinsing my kidney in the lavatory, before my eyes was the word Brazzers written in thick, black Sharpie.

Now, for most adult males you know what that is. I don’t need to explain the website that’s borne from the ranks of Penthouse, Club International, and Hustler.

In shorthand, it’s NSFW content. Very unsafe.

And it begged the question of me. How far have we gone when it comes to what’s passable for acceptable pornography? When we were teenagers in the 1990s, it was still a taboo to come across your father’s Playboys.

My father was not so much a Playboy reader but the harder stuff. So, that explains why I’m aware of Swank, Genesis, High Society and Club. Blue collar. Enough said.

I preferred Playboy. Take from that what you will. But, I did read the articles and short stories that were composed by some of our most celebrated writers: Hunter S. Thompson, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Jack Kerouac.

When it comes to Playboy though, there’s no doubt Hugh Hefner is a divisive character. There’s also no doubt that he became a parody of his former self, especially during the Viagara era. That alone conjures up Aaron Eckhart’s quote from The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

But, to place Hugh Hefner in league with Bob Guccione and Larry Flynt is a trifle unfair.

One friend posted a polemic written by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. In short, I found it a completely ignorant diatribe that smacked of self-righteousness and born-again Christian zeal.

I should know about born-again Christian zeal. One of my closest friends from high school read me the riot act for wanting to pick up a copy of Cindy Crawford’s second appearance in Hefner’s magazine back in 1998.

Yes, it’s a sin to look at Herb Ritts’ photography of a famous supermodel. Clearly, the general population has no idea what fashion editorials are.

And that’s the interesting point. What is pornography these days? I gather it’s rather unfair to base it on one column written by a religion reporter but flipping through the pages of European fashion mags, one will see just as much nudity.

Playboy, at most, had three pictorials, unlike Penthouse which was cover-to-cover skin. The rest was editorial content ranging from purple prose to sports features, token 20 questions, interviews, dating columns – written by women – and the lot.

Whenever people rant about Playboy, they never cite the words of women who posed for the magazine. It’s as though their thoughts are irrelevant or contrarian. There’s no attempt to ask the women who have posed for the magazine what their intentions were. They’re adults. A majority of them are university educated too.

As an entertainment reporter, I’ve interviewed multiple models in my travels as a journalist. Many have used the opportunity to springboard into another industry through their experience. For one, Anissa Holmes, it was a bucket-list item. I’m friends with a handful of photographers who have also shot for the magazine.

There is a certain decorum and respect among them. But people don’t bother to ask. They don’t bother to research.

This brings me back to my original observation of what high schools boys talk about now on the sidelines of sports games or what’s written in the washrooms of schools. Brazzers is an extreme deviation from the romanticized tale of discovering a Playboy.

With the Playboy empire crumbling, trying to find a business model that will help sustain the bunny logo and all its past glory and pop-cultural relevance, they’re relevance is near death. Look at Penthouse and Hustler, and they’re still relevant, to those who care.

Why? Because pictures of just nude women artistically displayed are pedestrian for a de-sensitized audience. You can’t blame Hefner for that. Perhaps he broke down conservatism regarding nudity and the female form, but Guccione and Flynt helped set up the smut industry, develop it and turn the San Fernando Valley into the industry’s home base.

Most people lack the interest in finding out more about the porn industry, which is how Hefner gets lumped into the masses. They follow the mindset of Edwin Meese during his days in the Reagan administration. I find there is still a conservativeness to the whole discussion.

I mean, we still go to art galleries and admire the artwork of Peter Paul Rubens. I ask, legitimately, was the art lost when we picked up cameras instead of paint brushes? Is it the grand orchestrator that we admonish rather than the instruments?

Why admonish Hefner at all? He’s honestly not relevant anymore if we really want to deconstruct the current state of the pornography industry.

But that’s another discussion to disrobe during another zeitgeist.

 

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About the author

Toronto-based journalist, fighting the power one deadline at a time.

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