Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Enterprises and its chief ideological incarnation, died on Thursday at age 91 at the Playboy Mansion, immersed in the fantasy he created. He will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe, Playboy’s inaugural centerfold.
In 1953, Hefner pulled pornography out of the seedy back cultural alleys, dressed it up in sophisticated costume and speech, gave it a stylish, debonair set, made it look liberating and libertine, and pushed it into the mainstream as Playboy Magazine. He was not so much a revolutionary as a man who understood his times. He knew the “right side of history” when he saw it. He saw the weakness in the flank, struck shrewdly (and lewdly), and won the cultural battle: the old sexual mores have been decisively thrown down and pornography is pervasive. But at what cost?
Seeing People as Roles, Not Souls
Playboy (and the flood of increasingly explicit material that has followed it through the break it made in the cultural dam) is not an enterprise that exists to celebrate the beauty of the human body or the wonder of human sexuality. It is an enterprise aimed at financially capitalizing on the fallen human bent toward objectifying others for our own selfish ends. It encourages both men and women in codependent ways to view embodied souls as embodied roles in the private virtual reality show we call fantasy.
Hefner and many others have become very rich by objectifying women and turning them into virtual prostitutes — mere bodily images to be used by millions of men who care nothing about them, who ravage them in their imaginations for selfish pleasure and then toss them in the trash. Hefner gave these women the fun name of “playmates,” a wicked mockery of both a person and play, adding a terrible insult to horrible injury.
We call this wicked, for it is. But in calling it wicked, we must confront our own wicked proneness to objectify others and resolve all the more to war against it. We humans have a horrible, sinful tendency to view others as roles — too often expendable “extras” — in the epic moving picture of our story, not souls in the real epic of God’s story.
The fallen human nature, unhinged from God’s reality, seeks to construct its own preferred reality. And it uses other people to do it. Let me use as an example what at first might appear as a harmless, fun song, but is anything but harmless.
The Fantasy Girl from Ipanema
In the mid-60s, as Playboy was building steam on its way to becoming a media powerhouse, the Brazilian jazz/bossa nova song “The Girl from Ipanema” was building steam as an international hit, on its way to being the second-most recorded pop song in history.
The song is about a man who daily watches a beautiful girl walk by him on the way to Ipanema Beach in south Rio de Janeiro. She is “tall and tan and young and lovely” and “swings so cool and sways so gently,” passing by like a song on legs. He is intoxicated with her and “would give his heart gladly” to her, but “she doesn’t see” him.
The song is light and breezy and almost sounds innocent. But it’s not. The song is actually a man’s fantasy. The girl he thinks he loves, he knows nothing about. If she turns out to have a lower IQ than he imagines or a serious medical condition, would he still love her? If she heads to the beach daily to escape the sexual molestation of a relative, or suffers from a subtle mental illness, would he still give his heart gladly to her? This girl is not a soul to him; she is a symbol of something he desires and he projects on her a role in a fantasy of his own creation.
This is precisely what we humans are so prone to do: to view others, and the world, as a projection of our own fantasies. Even we Christians can lose sight of the world as a battlefield of horrific cosmic warfare, with people caught in its crossfire needing to be rescued, and see it as the place where we want our dreams — self-centered, self-serving, self-exalting, self-indulgent dreams — to come true. The more we indulge such fantasies, the more inoculated and numb we become to reality and the less urgent we feel about the real needs of other real souls.
The Real Girl from Ipanema
The girl from Ipanema has a Hugh Hefner connection, for she was a real girl. The song’s (married) composers used to sit in a café near the beach, watch her walk by, and talk about the desires she inspired. She was a 17-year-old school girl, sometimes wearing her school uniform and sometimes wearing her bikini.
After the song exploded in popularity, the composers informed her that she was “the girl.” She became a minor Brazilian celebrity, a national symbol of sexual appeal. Eventually she became a Brazilian Playboy Playmate, posing for the magazine as a younger woman and later posing again with her adult daughter — two generations caught and exploited by Hefner’s fantasy. Now she’s 72, trying hard to stay looking as young and lovely as possible, for she is, after all, the girl from Ipanema.
And she’s an example that objectification of other people is not harmless. Her identity has been forged by two men’s lust for her adolescent body. The indulgence and propagation and proliferation of fantasies are not harmless. Real lives get caught in the gears; real souls are shaped and hardened and become resistant to what’s really real, to what’s really true. And they can be destroyed.
People Are Souls, Not Roles
It is tragically appropriate that Hugh Hefner will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was not merely the inaugural centerfold of Playboy Magazine; she became and remains the poster girl of 20th century American sexual objectification. Nearly sixty years after her suicidal death, she remains a sexual icon in most people’s minds, not a broken soul who knew the despairing loneliness of being a sensual image desired by millions, yet a person truly loved by very few. Hefner encouraged millions and millions of men and women to view people in the very way that destroyed Marilyn Monroe.
