search instagram arrow-down

Copyright Notice

© rauldukeblog and The Violent Ink 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to The Violent Ink and rauldukeblog The Violent Ink with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Archive

Playboy and That Dead Whore Hanging in The Louvre.

Hugh Hefner, libertine, sociopath and postmodern Medici has died.

The clickbait paradigm of the media has weighed in offering the usual Coke vs Pepsi either/or binary faux choice so that one is, in theory, forced to choose between evil Hef the sexist boy-pirate (think peter Pan with a permanent Viagra induced hard-on) and good Hef (he published Margaret Atwood, and was pro-choice etc).

Of course reality is always more complex than either/or even when one has to choose between nothing other than bad or worse. The action one takes may be a question of this or that but as one of the great sages of moral ambiguity put it – the facts and the truth seldom have anything to do with each other.

Of course most journalists are not known for their subtlety and they are not generally employed for the purposes of providing nuance because nuance doesn’t generate clicks. Consider the resident conservative pseudo-intellectual at the stately NY Times, Ross Douthat who segregated bad capitalism (represented by Hefner) from something he does not define but we assume must by definition be “good capitalism.”

Heff, he tells us: “…was the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution, with quaaludes for the ladies and Viagra for himself — a father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis, a pretentious huckster who published Updike stories no one read while doing flesh procurement for celebrities, a revolutionary whose revolution chiefly benefited men much like himself.”

How exactly he knows no one was reading or has read those Updike stories he does not share with us though one assumes that by extension he means to condemn the NY Times Book Review editors and his colleagues who along with more or less the entirety of the American literary establishment have had nothing but praise for Updike but – far more importantly – let’s take a moment to observe that he does not mention Vonnegut, Atwood, Mailer, Kerouac, Marquez and a murderer’s row of literary talent that all took the fat paycheck and did the interview and had their work published alongside Miss October or November or so on.

And of course we don’t blame him as it would undermine his outrage if he did. Exactly what does one say about Marquez – Cardinal of the Writerly Left – if Playboy was good enough for him? Perhaps over cigars and the dialectics of torture he and Fidel only read it for the articles?

The point here of course is that as someone smarter than The Ink put it a long time ago, from the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing will ever grow. Douthat of course wants his morality to march in a neat line from a to b. With a few stops in-between for moments of outrage. So Hef is bad and yeah he published Updike but it must have been minor Updike and of course don’t give me that crap about only reading it for the articles and the stories. Except he betrays his outrage precisely because he doesn’t mention any of the other talents who also had their work published in the magazine and if he did we’d find ourselves knee deep in shades of grey. Marquez is hardly any sane person’s idea of a sexist pig but he is plenty of sane people’s idea of a hypocrite because he was pals with Castro and Castro tortured writers of whom he did not approve but was also against fascists of whom the government and the mafia of America did approve.

And of course he sure as hell isn’t going to mention Atwood who courtesy of Hulu and Trump is enjoying another round of well-deserved fame because criticizing the author of The Handmaid’s Tale would be like standing in water and kissing the electrified third rail of contemporary cultural politics. But that of course is exactly the problem and it reveals the shabby hypocrisy of the ass-clowns howling for Hefner’s blood or a posthumous burning at the stake. Is Atwood less of a feminist for publishing in Playboy or is Douthat more of a fraud for condemning her publisher? The answer of course is that Atwood is innocent and Douthat is guilty of being a morally parsimonious irritant – a sort of mosquito on a wearingly humid night that shows up just as you’re drifting off to sleep.

Oh dear what is a morally uptight NY Times journalist to do?

Well if you’re a professional jackass you double down and add this:

“Early Hef had a pipe and suit and a highbrow reference for every occasion; he even claimed to have a philosophy, that final refuge of the scoundrel.”

