When the Ol' Bloviator is off on a research mission, he operates all day in a frenzied state of extremely focused activity, and upon getting the boot by the archivists at quittin' time, he descends immediately into a semi-vegetative state where he makes contact with what passes for the real world these days for only a few minutes each morning courtesy of MSNBC or CNN or the local Channel 8 Action News Team. These little jolts of information (or not) are occasionally supplemented by the wonderful Ms. OB (with whom he has recently celebrated forty-two years of wedded bliss), who sends along stories or headlines she deems likely to be of interest to her ol' podner 'n soul mate. Thus it was that when he received a missive the other day headlined "Hefner's Bride Breaks It Off," the severely addled OB's first response was "Well, it was bound to happen sometime, I suppose, but ol' Hef sure got a lot of use out of it while it lasted."
Only with further investigation did the OB discover that the reference was actually to the cancellation of the eighty-five-year-old Hugh Hefner's impending nuptials with Crystal Harris, a lady some sixty years his junior. Alas, the years--meaning at least the last thirty or so--have not been terribly kind to Hugh Hefner, who always pursued a caricatured lifestyle, but, like most of his ilk, proved utterly incapable of recognizing, or at least acknowledging, the point when his sex-obsessed persona slipped first from "hip" to "ho-hum," then plummeted to downright "pathetic."
Though it seemed utterly scandalous when it kicked off in 1953 with Marilyn Monroe adorning the cover of the first issue, the photographic content of Hefner's Playboy magazine was really only a nipple or two north of many of the pin-ups of the World War II era. Moreover, beyond taking most of the mystery out of the mammary, Hefner actually set out early on to offer interesting interviews and some superb fiction by the likes of Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke and James Jones, thus sustaining the standard cliché about guys claiming to subscribe to Playboy only for the articles. The best support for this shaky-at-best claim came in 1970, though, when the National Library for the Blind began publishing Playboy in Braille. As one of our astute graduate researchers around here points out, for all the snide comments about its content, the magazine did serve as an arbiter not only of what was hip, but what was manly. Despite targeting the upwardly mobile young bachelor demographic and exalting the masculine pursuit of pleasure, sexual and otherwise, Hef and the guys came down fairly hard on men who trifled with women's emotions or made commitments, marital or otherwise, that they did not intend to honor.
As both an agent and a manifestation of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Hefner's publishing venture was flying high until that revolution became, well, more revolutionary than he anticipated and Playboy's fare suddenly started to seem a little too tame and dated. Up until the late 1960s, in revealing the female form Hef and the guys had generally drawn the viewing line just north of pubic valley, a demarcation long since breached by the raunchier brown-wrapper, skin mags. Yet where Playboy had achieved relative social acceptability and even a certain cachet, these publications awaited walk-in purchasers (presumably clad in raincoats) on the back shelves of the newsstand and definitely could not be left lying around anywhere they might be seen by anyone a reader wanted to impress or deceive. In 1969, however, fresh from his success in the U.K., along came Bob Guccione, and the American version of Penthouse, where pubic hair was standard fare from the get-go and the shared sexual experiences and fantasies, which frequently seemed indistinguishable were as graphic as it got in the pre-dot.com era.
With Penthouse cutting into his market share in a mighty way, it was only a matter of months before an humbled Hef had to trade in his artistic high horse for a Shetland pony, and photograph-wise, it was suddenly a jungle down there. For a while, it seemed that the "pubic wars" with Penthouse were actually good for business as Playboy's monthly circulation peaked at more than 7 million in 1972. Then, of course, the defiantly more hardcore Hustler joined the fray, but all would first be undercut by the increasingly ubiquitous nudity in film and even on the tube and then meet their ultimate undoing in the arrival of the pornucopia that was the Internet.It is sadly fitting that with his fabled smoking jacket now looking not only ratty but ridiculous, and his magazine's monthly circulation down to 1.5 million, Hef lost one of his main squeezes a short while back after she admitted to engaging in "cybersex" via Skype with a virile young NFL star. Once upon a time, not only was Hugh Hefner the ultimate personification of American male virility, but a stint as one of the live-in "Bunnies" at his lavish Playboy mansion was a stepping stone to at least a decent shot at a mainstream movie career. As both Hef and his gimmick grew tiresome, however, the opportunity ceiling for his voluptuous co-habitants slipped to stripping and soft-porn. Speaking of slipping, the recent "kiss (or at least fake orgasm)-and-tell" revelations of some of the old boy's bed-buddies suggest a slightly smelly and decidedly saggy, Viagra-gobbling old weirdo who would make even a one-night stand seem more like waiting for death to "part" you from Methuselah.
