Hugh Heffner’s vision of Playboy magazine has become an American icon that has seeped its way into a permanent place in pop culture. Sad to say, this icon is about to fade more than a bit away with talks of Playboy Enterprises Inc selling for as much as $300 million.
Hefner, at age 83, is ready to relinquish control over the lusty empire he created that had such a profound impact on societal attitudes about nudity, sex and free speech. He came a long way from 1953 when he published the first Playboy magazine for $600. The partially nude centerfold featured none other than Marilyn Monroe.
There have been few if any publications more successful than Playboy magazine. It filled a niche, which although highly chauvinistic, nevertheless forced a new brand of less-uptight thinking about sexual mores. Always posed in his pajamas and surrounded by a bevy of buxom beauties, Hefner came to symbolize the quintessential, carefree bachelor with both money and time to burn for his own hedonistic whims
In the words of Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University:
“This guy was one of the major players in the transformation of American culture in the second half of the 20th century and not just because he had a magazine with naked women in it. Certainly, when I talk to my students, I don’t get a sense they’re feeling guilty about the good deal of fun they’re having.”
While some may beg to differ with this assessment, In 1972 Playboy had a worldwide circulation of 7 million. Ironically, that figure has been on a downward spiral ever since because the liberal attitudes Hefner promoted became more acceptable and expected, rendering the taboo and exotic qualities of the magazine more mainstream.
Playboy magazine had its rivals; namely, Penthouse and Hustler. By the 1980s, adult videos were ubiquitous and by the late 1990s, free pornography on the Internet proved a formidable adversary that Playboy could not vanquish. The telltale signs of withering fortunes came as Heffner had to relinquish some of the symbols of wealth to which he had become accustomed, such as a private jet plane with a bedroom and miniature disco.
High Heffner became a celebrity in his own right, dating numerous Playboy models throughout the years and eventually enjoying the dubious stardom of a reality television show on cable network E called, “The Girls Next Door.” His dating life and break-up with model Holly Madison were constant fodder for celebrity magazines.
Heffner has publicly stated that he has liberated America from its Puritan past and he has a point. Playboy magazine did render sexual content and images more acceptable to Americans. It also did a bit more than expected as it reflected the epitome of a lavish lifestyle with its presentation of stylish clothing, fine liquor and luxury sports cars.
Steven Watts, author of Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream, stated:
“All that kind of stuff just piled up issue after issue, promoting that idea of consumer abundance as being synonymous with the good life in this country… and Hefner is very important in promoting that idea.”
Who could possibly step up to the plate and fill this icon’s shoes?
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