When Hugh Hefner launched Playboy magazine in 1953, he could not have imagined how vital he would become in the defense of the First Amendment and free speech in the U.S.
On September 27, 2017, American icon and guardian of the First Amendment, Hugh “Hef” Hefner died at 91 years old. He died as he lived, comfortably in the Playboy Mansion, surrounded by his loved ones, and, one would assume, an entourage of beautiful women. A huge part of his controversial image stemmed from the fact that Hef was a patriot and ardent defender of free speech, women’s liberation, and civil rights. If there’s one thing we’ve learned recently, exercising free speech tends to ruffle feathers. Responding to the news of his death, fellow ruffler of feathers and free speech crusader, Milo Yiannopoulos, called Hef “a role model to handsome, promiscuous, wealthy men everywhere,” concluding, “We shall not see his like again.”
Hef was not just the man that created America’s most iconic adult-oriented, sexually-liberated publication, Playboy, as he actively fought against both censorship and discrimination of all stripes. The adage “sex sells,” doesn’t just apply to cars and beer, and Hef wasn’t selling magazines, he was selling social, political, and cultural upheaval, using Playboy as currency.
A compatriot in the battle for the First Amendment, Milo reflected, “Were I not Yiannopoulos, I should like to have been Hefner.” And let’s be fair, there are very few who would not. While it’s easy to see Hef’s public image as a womanizer – just the monosyllable, “Hef” is enough to conjure images of a parade of scantily-clad Playboy Bunnies – he was dedicated to promoting a positive image of women in an era of prudish social conservatism. Hef’s opposition to social and legal persecution based on sexuality wasn’t limited to women, as he advocated for the rights of the gay community long before it became fashionable. He posited that failing to stand up and fight for gay rights would risk a societal return to a more “puritanical time.”
Hef’s devotion to the First Amendment was total, and his daughter, Christie, established the “Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award” to recognize individuals who contribute to the defense of those rights. As norms shifted towards social liberalism, Hef stayed well ahead of the curve. Though the experiment failed, Hef supported the ill-fated decision to remove most nudity from the magazine, but as a former cartoonist himself, was hesitant about the removal of the cartoons. Even though the decision was reversed, the fact remains that Playboy was never about nudity so much as affecting change. In a statement, Milo explained from his own Hef-esque luxury estate, the Meme Mansion, “He will be remembered as a forward-thinking visionary who created job opportunities for women across America.”
Unlike modern “feminists,” Hef never dictated to women what was in their best interest. His stance was that women were capable of making their own decisions. Even as neo-feminists celebrate his passing, devotees of America’s fundamental freedoms will mourn the passing of a national hero. Hef was the embodiment of the American Wet Dream, an aspiration we should all strive for.