Was Playboy good for America? The question feels exhausting. You can see the magazine from literally any analytic angle and find what you are looking for. Want to prove how pornography hurts women? Sure: Hefner called feminism his “natural enemy.” Want to show how hetero pornography supported and made mainstream gay liberation when America hated gays? Okay: In 1955 it published “The Crooked Man” by Charles Beaumont, a story about a dystopia where heterosexuality was taboo. In defense of his decision, Hefner wrote that persecuting homosexuality was “wrong.”
Perhaps the only true generalization there is to make about Hugh Hefner is that he is regularly given far too much credit for his role in American history. On Thursday, Julie Bindel wrote that Hefner “was responsible for turning porn into an industry.” He did not make pornography successful—his readers did. Meanwhile, the tweets proclaiming him a man of good literary deeds and bad sexual ones also miss the point: Hefner did not pen “Late Night.” David Foster Wallace did.