Hugh Hefner, the inventor of Playboy, has sold his idea of what sex should be with the winning fervor of a true believer, and while not exactly everyone has bought into it, he has enticed multitudes into his fold with the promise of as much pleasure as a body can manage in a lifetime, all of it perfectly innocent, of course.
Hefner himself is the Great Emancipator and the most influential figure that American popular culture has produced; no actor or movie director or singer or athlete has moved the life of our time as potently as he. Indeed, one is hard pressed to name more than three or four figures from the more serious precincts of our modern public life who have had an effect of comparable magnitude.
Only in America can a man whose declared ambitions were to bed innumerable beautiful women and get rich in the process make a mark deeper than those left by great writers or leading thinkers or most presidents. That this should be so might well appall writers and thinkers and most presidents, but they would have to acknowledge that Hefner got hold of the fundamental American longing as no one else had before.
Americans have always pursued happiness, usually without any clear idea of what they were after; Hefner demonstrated that it could be not only pursued but also captured, and he posted photographs of the quarry for proof.
17 May 2010
The Influence of Hugh Hefner
Commentary: The Playboy and His Western World