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In a Vanity Fair cover story last March, Hefner exclaimed, “But here's the surprise—this is what they want.” If this is really what they want, why would the Playboy.com FAQ state that the average Playmate's fourth-highest ambition is “having a family”?

What softcore?

Until July 2001, Hefner could claim that he never pushed the envelope into harder or grittier pornography—a word that Playboy always resisted for its own wares. But without Hefner's initial timorous first step, which met with so little resistance, there would have been no Larry Flynt, Bob Guccione, or any of the others who pushed sex to the outer limit of acceptability, a limit that now changes almost hourly.

Playboy, once so proud of its “gentleman's” standards, has embraced the outer boundaries of what it once found to be, well, pornographic. In July 2001 it acquired three x-rated sex channels from Vivid Video, one of the largest producers of porn movies. Playboy Enterprises is now the dominant economic force in pornographic television programming.

And all of this has happened through a few reliable tricks of the trade that go right back to the serpent in the garden, who played the first game of “two truths and a lie.” Most every temptation proceeds by offering almost the whole truth. The woman in the garden was promised that her eyes would be opened, that she would be like God, and that she would know good from evil. The serpent delivered—almost. Her eyes were opened; she did know good from evil. But she did not become like God.

Hefner, too, can deliver on two of his three promises. Women, he purrs, are the refined gentleman's path to truth, goodness, and beauty. Hefner certainly did—and does—deliver beauty, albeit a two-dimensional version. And in the early days at least, his women were the good, clean, “wholesome” type that men might aspire to romantic involvement with—certainly far more so than anything pornography had previously offered (unless you count the pre-Raphaelites and Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe).

But Hefner does not deliver truth. Bring it out in the open, Hefner said, and you'll feel better. Well, like it or not, the Playboy philosophy is now your culture's philosophy. Do you feel better?

Hefner's Playmates—and, in the culture he has done so much to shape, all women—are primarily visual objects, metaphysically truncated to their improbable physical attributes. Among the consequences: all female rock stars are now obliged to be beautiful, contributing to a dearth of quality female vocalists—not because women can't sing, but because pornographic culture won't allow any but the most beautiful women to get on the stage.

The same is true for women newscasters and waitresses, but the irony is doubly poignant in the music industry, where the melodious sound of someone's voice may never get to your ears because she lacks the visual appeal required by mass marketing.

Sexually Stunted

Hiding in plain sight in the June 2001 issue of Philadelphia magazine is Ben Wallace's essay “The Prodigy and the Playmate.” In it Sandy Bentley, the Playboy cover girl and former Hefner girlfriend (along with her twin sister Mandy), describes Hefner's current sexual practices in just enough detail to give you a good long pause:

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Hugh Hefner’s Hollow Victory