An era has ended in the lives of a print publication almost sixty years old. Playboy announced today that it will, after a large dip in circulation numbers, cease printing nude pictorials of its centerfold models. According to the report in the New York Times, founder Hugh Hefner himself approved the change.
What does this mean for men like us who follow Jesus and for men in this country in general?
When I was in middle school, we had to do a biography report on a famous entrepreneur. I chose Hefner and, somehow, the project was approved. Hefner is an interesting story. He founded the magazine in 1953, publishing a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe that was circulating the market without a publisher brave enough to send it to print.
He faced down opposition from many fronts, always claiming the magazine celebrated beauty without exploitation. It pioneered the “girl next door” ideal. It published leading authors of the day in one of the highest-paying literary markets, often being confirmation that they had achieved status as a writer. Hefner put forth a style, with his smoking jacket, pajamas, and mansions on multiple coasts. He once boasted to have fulfilled every fantasy he had.
The Times cited the emergence of the internet as the kiss of death for the magazine. What was once mystery is no longer. Men of any age have instant access to any image they like at the touch of a smartphone button.
So tonight we say goodbye.
In a way, Hefner influenced culture more than he could have imagined. Playboy was a force that defined the transition to manhood for years and, believe it or not, we were all wrong.
I have no issue with beauty and women are prime examples of the beauty of God’s creation (my wife being the best!). The problem is the one Hefner tried to ignore. His centerfolds turned women into objects. It told a generation of wives and daughters that they would never be good enough as the models that waited in the magazines hidden under the bed or in the garage. It told a generation of young women their greatest asset was their body.
It removed the mystery and tried to simplify the equation.
The equation is not simple.
Today we pay our athletes millions of dollars as they assault their spouses and girlfriends. An income gap still exists between men and women. Young girls look in the mirror and fight their image as they fight bullying and abuse.
In the Bible, Jesus is presented with a woman caught in the midst of adultery. It is the famous scene where he tells the crowd that anyone without sin is welcome to cast the first stone. They are ready to kill her, as per the penalty of the time, and after his interjection they drop their stones and walk away. There’s a part of this scene often missed. The woman was caught in the middle of the act, odds are pulled out of bed and taken directly to Jesus. She was in the center of the crowd, probably not wearing much, as Jesus came to her defense.
He meets us all in our darkest moments and most vulnerable moments.
Now the Playboy centerfold is finished. It is a small, but correct, step in the fight against pornography and the objectification of women. I’m typing this as Carter and Aiden play in front of me on the floor. Two boys, both growing into men and needing help defining the word. It is my job to help them do it without seeing women as objects, to recognize that beauty runs much deeper than appearance, to stay gentlemen and be respectful.
It is time to break the bond and put the Bunny to bed once and for all. Manhood can, and will, change for the better if we can move past the entitlement, admit that all seats at the table should be equal, and that none of us are qualified to throw even the smallest of pebble.