One assumes that italicizing philosophy is meant to convey the idea that Hef’s libertine decadence was a pose for…libertine decadence and not an indication that when Douthat hears the word culture he reaches for his keyboard. But we suspect it’s actually not that and what he really means is that as far as Douthat is concerned you can’t want sex, and make an image of what you want and celebrate it as an aesthetic based in turn on a set of guiding moral or libidinous ideals. You know, like Caravaggio and the gangsters who paid him to paint the Dormition of The Virgin – the masterpiece depicting the death of the Virgin Mary which hangs rightly, in the Louvre (that temple to freaks and fetishes) and for which he used a dead whore as a model for the mother of Christ.*(1)

Oh dear, what is a journalist to do with that?

The obvious answer is that they would take the bait and say you can’t seriously be making a comparison between Playboy and a Renaissance masterpiece to which we say oh yes we can and not because we think Miss January is as aesthetically brilliant as The Dormition but because even a cursory examination of the production of both images leaves any reasonable person (by which we mean of course to automatically exclude most journalists) in a quandary.

Caravaggio was a pimp, a rapist, a foul tempered cad and a genius who was paid in blood money by a gang of corrupt, murdering, pimps who used extortion, poison, incest, bribery and war as standard methods of business. You know, capitalism.

But of course as Douthat is in the business of writing journalism he’s not about to let annoying facts get in the way of a good rant and adds this:

“Sure, Hefner supported some good causes and published some good writers. But his good deeds and aesthetic aspirations were ultimately incidental to his legacy — a gloss over his flesh-peddling, smeared like Vaseline on a pornographer’s lens.”

Sure the Medici’s and the Borgia’s supported some good artists and some good causes but…that’s incidental to their legacy so let’s burn the Louvre to the ground…

But wait, there’s more – because here Douthat manages to stick the landing and be right but for all the wrong reasons.

“The things that were distinctively Hefnerian, that made him influential and important, were all rotten, and to the extent they were part of stories that people tend to celebrate, they showed the rot in larger things as well.”

Well, he’s right – Heffner was a pig. He was a sexist brute. And like it or not so were any number of other people including the ones who published works we consider to be foundational texts of our bipolar culture. The men we call Shakespeare for example got their money from that gang of chaste virgins the British ruling class of the 16th century. And not a murdering sexist pirate among them. And let’s face it, Lady Macbeth would make a spectacular centerfold.

What irritates here is not just the base hypocrisy of the media but the gross stupidity of a gang of people who somehow have been placed at the forefront of what charitably passes for the national debating society.

Which brings us to this:

“His success as a businessman showed the rotten side of capitalism — the side that exploits appetites for money, that feeds leech-like on our vices, that dissolves family and religion while promising that consumption will fill the void they leave behind.”

As if the good side didn’t rely on thousands of Chinese slaves at Foxconn or thousands of murdered women in Ciudad Juarez – as if you could walk through the eye of a needle with your stock portfolio and a golden parachute while texting on your iphone. It is not Hugh Hefner’s fantasies about the world that concern The Ink but Ross Douthat’s because he imagines some capitalist arcadia where it is his critical lens that is smeared with vaseline.

It is to weep except in a certain sense it’s also funny. This is what passes for intelligent thoughtful analysis at the “paper of record” and what passes for thoughtful moral outrage when in truth it is sophomoric nonsense wrapped in a flimsy patina of faux sophistication and imitation feminism. It is a typical, banal form of thought police rhetoric in which, aside from the nonsense about good capitalism vs bad capitalism there is ultimately a puritanical hate for eros.

Which brings us to genuine feminism wrapped in a flimsy patina of moral outrage.

Susan Brownmiller, also appearing in the stately pages of the grey lady, does not approve of Playboy anymore than Douthat, and she did not approve of Hefner and she tells us about her first encounter with him.

She and a friend appeared on the Dick Cavett show. With Hef. And after Rollo May (who saw in Playboy a masculine fear of impotence – where we see in May’s comment an impotent fear of sex)*(2) and before Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane.

