When Hugh Hefner died, I shared a piece that I thought was appropriate on social media – an article that decried the praise the deceased was receiving, reminding all of us that his legacy was one of broken innocence and the objectification of women. (You can read it here.)
Then somebody else reminded us that we can’t be one sided, because Hefner was nice to black people.
This cry of, “He wasn’t all bad!” assumes that those who are taking a stand against the culture he created are judging the man, but this is far from true. I’m a big supporter of the idea of intrinsic human value. Hugh Hefner’s life was no less valuable than my own. But we’re not talking about his value as a member of the human race, we’re talking about his actions and the repercussions produced by those actions.
Hefner hired a black reporter in the sixties and interviewed black people for his magazine. This is good. It took courage to do that. But frankly, not that much courage. This is a man who had been going against the social grain for most of his career; he knew what it was like to make people mad. He had money and social connections and status. It might have hurt him, but it also was likely to give him some great publicity in the rising counter culture that he was selling to.
(Besides, since when is ‘not racist’ some kind of saving grace? Is it just me, or should ‘not racist’ be a baseline for decent human beings? It doesn’t excuse bad behavior. I don’t get to be rude to my waitress, or lie to my friends, or kick my dog and then claim you can’t judge me because I support people of color.)
Most people have some kind of good in them. Hitler was a strong proponent of animal rights. That doesn’t somehow negate the evil he perpetrated. Hefner’s acceptance of African Americans was good, but it doesn’t negate the fact that he treated women* like meat and helped create a culture that encouraged others to do the same.
You can’t excuse Hefner’s encouragement of sexual deviancy because a little bit of the money he made off the sale of the images of young girls went to help fight for civil rights.
You can’t say something that’s bad was okay because it supported something that was good.
Turning people into objects to be consumed is evil.
Was Hefner evil? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. The ideas he promoted: that women are only attractive if they look a certain way, that their bodies are only valuable for the rise they produce in men, that youth and collagen are more desirable than character, that people’s bodies and images can be sold for profit – these ideas are evil, and standing against them isn’t being one-sided.
*What about the women who wanted to be part of it? Well, I don’t know any of them personally, but I can say that anyone who wants to turn themselves into an object for the consumption of others is hurting inside. Those women have my compassion, as do Hefner’s children and anyone else morning his passing. Because they are people, and people are valuable.
UPDATE: The inimitable Simcha Fisher has also written about this subject, and as usual, has surpassed my attempts in every way. Definitely worth a read, even if you’re not Catholic.