A generation or so back, concerned social critics were warning that there really is no such thing as "casual sex." Let's just say that whatever the hang-ups were that might have made that true back in the 1970s, they don't seem to be grabbing hold of many folks under forty today. Anybody recall that unspoiled little Monica Lewinsky whose icebreaker to ol' Billy C. went something like "Hey, Mr. President, Wanna see my thong?" At least that sort of thing seemed to be confined to interns back then. Now we've got congressmen tweeting (after tweaking, one suspects) their privates and "sexting" like mad. This is a far cry from the infinitely more personal practice of two individuals furtively "flashing" one another just for the pure-tee titillation of it. The Internet's utterly ludicrous boilerplate assurances of privacy notwithstanding, it has become nothing less than a vast, brilliantly illuminated, and for some, irresistibly seductive stage for exhibitionism on a grand scale. How many future Favres or Weiners will we have to endure before these folks at least abandon the excuse that the offending messages or photos were intended only for a single set of eyes?
For most of us of the male persuasion, a standard precautionary rule of thumb might well be: "Before you point your cell phone or camera 'down there,' ask yourself whether you would want the image you are about to create to be viewed by roughly as many people as attended the last twenty Super Bowls." Unfortunately, for some of us--make that some of "y'all"--the real honest-to-Pete answer to such a query seems to be "Damn Straight, The More The Merrier!" An actual case in point comes from Claire Howorth of The Daily.com, who draws on her own disturbing experience with "Fernando," a young Argentine studying business simultaneously at Columbia and the London School of Economics. Regrettably for Claire-- and maybe even more so for "'Nando," he simply presumed she would enjoy seeing his really happy "Wando," (Bless me, Father, for I am about to sin again) pop up on her cell phone. Thus it was over before it started for Claire although 'Nando's offending member clearly missed the memo and would continue to show up on her phone for quite a spell. Guys who do this sort of thing are obviously not terribly worried about keeping their privates private, and we might even guess that in fact they hope this will not be the case.
Claire Howorth has thousands of readers at The Daily.com and clearly requires no introduction from the likes of the OB, who nonetheless feels compelled to reveal with genuine pride that he once knew her as the terminally cute little daughter of the OB family's longtime buds, Lisa and Richard Howorth of the famed Square Books in Oxford, MS. Claire definitely does her esteemed gene pool proud when she simultaneously brings the hammer and the microscope down on what she refers to as "junk males":
has something in common with the other men, public figures, who we now know to
be aficionados of phallic photography (would-be, could-be Anthony Weiner;
absolutely Brett Favre), or takers of cheesy beefcake self-portraits in
fluorescently lit suburban bathrooms (former Congressman Chris Lee), or even
dudes who sprinkle their pubic hair on Coke cans (sorry, Justice Thomas -- I was
10 when it happened and am unlikely to forget).
They are cocky, pun unavoidable. They are successful, smart, powerful, or some combination thereof, and in their minds, in a deeply Freudian way, penis/muscles/pubic hair = evidence of that. Thus, "Hey, I wanna show ya just how much!"
This incisive appraisal simply shows that the massively egotistical Hef was once as far ahead of his time as he is woefully behind it now. The only mystery here would seem to be why we have never been treated to the gaudily exhibited privates of one Donald John Trump. After pondering this matter at some length, and consulting with several reprobate acquaintances as well, the OB thinks he has this one figured out, and in keeping with the generally degraded tone of this discussion, his theory is pornographically derived. Anyone who recalls the sad physiological anomaly afflicting one Linda Lovelace of "Deep Throat" fame surely cannot rule out the possibility that "The Donald" suffers from a comparable sensory transposition in which the nerve endings that belonged down in his groinical region actually wound up on top of his head. Thus, every time he appears in public sporting that flamboyantly grotesque 'do of his, he's actually showcasing his masculine portfolio. Wonder if Sarah Palin picked up on that?
The Internet's privacy fences are equally porous in both directions, of course. If you can't resist gawking at this kind of stuff, somebody's going to know what you've been up to, whether it's a wily marketer of commercial porn or Viagra or some other sexual endowment-enhancer or--infinitely worse yet--your Mom! Come to think of it, it's truly ironic that the Web has done so much to bring old Hef's empire to its knees, given that it was actually a damn sight easier to hide a favorite Playboy or two under your mattress or behind your dresser than it is nowadays to keep somebody from discovering that you've been checking out "Fleshbot" or "MrSkin."*
*The OB vows and declares that he is operating purely on hearsay in this area has no direct knowledge of these two popular and reputedly pornographic sites, and don't you let any lyin' little tracking cookie try to tell you different!