That’s why, men (and of course not just men), on the occasion of Hugh Hefner’s death, let us resolve all the more to abstain from fantasy passions of the flesh, which wage war against our souls — and not just ours but others’ souls as well (1 Peter 2:11). When we look at a woman, whether she’s Marilyn Monroe, the girl from Ipanema, a co-worker, classmate, fellow church member, another man’s wife, or our own wife, let us say to ourselves and, when needed, each other: “she is not your playmate!” She is not an object who at seventeen you might in selfishness wish to use for your own lusts and throw away, or at 72 you might in selfishness not notice at all.
She is not an embodied role player in your virtual reality show. She is an embodied soul whose worth in God’s eyes exceeds all the wealth in the world. She is God’s creation, not an object for your sinful recreation.
Hugh Hefner called himself “the boy who dreamed the dream.” Yes, he dreamed his dream, he lived his dream, and his dream made him rich. He died still dreaming. Only God knows how many souls have been damaged and destroyed by his dream. May God have mercy.
Post by Desiring God – Jon Bloom
God blesses the wise with wealth (3:9-10, 15-16; 10:22)
This is unavoidable as we read Proverbs, but we must remember that the genre of wisdom employs principles that are generally true, not explicit promises or formulas. Material gain will result from wisdom in life, for God rewards those who honour and obey him. In addition to this general, though not guaranteed, promise of wisdom, wealth makes life’s challenges easier to navigate (10:15-16). Because God orders our universe, our actions have consequences; this is positively seen in wisdom resulting in blessing.
Foolish behaviour leads to poverty (10:4-5; 6:6-11)
This is most clearly seen in the contrast between the hard worker and the lazy (26:13-15). While laziness is the primary reason given for poverty in Proverbs, other follies are given: over-indulgence (21:17); oppression of the poor (22:16); even being frugal or stingy (11:24). In Proverbs, God urges us to be productive not sluggardly. Contrast with the first point, God’s wisely ordered universe means that generally speaking: if you are foolish and lazy, you will suffer want.
The wealth of fools will not last (13:11; 21:6; 22:16; 23:4-5)
Proverbs raises the tension of the wealthy wicked, rich fools, and righteous suffering (see Psalm 73; also Job and Ecclesiastes). This is a question many have when they look at our world and their own lives. But 11:18 reads, “Evil people get rich for the moment, but the reward of the godly will last.” Money is not as precious as right living for it cannot avert judgment (11:4). Despite God blessing the wise with wealth, it cannot be your security, nor should you conclude from your wealth that you are righteous.
Poverty is the result of injustice and oppression
Wisdom involves knowing when laziness is the cause of poverty as opposed to circumstances or injustice (13:23). Since God’s world isn’t mechanical and the human condition is complex, the poor person might be more wise than the wealthy (16:8), as we saw in the previous point. “The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD made them both (22:2). Therefore, poverty is not necessarily the fruit of laziness or folly. The Bible knows many righteous and godly people with persevering faith and integrity.
Those with money must be generous (29:7; 3:27-28)
There are rewards and blessings for being generous (29:14; 28:27; 11:24). This idea is picked up by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8-9. In both Old and New Testaments we must recognise that being generous in order to get something in return is not actually generosity, it is selfishness. Again, because Proverbs presents us with generally true cases: generosity isn’t a formula to gaining wealth. That explains the book’s criticism uncritical generosity (6:1-5). We do not seek blessings from God through generosity, rather we should seek to bless others generously, and with wisdom.
Wisdom is better than wealth (3:14-16)
But not the ultimate good; we can say that because the book makes things relative using better-than forms (15:16, 17; 16:8, 16; 17:1; 22:1; 28:6). Furthermore, Proverbs provides numerous characteristics that are more important than having wealth: peace (15:16; 17:1), loving relationships (15:17); honesty (16:8; 28:6); and a good reputation (22:1). These, according to Proverbs, flow from wisdom (16:16), which is almost synonymous with the fear of the LORD (15:16) and godliness (16:8).
Wealth has limited value (11:4)
For wisdom enacted in right living keeps us from dangerous situations (6:34; 2:11). In fact, wealth can be troublesome (13:8): exposing the rich to scorn (19:10) and bringing false friends (14:20). The points above, taken together with this final one, should warn us that it is foolish to: measure faith by wealth; to think that wisdom (and our relationship with God) is a means to wealth; and pursue wealth instead of godliness, virtue, and generosity.
These points are adapted from Tremper Longman’s excellent book, How to Read Proverbs (pp120-130).