Saturday, October 1, 2011
The Playboy Contradiction
In spite of protest from numerous feminist, religious, and anti-porn groups, NBC has decided to include The Playboy Club, a drama which glamorizes Hugh Hefner and his pornographic Playboy Enterprise, in its fall prime-time schedule. Amongst vociferous opposition, the pilot episode aired on September 19th. It has been described by NBC as “a sophisticated series about the transitional times of the early 1960’s and the complex lives of a group of working-class women.”
NBC claims that the content is consistent with broadcast network standards, but even so, the show consciously promotes the Playboy Enterprise as a respectable institution, and Hugh Hefner as a champion of social progress. This philosophy was most clearly seen towards the end of the first episode, when Hugh Hefner waxes philosophical about being a rebel out to change America for the better. Hefner is portrayed as an American icon, a rebel with a cause. As a self-proclaimed “pamphleteer” of Alfred Kinsey, Hefner’s cause was to normalize the Kinseyan philosophy and make it an acceptable part of the social and moral framework of America. This was all done under the guise of glamour and sophistication. Only classy gentlemen frequented the Playboy Clubs, and Playboy magazine appealed to refined and discriminating men.
As mainstream pornography gained a foothold, and evolved into more hardcore forms, Playboy continued to thrive, and was held to a higher standard of “tasteful, artistic adult entertainment.” Eventually, Playboy did venture into more hardcore forms of pornography, but it was still considered by many to be the “gold standard” of adult entertainment. While magazines like Hustler were considered offensive and lude, Playboy was considered provocative and glamorous, and the Playboy Mansion became the Buckingham Palace of the pornographic industry.
The series Playboy’s Penthouse painted a lifestyle of lavish wealth and sophistication. Girls Next Door carried on this tradition, and life inside the Playboy Mansion was seen as carefree, fun, and glamorous. But just how glamorous is this lifestyle?
Former playmate Izabella St James, in Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors, describes life in the Playboy Mansion and her experience as one of Hugh Hefner’s live-in girlfriends.
While in law school, Izabella was spotted by Hefner in an L.A. bar. She was then approached by one of his “party posse” of platinum blondes, and invited to parties at his home. In January 2002 she was invited to live with him in the Playboy Mansion – but, reality of life inside the mansion was far-removed from the exciting, glamorous life portrayed on television.
She described the mansion as dingy and filthy, with furniture falling apart, and dog excrement and urine on the carpets. “‘Although we all did our best to decorate our rooms and make them homey, the mattresses on our beds were disgusting — old, worn and stained. The sheets were past their best, too. Eventually I persuaded Hef to pay for a new mattress and bed linen — but I had to turn in every single receipt before I was reimbursed.”
The environment was completely controlled by Hefner, and the girls experienced little to no freedom. They were required to adhere to a strict 9 pm curfew, and attend all required functions with Hefner, which consisted of being paraded around at the same bars night after night. They would attend parties and awards events, but as she recalls, they would never have the opportunity to socialize or meet anyone because they would only stay long enough to have their photo taken with Hefner.
Over the years, Hefner has portrayed himself, and the philosophy of his empire, as a champion of sexual freedom and liberation. What a stark contrast to life inside the Playboy Mansion, where the women are completely controlled and dominated by Hefner. Kendra Wilkinson, one of Hefner’s main girlfriends in the series Girls Next Door, recalls how his staff noted every time one of the girls left or arrived back at the ¬Mansion. Hefner would pore over the logs every morning, which, Wilkinson said, drove her ‘insane’.
‘It was way more strict than my parents had ever been,’ she says.
As residents of the Playboy mansion, the girls were also required to attend “sex nights” in Hefner’s bedroom on Wednesdays and Fridays. Izabella St James describes the experience as follows:
I wanted to see of this King of Sexdom knew anything the rest of us did not. But he just lay there like a dead fish......He must know deep down that it is just a show, but he is trying live out this fantasy that he has been selling to people since 1954. He wants to live up to the Playboy image he created and the expectations people have of him.
In her two-and-a-half years in the mansion, she reckons “she lad less than 15 intimate minutes” with Hef.
In exchange for their services, Hefner would give them $1,000 a week, counted in cash from his safe. She recalls how all the girls would line up in Hef’s room each week to receive their allowance.
Every Friday morning we had to go to Hef’s room, wait while he picked up all the dog poo off the carpet — and then ask for our allowance: a thousand dollars counted out in crisp hundred-dollar bills from a safe in one of his bookcases.......We all hated this process. Hef would always use the occasion to bring up anything he wasn’t happy about in the relationship. Most of the complaints were about the lack of harmony among the girlfriends — or your lack of sexual participation in the “parties” he held in his bedroom.
