Thirty years ago, I read several of Norman Mailer’s work. It was a time of controversy during the maturing of society in the post-Vietnam era. The Death Penalty, scandals in Government, Presidents and Senators losing their positions. Foreign revolutions. Domestic terrorism. Sex. Religious charlatans. While my thoughts today run to the passing of an old letch, Hugh Hefner, yesterday, the impact of Hefner’s life’s work cannot be left unmentioned. Playboy followed the American culture in the last half of the Twentieth Century, and over fifty years the culture, unfortunately for Hefner, matured past him. But military lockers, battlefields, firehouses, and little boy’s attic cubbyholes in the 1960s and 1970s were adorned with centerfold images. Some stolen from their dad’s collection. With the sexual revolution of the Flower Children which became the hedonistic ’80s, the age of AIDS, and then the gay culture, everything about the onetime bedroom subject can now be taught in grade school. Talk about a real life satire.
I was in the 1980’s a fan of satire, particularly on the military. M.A.S.H was still popular on television, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, the war movie Kelly’s Heroes was often on television. In the mid-1980s, I had several friends ( some I regularly talk with today) who served in Vietnam. I was mentored by World War II and Korean War vets. I spent twenty-six years over a thirty-two year span in a Navy uniform. I saw a lot of things about bureaucracy, opportunists, and the occasional subject satirized in these stories happening through the experiences of my friends and from my personal observation.
Hefner’s Playboy – and then its competitors, and with new technology, brought sex out into the mainstream, made it a commodity, and cheapened it, from a wonderful bonding relationship between two under God’s blessing, to a mainstream yardstick for judging maturity. As America matured, women and men very often were colleagues or competed in the same profession, and just as the race identity was removed by the military, the gender barrier also came down. This is not to say that it was a smooth transition. Change takes a generation or two to fully be accepted. And perhaps, the nation is on the verge or putting it back into the bedroom. When “taboo” becomes the mainstream, a new counter-culture icon may find a new audience. Hefner is dead. The Playboy Mansion, already sold, has lost its previous occupant. And now, with a few truckloads of Lysol, scrub brushes, and an army of health control professionals can sanitize fifty years of the “cosmopolitan” stains away. Wonder if Helen Gurly Brown or Hilary Clinton might shed a tear. There’s one less Neanderthal in the world.