Hugh Hefner’s Hollow Victory

How the Playboy magnate won the culture war, lost his soul, and left us with a mess to clean up.
Hugh Hefner’s Hollow Victory
Image: Charley Gallay / Getty

Editor’s note: This piece was published in 2003 for the 50th anniversary of the founding of Playboy magazine, which some proclaim as a cultural watershed for a new liberation. As a young recipient of this cultural inheritance, Read Mercer Schuchardt, now associate professor of communication at Wheaton College, begs to differ. The following article originally appeared in re:generation quarterly and is reprinted with permission

One of the occupational hazards of Christian cultural analysis is the tendency to see Satan behind every sociological phenomenon with which you've personally struggled. One of the secret pleasures of this habit, however, is that occasionally you really do find him.

It's pretty hard to deny the complete cultural victory of pornography in America today. Hollywood releases 400 films each year, while the pornography industry releases 700 movies each month. The domain name business.com recently sold for a record-breaking $7.5 million—but in a recent court case, sex.com was valued at $65 million. Not surprising, since porn is, at a minimum, a $10 billion a year business. Porn stars are making their way off the screen into mainstream culture, showing up everywhere from Cannes to Maxim. Fifty years ago an American girl would have been ashamed to be seen in public with too little on. Now she's embarrassed to be seen with too much on—even if she's in church.

What we are witnessing is the work of a master, a virtuoso of the id who has wielded profound psychological insight. Thus he has altered culture with dangerous ease. Recently Hefner was asked if there was a difference between today's public response to Internet pornography and the response to those first issues of Playboy. ...

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