Hugh Hefner died this week aged 91. While still alive he bought his own burial site in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, right next to Marilyn Monroe's crypt. Poor Marilyn. She really didn't ask for this. They will lie side by side forever: the vulnerable woman who is still a masturbatory fantasy for millions of men, and the gazillionaire owner of Playboy, who ruthlessly exploited her images. In 1953, he ran the 'first ever' nude photos of Monroe. From then on, the smart, funny actress became a body. Ten years later, she died of a drug overdose.
Hefner famously made his playmates and hostesses wear bunny costumes. In an interview in 1967, Hefner explained why: "[It is] because it's a fresh animal, shy, vivacious, jumping – sexy. First it smells you, then it escapes, then it comes back, and you feel like caressing it, playing with it. A girl resembles a bunny. Joyful, joking." Jokey molestation and harassment of these sexy bunnies were part of the game. Men were encouraged to believe these employees loved the attention.
His parties, according to many of the women Hefner hired or slept with, were orgies. He took pictures of his lovers and criticised their bodies. Drugs, allegedly, were rife.
Some escapees from Hefner's kingdom claimed he had strange and cruel fetishes. Thinking about what went on (and still does) brings up a putrid whiff. I am incredulous that so many intelligent and talented females fell for this dirty old man.
Singer Belinda Carlisle appeared on Good Morning Britain and spoke lovingly about the 'wonderful' chap who was a friend of her husband, and the mag she posed naked in. Drew Barrymore, Debbie Harry, Farrah Fawcett and many others worked with the wily Playboy boss. Don't ask me to explain. I can't. Over and over again, females cheerfully proffer themselves to satisfy the lusty male gaze.
Among them are women who want to be taken seriously as artists. Some even call it a different kind of 'feminism'. They never ask themselves why, say, Matt Damon or Ryan Gosling never feel they have to appear naked in mags in order to affirm their worth. As perplexing are the accolades that have poured out from respectable people such as American TV host Larry King and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. He was a great guy, they say. Who cares that he objectified women for a profit?
After Hefner passed away, his son, Cooper, the chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, (who was photographed with his dad, both in purple silk pyjamas) said: "My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom...He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lies at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognisable and enduring in history."
Pass the sick bag. Relatives and apologists can spin myths but not even death, can they turn a soft-porn merchant into a cultural beacon.
Hefner did indeed change America and, in time, most of the West. He mainstreamed misogyny and untameable masculinity.
Trump could be the lovechild of Hefner. In fact the president featured in a Playboy cover in 1990, in a tuxedo, with his bits pressing into the butt of a smiling, airhead 'playmate'. Bill Cosby, now facing sexual assault charges, was a frequent visitor to Hefner's facilities. You shall know them by the friends they keep.
We feminists of the 70s loathed him and all he stood for. I remember one bonfire in Oxford in 1973, when we burned copies of Playboy and The Sun which featured its first topless Page Three model in November 1971 - and soon became Britain's bestselling tabloid. The bonfire burned bright. We sang Joan Baez songs. We were on to a loser. Female flesh has since been monetised by all publications, even right-thinking liberal outlets. Fashion shoots now make the female look available, spent, used or asking for it. They don't smile, but they give out a whole set of disturbing messages. So, Playboy led the way and the rest, shamefully, greedily followed.
The wider culture too has become pornified in ways that make Hefner seem a softie. Baroness Beeban Kidron, director of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, made a documentary film InReallLife in 2013. Watch it please. It shows young males getting addicted to hard, violent sexual images and videos and young girls who now think this is normal. Those hairless women's bodies in Playboy are now seen by ten-year-olds. Females are presented as pleasure stations for horny males. The notion, unchallenged, has become embedded in our culture. The Internet facilitates the degradation.
Hefner made our world coarse and glamorised sexism. He will not be missed by true feminists. Time, perhaps, for another bonfire to mark his passing.