Perspective: Hugh Hefner’s moral depravity is finally laid bare in A&E’s ‘Playboy’ series

It was the outrage of the secular left that finally brought Hefner down, not the ‘puritanical’ religious right he long decried

When “Playboy” founder Hugh Hefner died in 2017, a laudatory obituary in The Washington Post called him a “visionary editor” who liberated the country from “the puritanical moral code of Middle America.”

The lengthy obituary devoted only two paragraphs to suggesting that Hefner’s anything-goes philosophy might not have been good for women, or anyone. The rest described a “brilliant businessman” and civil rights champion whose zest for life permeated both his magazine and the culture it helped shape.

It took five years, but an A&E series on “Playboy” has finally arrived to refute the fanboy fiction that has grown up around Hefner’s life and legacy. In “Secrets of Playboy,” director Alexandra Dean gives voice to the women closest to the bathrobe-clad shepherd of the sexual revolution.

The women’s stories are nauseating, describing a man whose boundary-free sexual appetite included beastiality, abuse and depraved depictions of sexual violence. Hefner was, as one former girlfriend of five years described him, a “monster.”

Dean said the interviews and the lasting trauma they revealed turned the documentary into “a much darker story than I had initially started to make.”

“(W)hen you look at what you’re really talking about, it’s this voracious sex addict who had to keep experimenting and pushing the boundaries of experimentation. There’s nothing fun and cute about that. It’s brutal. It’s terrifying. And there’s more than a little bit misogyny embedded in there,” she told Taryn Ryder, a writer for Yahoo Entertainment.

On one hand, none of this is new.

We might not have known the horrifying specifics about what went on at the fabled Playboy Mansion. But we knew enough to have known better than to have celebrated the man as cultural royalty. Society might have been able to plead ignorance about Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein and others whose behavior was hidden behind their wealth or celebrity, but the essence of Hef was all there in his magazine and the interviews he gave, and the ones that he published.

But Hef had a way of keeping the most untoward implications of his lifestyle closer to home, and downplaying the consequences. His brand had a way of casting religious types and “prudes” as the real danger. In one of the most memorable magazine pieces, then presidential candidate Jimmy Carter admitted to having “committed adultery in my heart,” which made Time magazine’s list of the “top 10 unfortunate political one-liners.”

Carter’s Playboy interview was “an uncomfortable moment for America,” according to Time, but it looks like the whole Playboy era was, too.

In 2003, Hefner told The Washington Post, “We live in a Playboy world now, for good or for ill.” Actually, we don’t anymore, at least not the Playboy world as Hefner envisioned it. This is made clear in the statement that Playboy issued to Yahoo Entertainment, dissociating itself from the founder.

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“The Hefner family is no longer associated with Playboy, and today’s Playboy is not Hugh Hefner’s Playboy. We trust and validate these women and their stories and we strongly support those individuals who have come forward to share their experiences,” a spokesperson said.

So, it turns out the “visionary” editor was in fact a degenerate hiding behind the money and success and a thin veneer of intellect. Hefner is now the one exposed. And ironically it wasn’t people of faith, with those “puritanical” values he found so offensive, that did the exposing. No, it was the secular left that did him in.

One of Hefner’s girlfriends says in the most recent episode of the A&E series, “I lived a luxury life, yeah, but I paid dearly for it. I will never know how to be a normal person.”

Was it really so “visionary” to see that sex could sell? Or so surprising that a libertine lifestyle would end in rot? Not really. As one person said to me this week, “Depravity’s course is utterly predictable.”

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