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Camille Paglia on Hugh Hefner’s Legacy, Trump’s Masculinity & Feminism’s Sex Phobia 

Jeanie Pyun writes: With the death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner on Sept. 27, cultural historian and contrarian feminist Camille Paglia spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive interview on topics ranging from what Hef’s choice of the bunny costume revealed about him to the current “dreary” state of relationships between the sexes.

Have you ever been to a party at the Playboy Mansion?

No, I’m not a partygoer!  [laughs]

So let me just ask: Was Hugh Hefner a misogynist?

Absolutely not! The central theme of my wing of pro-sex feminism is that all celebrations of the sexual human body are positive. Second-wave feminism went off the rails when it was totally unable to deal with erotic imagery, which has been a central feature of the entire history of Western art ever since Greek nudes.

So let’s dig in a little — what would you say was Playboy’s cultural impact? 

Hugh Hefner absolutely revolutionized the persona of the American male. In the post World War II era, men’s magazines were about hunting and fishing or the military, or they were like Esquire, erotic magazines with a kind of European flair.

Hefner re-imagined the American male as a connoisseur in the continental manner, a man who enjoyed all the fine pleasures of life, including sex. Hefner brilliantly put sex into a continuum of appreciative response to jazz, to art, to ideas, to fine food. This was something brand new. Enjoying fine cuisine had always been considered unmanly in America. Hefner updated and revitalized the image of the British gentleman, a man of leisure who is deft at conversation — in which American men have never distinguished themselves — and with the art of seduction, which was a sport refined by the French.

Hefner’s new vision of American masculinity was part of his desperate revision of his own Puritan heritage. On his father’s side, he descended directly from William Bradford, who came over on the Mayflower and was governor of Plymouth Colony, the major settlement of New England Puritans.

But Hefner’s worldview was already dated by the explosion of the psychedelic 1960s. The anything-goes, free-love atmosphere — illustrated by all that hedonistic rolling around in the mud at Woodstock in 1969 — made the suave Hefner style seem old-fashioned and buttoned up. Nevertheless, I have always taken the position that the men’s magazines — from the glossiest and most sophisticated to the rawest and raunchiest — represent the brute reality of sexuality. Pornography is not a distortion. It is not a sexist twisting of the facts of life but a kind of peephole into the roiling, primitive animal energies that are at the heart of sexual attraction and desire.

What could today’s media learn from what Hef did at Playboy?

It must be remembered that Hefner was a gifted editor who knew how to produce a magazine that had great visual style and that was a riveting combination of pictorial with print design. Everything about Playboy as a visual object, whether you liked the magazine or not, was lively and often ravishing.

In the early 1990s, you said that Hugh Hefner “ushered in a revolution in American sexual consciousness. Some say that the women in Playboy come across as commodities, like a stereo, but I think Playboy is more an appreciation of pleasure of all kinds.” What would you add to his legacy today, if anything?

I would hope that people could see the positives in the Playboy sexual landscape — the foregrounding of pleasure and fun and humor. Sex is not a tragedy, it’s a comedy! [laughs]

What do you think about the fact that Trump’s childhood hero and model of sophisticated American masculinity was Hefner?

Before the election, I kept pointing out that the mainstream media based in Manhattan, particularly The New York Times, was hopelessly off in the way it was simplistically viewing Trump as a classic troglodyte misogynist. I certainly saw in Trump the entire Playboy aesthetic, including the glitzy world of casinos and beauty pageants. It’s a long passé world of confident male privilege that preceded the birth of second-wave feminism. There is no doubt that Trump strongly identified with it as he was growing up. It seems to be truly his worldview.

[Read the full story here, at Hollywood Reporter]

But it is categorically not a world of unwilling women. Nor is it driven by masculine abuse. It’s a world of show girls, of flamboyant femaleness, a certain kind of strutting style that has its own intoxicating sexual allure — which most young people attending elite colleges today have had no contact with whatever.

I instantly recognized and understood it in Trump because I had always been an admirer of Hefner’s sexual cosmos. I can certainly see how retrograde and nostalgic it is, but at the same time I maintain that even in the photos that The New York Times posted in trying to convict Trump of sexism, you can feel leaping from these pictures the intense sizzle of sexual polarization — in that long-ago time when men were men and women were women!

My 1960s generation was the gender-bending generation — we were all about blending the genders in fashion and attitude. But it has to be said that in terms of world history, the taste for and interest in androgyny is usually relatively brief. And it comes at late and decadent phases of culture! [laughs]  World civilizations predictably return again and again to sexual polarization, where there is a tremendous electric charge between men and women.

The unhappy truth is that the more the sexes have blended, the less each sex is interested in the other. So we’re now in a period of sexual boredom and inertia, complaint and dissatisfaction, which is one of the main reasons young men have gone over to pornography. Porn has become a necessary escape by the sexual imagination from the banality of our everyday lives, where the sexes are now routinely mixed in the workplace.

With the sexes so bored with each other, all that’s left are these feminist witch-hunts. That’s where the energy is! And meanwhile, men are shrinking. I see men turning away from women and simply being content with the world of fantasy because women have become too thin-skinned, resentful and high maintenance.

And American women don’t know what they want any longer. In general, French women — the educated, middle-class French women, I mean — seem to have a feminine composure, a distinct sense of themselves as women, which I think women in America have gradually lost as they have won job equality in our high-pressure career system … (read more)

Source: Hollywood Reporter

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