BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media, I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GARFIELD: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. And now we present the living embodiment of all things Playboy, the Knight of the Round…bed and the silk PJs. Hugh Hefner, welcome to the show.
HUGH HEFNER: Well thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know it's an amazing thing you did, weaving together a passion for literature, civil rights, runny cheeses and big breasts into what you call "a viable aesthetic."
HUGH HEFNER: And it was an attempt to incorporate in a positive way a sexuality into the rest of the kinds of interests that a person spends their time on when they're not working. Our notion of playing hard was largely bowling and watching television, and there was more to life than that. I think that you know our traditional values, and our -- they're rooted in our religious values -- has pitted mind and body against one another -- the notion that the devil is in the flesh. I didn't buy it when I was young. I don't buy it now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Playboy's tastes were so expensive! I mean wasn't the Playboy philosophy therefore a little exclusive?
HUGH HEFNER: Well obviously it wasn't. Some of the dreams and some of the gadgets were out of reach, but part of the magazine, both its sexuality and also related to consumerism, was a fantasy! A man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for? [LAUGHTER] It, it's-- a motivation to-- to dream!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In the Playboy philosophy you quote from one of your most eloquent critics, Harvey Cox, who wrote a piece that was re-printed in various Christian journals of opinion and college newspapers. Can I read you his quote?
HUGH HEFNER: Sure. Of course.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [READING] "Moralistic criticisms of Playboy fail because it's anti-moralism is one of the few places in which Playboy is right. Thus any theological critique of Playboy that focuses on its lewdness will misfire completely. Playboy and its less successful imitators are not sex magazines at all! They dilute and dissipate authentic sexuality by reducing it to an accessory, by keeping it at a safe distance." And he concludes with: "We must see in Playboy the latest and slickest episode in man's continuing refusal to be fully human."
HUGH HEFNER: Well I think that's very sophisticated semantics but not very accurate. I mean the reality is that far from being accessories, the romantic relationship between the sexes, expressed from a male point of view is what Playboy is all about. It's what makes the world go around. The fine food and wine and the clothes and the cars and the gadgetry -- those are the accessories. But the part that really matters is the connection between the opposite sex.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Here's a clip that we borrowed from your A&E biography. It's you being challenged by feminist Susan Brownmiller on the Dick Cavett Show, and we'll run that now. [CLIP FROM HEFNER BIO ON A&E FROM DICK CAVETT] [EXCHANGE BETWEEN SUSAN BROWNMILLER & HEFNER]
WOMAN: The role that you have selected for women is degrading to women because you choose to see women as sex objects.
WOMAN: You make them look like animals! Yes! Women aren't bunnies. They're not rabbits. They're human beings! The day that you are willing to come out here with a cotton tail attached to your rear end--
HUGH HEFNER: We've been accused, obviously, of exploiting women, exploiting sex. I think Playboy exploits sex -- you know I just think "exploit" is an unfortunate word. Playboy exploits sex like Sports Illustrated exploits sports! [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now I noticed that you never responded to her specific challenge about the bunny tails. I mean it would, after all, be antithetical to the Playboy aesthetic to attach a little fuzzy ball of cotton to your own tush, wouldn't it?
HUGH HEFNER: Yes, I think so. [LAUGHTER] [LAUGHS]!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But is that fair?
HUGH HEFNER: And-- that feminist diatribe-- didn't make a lot of sense back then; it seems very foolish today. I think that in the intervening years women really have become truly human. That anti-sexual part of feminism is very antiquated, and quite frankly was anti-revolutionary even at the time. To be truly hu-- human, women have to embrace their sexuality. And that's all Playboy's really all about. I think it's one of the reasons why the magazine and the Playboy symbols and why the, the rabbit image are so popular now with young women, and you see Playboy fashions in all the leading women's magazines. We have come a long ways, baby.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I think that's true, but I do think that some of that Playboy style that you're referring to - the bunny costumes - have a-- certainly something to do with kitsch. And what's more, back in the early days when you were creating that costume and that image, it wasn't women expressing their own sexuality; it was women putting on the costume that you had designed for them!
HUGH HEFNER: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This was, this wasn't them "embracing their own sexuality." This was them embracing yours!
HUGH HEFNER: True. That's right. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So--
HUGH HEFNER: That's what makes it work. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] But then doesn't [...?...]--
HUGH HEFNER: You know, thinking about the opposite sex - I think that's what it's all about.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I don't want to spend a lot of time in this space arguing the fine points of feminism here. Certainly these things can be approached with a greater sense of humor today when women have far more equality in every sphere including the sexual sphere, but it could at that time certainly seem as if they were being put into a little bunny box.
HUGH HEFNER: Well it seems so -- obviously to some people who-- express those views, you know, in a political context but didn't have much to do with reality.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well let's jump ahead to Playboy today. Playboy, as we said, is still the largest circulation men's magazine in the world, but here in the United States, magazines like Maxim are giving it a real run for its money, and the, and the editors of Maxim say that one of its advantages is that it has no nudity --so men aren't embarrassed to buy it and carry it around.
HUGH HEFNER: Well I think that's absolutely true. [LAUGHS] They get more advertising support and they get greater distribution. That's absolutely true. And that's a reflection of the fact that still in America we do have rather unsophisticated attitudes towards sexuality and nudity!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well why do you think Playboy's circulation has declined from its peak of, what, 7 million back in 1972?
HUGH HEFNER: Well I think that one has to think of it in a time frame. I mean the 7 million circulation which we reached in the early 1970s was before video, before more explicit sexuality in many, many forms. It was a brief moment in history. The magazine's circulation has been over 3 million for, now for the last 20 years. So the magazine is very, very vital, but there are new forms of competition out there and particularly the Laddie Books, Maxim and, and FHM and magazines like that, that are really kind of a downscale version of Playboy. Instead of the, the girls and the champagne are the babes and the beer. But like all the rest of the men's fields, they are all variations really on Playboy. I think one of the remarkable things about the magazine is how much the readers connected with it; that it became for them more than just a magazine; it became a projection of really who they felt they wanted to be, and men look back now, and women too, on those first issues and when they first saw them in their adolescence, and it became and continues to be a kind of a, a rite of passage from adolescence into adulthood.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you say anything about how the image of the Playboy Bunny has evolved? Has she changed? I mean does she still find walks in the beach a turn-on and mean people a turnoff?
HUGH HEFNER: Probably. [LAUGHS] Some-- some things in terms of humankind don't change that much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What are you wearing?
HUGH HEFNER: Pajamas, of course. [LAUGHS]!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much.
HUGH HEFNER: My pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Hugh Hefner started the Playboy revolution 50 years ago.