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The Sexual Politics of Unlikely Chicago Icon Hugh Hefner

"Perhaps the most important moment in gender politics in America occurred at a kitchen table in Chicago late in 1953," Tom Matlack writes at Huffington Post.

"A young man named Hugh Hefner borrowed a thousand dollars from his mom to publish a magazine that was originally going to be called Stag Party. But apparently there was already a Stag magazine about horses. At that kitchen table, Hefner put together the first issue of his new magazine and decided to name it Playboy after an automobile company that his mom had once worked at. He featured Marilyn Monroe on the cover . . .

"In the years since launching his magazine, Hefner has sparked a profound change in American culture that continues to frame the way we look at sex and gender. The first mass-market magazine to show naked women, Playboy gave birth to pornography as we have come to know it - a business that has blossomed into arguably the biggest single media industry in our country.

"No other man has had as profound an impact on both the conscious and sub-conscious way men look and think about women and their bodies. From Madison Avenue to Hollywood the way women are portrayed is either a direct result, or a direct rebellion against, the boulder that Hefner started rolling down that hill 50 years ago."

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That's why Matlack doesn't think NBC ought to air The Playboy Club, a show about Hefner's glory days in Chicago that is on the network's fall schedule. He has company from the (presumably) other end of the political spectrum.

"The Playboy Club won't air until the fall but it's already been deemed unsuitable for one NBC affiliate in Utah," CNN reports.

"Salt Lake City station KSL told the network that the '60s-era drama set in Hugh Hefner's famed Chicago establishment just doesn't fit with what the station aims to show its audience.

"'The Playboy brand is known internationally. Everyone is clear what it stands for,' said KSL President and CEO Mark Willes. 'We want to be sure everyone is clear what the KSL brand stands for, which is completely inconsistent with the Playboy brand.'"

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But what is that brand, really?

"For a lot of people, thoughts about the sexual politics of Playboy run along the lines of what Gloria Steinem reportedly once told Hugh Hefner: 'A woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.'" the University of Chicago Press says. "Hefner's magazine celebrates men as swinging bachelors and women as objects of desire; ergo, it's sexist.

"Not so fast, says Carrie Pitzulo. With Bachelors and Bunnies, she delves into the history of the magazine to reveal its surprisingly strong record of support for women's rights and the modernization of sexual and gender roles."

Maybe so, but isn't that a bit like a doctor trying to cure you after infecting you to begin with?

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Perhaps most remarkable about the story of Playboy, though, is that it happened here and not in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco or even Boston or Miami.

From Pitzulo:

"This time Hefner was put on trial when the city of Chicago prosecuted him over a nude pictorial of actress Jayne Mansfield.

"In June 1963, Hefner was arrested in his home for 'publishing and distributing an obscene publication.' Describing the experience to his readers in Playboy, Hefner wondered if 'the whole thing [was] just a bad dream caused by the frankfurters and Pepsi [I'd} consumed just before retiring.' The arrest was real, but some Chicagoans were not convinced. One Chicago Sun-Times reporter asked an obvious question, 'Why now? Playboy has been publishing nudes of voluptuous dishes for years.' Prosecutor John Melaniphy argued that the pictures in the June 1963 issue were different because a (fully clothed) man was shown on a bed with Mansfield, and the captions, which read 'she writhes about seductively' and said that she was 'gyrating,' made these particular photographs obscene."

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"Hefner argued, 'Chicago remains one of the few major cities in America that is dominated by a single religious denomination - that is, where a majority of the officials in power belong to one church and where their administrative decisions sometimes appear to be predicated more on religious dogma than civil law."

Still, Hefner was cleared on all charges.

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"You're Invited . . . There's a Party; Every Saturday Night in Playboy's Penthouse"
- Chicago Daily Tribune Jan 2, 1960

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"Pets Help Tell Plans for Parties"
- Chicago Daily Tribune Aug 31, 1961

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"HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY HITS IT RICH AT 35; Builds 20 Million Dollar Business How Playboy Hefner Struck It Rich at 35"
- Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb 11, 1962

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The trailer:

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Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on June 15, 2011


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