And that’s really what matters but like a blind pig chasing the scent of a truffle she can’t see anything else. Yes, she was right dressing women up as bunnies was sexist (but then so is asking someone to wear anything that turns you on) and she was at 35 not a girl and Cavett sounds like he acted the fool. But here’s the problem. American culture is a clown car from which more people and things emerge than the car should be able to hold. It contains multitudes. Hefner and Rollo May? And Grace Slick and The Jefferson Airplane? It sounds like Bunuel on LSD as directed by either the Marx Brothers or Woody Allen. And that’s the dilemma – who gets to decide who and what emerges from the clown car? You don’t like Hefner? Ok fair enough as there are plenty of reasons to find him odious but what about the millions of people who found the Dionysian excess of Slick and The Airplane to be evil? They were wrong but you’re right? And of course what are we to do with the fact that the Cavett show was being brought to you by the same people who were bringing you industrial scale genocide in South East Asia –  Now With More Napalm – it smells like victory.

But Brownmiller, like Douthat is certain she’s right.

“I was startled to see glowing tributes posted by some of my friends. They go something like this: He shattered the sexual repression of the 1950s; he celebrated pleasure; he supported abortion rights, civil rights and free speech. Yes, he supported abortion rights, though so did our current president at one time.”

This of course is identical in its structure – in it elision – to Douthat’s erasure of those other writers except Updike. Brownmiller mentions that Hefner supported these other worthwhile causes but drops them and smacks his corpse with the fact that he was also a sexist. As if civil rights and free speech don’t count. And of course for the morality police they don’t. All that matters is that other issue. And so she links him to the hobgoblin in the White House as if Hefner ever had his finger on the button and gave rhetorical comfort to Nazis. And like it or not Hefner never switched sides out of political and/or narcissistic expedience. He was a postmodern Don Juan from start to finish.

But why stop there (Brownmiller continues):

“As Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in her 1983 book, “The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight From Commitment”: “The magazine’s real message was not eroticism but escape from the bondage of breadwinning. Sex — or Hefner’s Pepsi-clean version of it — was there to legitimize what was truly subversive about Playboy. In every issue, in every month, there was a Playmate to prove that a playboy didn’t have to be a husband to be a man.”

Well how dare he offer an alternative to the kapitalistic gulag. And are we to seriously let pass the idea that anyone – Ehrenreich Brownmiller or The Ink – is in charge of defining what is or is not erotic so long as it does not involve harm? (and by harm we mean pedophilia or injuring someone who is unwilling) Because if we are to allow it then we are no better than the people we condemn for being sexist or misogynistic or fascists. And exactly what is it about paradox that makes people of otherwise sober minded intelligence turn into gibbering clowns? History, reality, is a ten thousand year long parade of contradictions. As we’ve said elsewhere you want Born to Run then you also get the blasted wasteland of post-industrial America. You want Sgt Pepper than you also take post war England which means you also take the war and that means the camps and everything else because you can’t have one without the other.

We have no doubt that Hefner’s support for abortion was based on his belief that marriage and children were a trap- a threat to the libertine’s freedom.

And so what of it? Are we to say you can only be in favor of abortion for the reasons we provide? And just as importantly the fact is, regardless of the tactics he employed or was guided by, his position is a legitimate critique of the tyranny of capitalism. That he was also essentially a good capitalist opens him to criticism of capitalism but attacking his desire for young leggy blondes is like attacking Nixon because he had a ski ramp for a nose while ignoring the fountains of blood pouring out of the faucets in The White House.

We have no doubt that Lolita is a badly written book that offers a perverse (but honest) view of the spectrum of appetites that exist between men and women. And we will defend to the death the right of its author to have written it and his publisher to have printed it and of directors to have filmed it and the same goes for Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce and Anne Desclos and Anais Nin and whether anyone likes it or not we have no doubt that over the years tens of thousands of people have gone to The Louvre and sat in front of that long dead whore who was fished out of the Tiber and been aroused and gone home and engaged in any number of fantasies that would if made public almost certainly cost them everything. But above all else it would cost them the freedom to go to The Louvre…just for the articles.

