I recently saw this interview and just knew I needed to republish it here. It is from the PBS public affairs show Firing Line. Taped on September 12, 1966, William Buckley interviews the founder of Playboy Enterprises, Hugh Hefner.
The interview is benign as far as “explicit” subject matter goes, and aside from Buckley’s use of the word “hell” is a pretty clean interview. I found the whole interview interesting for a number of reasons. First, it is sort of funny to watch Buckley squirm in his chair as he speaks to this icon of sexual liberation. Second, I have a big appetite for ethical philosophy. If you don’t, you might find the whole thing a little dull. Third, it is an interesting opportunity to hear the so-called “Playboy philosophy” without actually needing to open the magazine to read it (people just buy it for the articles, you know).
The whole interview is 48 minutes. You can watch it here, on Vimeo, or find the playlist on YouTube.
Playboy Leads to Monogamy?
What I found interesting was Hefner’s comments about how the Playboy philosophy actually can encourage monogamy. Hefner doesn’t develop his thought very far, but it seems his argument is this: American culture has inherited a “repressive” sexual ethic from its “puritanical” and Victorian past. When our sexuality is repressed, publicly we may seem moral, but privately our sexuality becomes frigid or perverse, neither of which is healthy for monogamous relationships. If we reject the notion that all extramarital sex is immoral or unhealthy (which Hefner calls a more “realistic” view), then we are more likely to find happy monogamy.
Keep in mind, when Hefner says “monogamy” he is not talking about till-death-do-us-part marriage. Over a year ago, when he commented on Tiger Wood’s adultery, he said monogamy is nice for raising kids, “but the notion that monogamy lasts forever is a wish!” When Hefner talks about monogamy he is talking about commitment and honesty. “I think that when you are in a relationship, you should be honest,” says Hefner, “The real immorality of infidelity is the lying.”
We see the Playboy philosophy a lot today. Generally, it is acknowledged that monogamy is good for society, but why settle into marriage too soon? Perhaps Hefner’s own life is a perfect demonstration of how the Playboy philosophy “encourages” monogamy. In just a couple months Hefner, now 85, plans to give up his harem and get married to his third wife. Finally, more than 50 years after the first Playboy issue, Hefner finds true love.
The Porn Myth
For guys who don’t live in the Playboy mansion, they have embraced a different kind of harem before they settle down. This harem isn’t found in the flesh, but online, where literally millions of virtual women are at their fingertips. Has this digital-playboy lifestyle encouraged monogamy? Absolutely not.
Feminist author Naomi Wolf writes in her thought provoking article, “The Porn Myth,” what she notices talking to young people all around the country.
Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman…possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification?…
For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.
One of the greatest problems with pornography is not that it shows us too much sex, but that it doesn’t show us enough. What I mean by this is porn treats sex one-dimensionally, packaging it in pixels and ripping it from its relational context. It titillates with images of sex but cannot offer the experience of real intimacy. Porn trains a man to think about sex as a purely customizable act, something made to order, something that exists to serve his needs, not hers, because the women on the computer screen have no needs.
As Michael Cusick says, porn makes a guy feel like a man without requiring him to be one.
Wolf comments again:
[D]oes all this sexual imagery in the air mean that sex has been liberated—or is it the case that the relationship between the multi-billion-dollar porn industry, compulsiveness, and sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersized portions, and obesity? If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart…
Other cultures know this. I am not advocating a return to the days of hiding female sexuality, but I am noting that the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time. In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” [Proverbs 5:18-19] These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.
Today, 45 years after this Firing Line interview, I am struck by how far we have come as a society—not surprised so much as saddened. Something in us is drawn to Hef’s philosophy because of our bent on rebellion (God calls it sin), but the more we put his philosophy into practice, we watch as marriages dissolve and families are ripped apart; we settle for shallow relationships as we jump from one sexual spectacle to the next. And in the quiet moments we secretly wonder why we feel so alone.
. . . .
Read more on this topic:
- “Husband Who Watch Porn – What are their wives saying?” by Luke Gilkerson
- “Blaming the Mrs. – Adding Injustice to Injury” by Joe Dallas
- “The Impact of Pornography on Women: Social Science Findings and Clinical Observations” – video with Dr. Jill Manning from the Witherspoon Institute
- The article referenced in this post, Naomi Wolf’s “The Porn Myth,” might be considered inappropriate by some. Read it at your own discretion.
Thank you so much for posting this video. Like you, I am somewhat of a lay social philosopher in that I often reflect on those things which shape our lives individually and corporately and thus our need to be reflective and disciplined in our use of technology or our acceptance of the messages being marketed to us.
What a great time capsule from 1966. (I was 14 at the time – just about the age I discovered Playboy Magazine.) It’s amazing how Hefner asserts that we would have a decline in homosexuality (in context he was referring to sexual deviancy) if we put more emphasis on heterosexuality. Today, he would need to issue a public apology for such a statement and, indeed, the philosophy he has sermonized to the public over the last half century has no doubt led to an huge increase in homosexuality and a pressure among very young people to experiment with all kinds sexual activities. We’ve become unnaturally obsessed with the whole concept of being “sexual beings”.
His new morality has clearly won the day at this point; but as Buckley, with his characteristic wit, trenchantly predicted – it is not a welcome innovation.
I know that I am, in part, a product of my society and it’s important for us to understand these influences and know how to do violence to internal sinful impulses as well as to winsomely engage and love our neighbors by demonstrating that there is a cogent, time-tested, revealed alternative to this disastrous social experiment.
Thanks again, Luke. Agreed that it’s not for everyone but it is good stuff for many of us. In saying this I clearly don’t wish to minimize the means of grace and the importance of the local church – Word and sacrament are the only real hope for our growth in holiness – but these types of social interchanges are part of what it means to love God with all our minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.