Jill Ann Spaulding, an aspiring model, tells of her own experience at the Playboy Mansion, and one of these private parties:
Another girl led me into Hef’s master bedroom. The only light was coming from two TVs on which adult films were showing. All the other girls were there, dressed like me in pink pajamas.....If you kept your pajama bottoms on, that was a sign that you didn’t want to have contact that night...... I was terrified. They were all looking at me, including Hef from the bed — just staring straight at me. I said firmly that I couldn’t join in.....Hef looked absolutely furious, and one of the girls hissed at me that I was disappointing him. I didn’t care. Hef’s face was like thunder but I was left alone.’
Izabella St James also recalls how Heffner would often feed the girls quaaludes to “put (them) in the mood for sex.”
What a stark contrast to the Playboy Mansion that we see on television. It seems like the Playboy Mansion is less a bastion of sexual freedom than it is a polygamous compound.....and no wonder. The 60-year old Playboy Empire touts a philosophy of sexual freedom, yet is driven by a completely antithetical philosophy, where women are treated as commodities. After all, this is Hugh Heffner’s personal philosophy. In an interview with the Daily News, Hugh Heffner said:
The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects. If women weren't sex objects, there wouldn't be another generation. It's the attraction between the sexes that makes the world go 'round. That's why women wear lipstick and short skirts.
Hefner has always claimed to be a champion of women’s rights, but in a secret 1970 memo, which a female secretary leaked to the press, he stated: “What I’m interested in is the highly irrational, emotional, kookie [sic] trend that feminism has taken....these chicks are out natural enemy. It is time to do battle with them.”
Hefner’s view of women stems from his view of sexuality in general. As a self-proclaimed prophet of the new morality, he scoffed at the Judeo-Christian ethic upon which America was founded. In a 1966 interview with William Buckley, Heffner downgraded Biblical Christianity as a foundation for ethical standards and behaviour:
“What I attack is the notion that right and wrong should be related simply to the notion of sin, simply to a notion of “thou shalt not,” rather than the real ultimate interests of the human beings involved........ I think this search for a new ethical set of moral values based on something other than simply rigid rules set forth many, many centuries ago is something from only which good can come”
Rather, his philosophy stems from the idea that no sexual activity is deviant, and that taboos are simply mechanisms by which to repress natural human instincts:
“Part of the Sexual Revolution was bringing irrationality to sexuality, and that means it’s sometimes within the bounds of marriage, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s heterosexual, sometimes it’s homosexual. But it should be done in an enlightened way and should not be done in secrecy.”
Perhaps the only place where “irrationality” and “enlightenment” are congruent is within the confines of the Playboy mansion, where Hef’s girls enjoy “sexual freedom” under the strict and watchful eye of Hefner. While the media portrays the mansion as a pleasure palace, where its residents live in harmony and carefree, glamorous bliss, those with the inside scoop describe the Mansion as a squalid prison, and a life with Hef as a life of servitude.
When I first read the accounts by Hefner’s ex-girlfriends, I immediately recalled accounts of people involved in radical cults, where a guru-type leader would use his position and authority to control cult members, and gain sexual favors from them. While I am not saying that Playboy is a cult, I am saying that there is a similar dynamic going on.
Throughout the years, Hefner has made a name for himself, and is revered by many as pioneer and an entrepreneur. Lured in by the fantasy of glamour and sophistication, many young girls dream of being a Playboy centerfold, or having a pictorial done of them. They see it as a way to make money, and a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Furthermore, shows like Girls Next Door and movies like House Bunny paint Hefner as a kind, caring elderly man who simply loves beautiful women. Those who agree to become one of Hefner’s live-in girlfriends typically do so with the aspiration of becoming a centrefold, but according to St. James, girlfriends were not allowed to become playmates because they tended to flee the mansion as soon as they collected their $25,000 Playmate cheque.
Why would they flee the mansion if life as a live-in girlfriend was so grand?! Furthermore, if the Playboy philosophy of women’s liberation being directly tied with sexual liberation is true, then why the need to keep his girlfriends under lock and key, controlling their every move, and bribing them with cars, clothes, cash, and other accolades? Wouldn’t it be more in line with the Playboy philosophy to allow the girls their freedom, and to explore their sexuality outside of the confines of the Playboy mansion?!
It appears that the Playboy philosophy stops at the doors of Hef’s compound, and that life inside the mansion isn’t as glamorous as the producers of Girls Next Door want you to believe it is.