*1. As an example of Douthat’s ignorance we turn the reader’s attention to a story from the mid 19th century. Charles Baudelaire, high as kite and/or hungover, went to the Louvre with what he described as a five franc whore and was amused beyond his wildest opium fueled dreams when she was scandalized by the nude statuary. How, she wanted to know could she be threatened with prison for a fuck when the state, which was threatening her, was paying to house whole rooms filled with whores. Baudelaire’s response was that hypocrisy was the common fact of human existence.

*2. Regarding Rollo May’s criticism of Hefner May said:

‘(Playboy represented) a new puritanism’ and a repressed anxiety among American men about impotence and intimacy with women. ‘You see a strange expression in these photographed girls,’ he wrote: ‘detached, mechanical, uninviting, vacuous … Playboy has only shifted the figleaf from the genitals to the face.’

This quote is taken from yet another antagonistic postmortem of Hefner. In this case it is in the regal pages of The London Review of Books and it too suffers from the same derangement syndrome where in certain key (and contrary and thus annoying facts) are elided.

But first to May. The idea of the fig leaf being shifted from the genitals to the face is wrong in two ways. First it ignores the history of pictorial art in which the fig leaf fell away centuries before Playboy (Renaissance art appears chaste but only because one is ignorant of the embedded codes of sexuality. Once one knows the codes the fig leaf becomes meta and irrelevant except as a means to assuage the censors). And secondly, and far more revealing of May’s attitude than Hefner’s, is the inescapable subjectivity of the judgment behind the statement that the fig leaf now covers the face. That there is a aesthetic to Playboy’s photos is undeniable. That different people may find that look erotic is also undeniable except to people with an emotional tourette’s syndrome that compels them to tell others what they can and can not find erotic or even if it allows for the triggering of desire, that is then condemned for being an inappropriate response based on mental illness or a lack of proper adjustment – as defined by May and others who, one assumes are only aroused in the proper manner.

As to the otherwise intelligent August Kleinzahler, the author of the stake where he burns Hefner, he may have committed a rather unintentionally hilarious Wiley E Coyote on himself.  Kleinzahler’s main point, a sort of damning with stifled yawn versus the fire and brimstone of Douthat, is to paint Hefner as a Midwestern goon; a parvenu aspirant of the tawdry baubles of lesser capitalist consumer society – cheep rather than truly subversive – sexual zirconia rather than the hard phallic edge of cutting diamonds to be found, one assumes, where the sophisticati read the London Review of Books and Story of O – in French.

Except, amid a fairly astute riposte to all the Hefner bashing we find Camille Paglia riding to the defense and pointing out that on his father’s side of the family, Hefner is descended from Mayflower stock. Alas Paglia offers no proof and even if it were true that doesn’t mean that, seperated by a few centuries, Hefner couldn’t have become a Midwestern Babbitt of Sex aspiring to the ultimate booster club – a Rat Pack-esque manse full of Barbie dolls, and hip dudes always ready to shag. But we here at The Ink, are mindful of being open to being wrong about any number of things. Including how otherwise baronial publications and their authors can get the facts if not completely wrong than partially incorrect.

Beyond that though there remains the same dismissive tone. In the London Review it is the practiced ennui of the haute intellectual. In the NY Times it’s the outrage of the would-be haute intellectual concerned that they will be accused of either being too elitist or not elitist enough. Regardless – they’re all wrong. Or they’re right but for all the wrong reasons.

Kleinzahler can be read here:

https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2017/09/28/august-kleinzahler/the-conventional-mr-hefner/

Paglia:

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/camille-paglia-hugh-hefners-legacy-trumps-masculinity-feminisms-sex-phobia-1044769

Douthat and Brownmiller can be found via search engine by inserting their names and Hefner or their names and Playboy.

 

Advertisements
Leave a Reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: