Posted Friday night, September 29, 2017.
“Hugh Hefner and his then-girlfriend, 19-year-old actress Barbi Benton, surrounded by Bunny Girls at the Playboy Club in London in 1969. (AP)” via the Washington Post.
Don't want to make too much of this, but I think Hugh Hefner and Playboy contributed to our being stuck with President Trump.
Through his magazine empire, Hefner convinced two, even three generations of men they were entitled to lives that included among many pleasures the affections and sexual favors of beautiful young women who would get happily naked for them in the shadows created on the shag carpeting by the track lighting while the ice jingled in the glasses and another LP dropped onto the turntable. All men had to do to enjoy this was earn the money needed to pay for the carpeting and the liquor, money to which they were also entitled and that would fall into their laps as easily as the naked girls.
Didn't work out that way for the great majority. Most men resigned themselves to lives lacking in sexual adventure, just as they resigned themselves to not having the money to pay for new carpeting, good booze, and the latest LP, 8-track, or CD whenever they wanted. They did not, necessarily, resign themselves to being resigned.
Trump's strongest appeal is among men---white men---of a certain age who grew up expecting to be heroes but are now facing the fact that they didn't just miss their chance, they never had a chance.
They never were going to score the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. They were never going to be rich. They were never going to be Mayor never mind President of the United States. If there was ever a time in their lives when pretty young women were happy to get naked for them, that time was brief and long ago and ended with marriage to one of those young women, who, no matter how much they loved her and how happy their lives together have been, suddenly seemed to have neither the time nor the inclination to get as happily naked and was instrumental in their reaching a premature, dull, and dulling middle age in which their lives have been defined by work, the kids' schedules, and paying bills without money.
Playboy taught them to look at their lives like this.
Playboy hadn't just taught them to dream of a very different life than the one they ended up with. It taught them that to end up with the lives they did was to be a failure to yourself. Here within the magazine---centerfolds, articles, cartons, ads, letters and columns taken together--along with Hef's personal example were detailed instructions on how to avoid failing yourself in the way you did, and you goofed. Things could have worked out differently, should have worked out differently, would have worked out differently, but you didn't follow the instructions.
Then, to add to the insult, Playboy--and Hef--continued right on as if time didn't matter to anybody but you. It certainly didn't offer any solace or give instructions in how to enjoy the life you did end up with. It did give you reason to suspect it was your own fault you'd failed to become the ideal Playboy playboy.
You weren't smart enough, hardworking enough, ambitious enough, talented enough, strong enough, brave enough, man enough.
Playboy didn't do this all by itself. Playboy and its ethos were idiosyncratic expressions of the can-do, go-go spirit of the post-war era. Like most successful entrepreneurs, Hefner saw an opportunity and took advantage. He sold what people already wanted, they just may not have known they wanted it until the first issue hit the news stands. While the economic powers that be and the social and cultural institutions that benefited from them tried to sell men gray flannel suits and pushed them to be Organization Men, Hefner and others---manufacturers of sports cars, makers of soft drinks, airlines, Frank Sinatra---sold them on the idea that it was possible to be a rebel within the system, to wear a tie to work (or carry a lunchbucket) and still live a free, independent, fun, sexy life. All you needed was the money that came with a good job within the organization. In fact, the organizational life would finance its own subversion from within.
That's Don Draper's story arc---Don finishes seemingly have broken free. But what he's doing at the end of the final episode is figuring out how to sell the illusion of rebellion to a new generation of young men and women. (Yes, I know he came up with the Coke ad not the Pepsi campaign.) A romantic, rebellious, fun, and sexy life is a matter of buying the right stuff.
The first step was to teach men to expect pretty young women to take their clothes off. The next step was to teach the pretty young women to do it.
The problem became and remains that young women learned other things, among them that it was their choice whom they took their clothes off for.
There's a metaphor in here somewhere and if you give me a minute I'll find it.
Here it is.
More of a synecdoche, really.
Playboy is a part that symbolizes the whole.
Playboy was part of a collection of forces, economic, social, cultural, and political that sold Americans on the notion that material happiness and individual happiness were pretty much the same things. This sounds like a bad thing, and in many ways it was.
Life in post-war America was fun-filled, pleasure-filled, but soulless and joyless. It was based on the buying and selling of the latest toys and gadgets and gizmos. To take part in the fun you had to have the money to buy the toys and gadgets and gizmos. To make the money you had to be employable. Employable meant having the skills and the talents and the education and the personality traits employers deemed worth paying for because those things would make them more money than it cost to employ them---and that's what they employed, those things. Not you but those things. You were simply the package they came in. Which is to say the qualities that made you you to you made you a thing, a container of things. And employers were---are---always on the lookout for ways to have the things without having to pay for the container.
So you had to prove you were worth it. Constantly. You had to produce. You had to be productive. You had to be a product or at least sell yourself as one, which amounts to the same thing.
Of course this isn't how it was put. You had or didn't have what it takes. You had or you didn't have the right stuff. You were or you weren't master of your own fate. You were or you weren't the hero of your own life.
It was all up to you. It was your doing if you succeeded. Your fault when you failed.
You were on your own.
But the key words were material and individual. Integral to the notion was that individuals as individuals were meant to be happy in the material world, that is, here and now, on earth, in the United States.
The problem is that for individuals the material world ends. Time runs out for all of us. We're all done too soon.
On a more mundane level, for the majority of us the material world is done with us too soon.
The opportunities didn't come. We didn't know where to go looking for them or if we knew we didn't have the wherewithal to get there. Those of us who did weren't always welcome or arrived too late or too soon.
What good did it do to serve the best meal in town if no one wanted to live in your town? What good did it do to sell the best shoes clothes furniture toys gadgets gizmos at the best prices if people could just go online and buy the same shoes clothes furniture toys gadgets gizmos at better prices?
What good is it to have been the world's best spot welder if all the spot welding is done better by robots? What good is it to have been a devoted, go getting, hardworking, hardcharging organization man or woman if the organization decides it doesn't need you or stops being an organization?
What good does it do to have an apartment, a whole house, a garage, a backyard full of toys and and gadgets and gizmos if nobody want to come over to play?
Whatever happened last in the election last fall, it’s clear that much of it was due to voters’ feeling something had gone terribly wrong, that the good life they were promised when they were young was being denied them. To an extent, there was an almost universal rejection of the go-getting era that Playboy had helped define. It wasn’t our fault. We weren’t the masters of our individual fates we were told we were, and the reason we weren’t heroes of our own lives was we were victims.
The opportunities and possibilities to which we thought we were entitled were being closed off to all but a privileged few.
And Hillary voters and Bernie voters and many Republican voters were determined to do something to change this.
But a great many Trump voters decided what they wanted to do was resent and place blame. And the blame wouldn’t be placed on themselves. The resentment wouldn’t be self-directed.
Sunk in self-pity and a permanent sense of grievance, they looked around for others to blame, others to resent, others to punish.
It's them. Those others! It's their fault. The immigrants, the blacks, the Muslims, the Chinese, the feminists, the gays, the Millennials, the elites and intellectuals and scientists and professors and teachers and lawyers who support them and combine and conspire to take what's ours by right and by birth and give it to them!
And along comes Donald Trump to tell them they're right. Things stink, and you have been robbed, and it is all their fault. There are of course things that do stink, and we have been robbed, all of us, including them, and if Donald Trump was a true populist or the closet Democrat gullible members of the media took him to be for a brief moment a couple weeks ago---and which, you can bet, they'll take him for again---all he offers them is more reason for resentment and the promise to get even.
Everything will be made right, America will be made great again, when they are punished and put back in their place. What's been stolen will magically return.
And one of those things is time.
I've made this point many times. So have plenty of others, smarter and more savvy than me. A great many of Trump's voters voted for the character he played on The Apprentice. But once upon a time he played a different character, one probably closer to his real self. I say probably only because I'm not sure he has a real self. That character didn't have a show of its own, but the gossip mad New York media covered him as if his life was a TV show like Dynasty or Dallas, and in the process they made him a star. He was the Donald, the ideal Playboy male.
Rich, handsome, bold, not bound by rules or conventions. He could buy whatever he wanted. The idol of men and the object of women's desire. Friends with the likes of Muhammad Ali, dater of supermodels. He could have any woman who caught his eye. Didn't even have to ask. They lined up!
This was all a fraud, of course. You didn’t have to look hard to see him for what he was. He wasn’t a swinger, he was a predator. He didn’t seduce women, he procured them. The models he dated weren’t playmates, they weren’t even playthings. They were just things he bought to show off. If he could have, he’d have had them dipped in gold and put on display in his casinos and hotels. He was a monster of vanity and greed but not of lust. The Access Hollywood tape that should have sunk his candidacy confirmed this for all decent-minded people who heard it.
But nearly 63 million people appeared not to have heard it. Many of them didn’t. But many of them simply ignored it or told themselves it didn’t show what it showed. They talked themselves into believing there was nothing really to it. Locker room talk, that’s all. Others shrugged it off as the way the world is. All rich and powerful men are like that. They take what they whatever they want. Others said “So?” Still others said, “Those women should have known what they were getting into,” ignoring that many of “those women” were teenage girls. And still others said, “Good for him.”
But I’m convinced that many men, and not a few women, heard the tape or heard about it, and they folded it into their image of him as a playboy or, rather, they saw him as still fitting their image of a playboy, the character type created by Hugh Hefner.
You’d think that he was now old and fat, that he was bald under that weird construction of hair and plastic he wears on top of his head, that he painted himself orange, that his supposed great health and vitality and stamina and Jovian sexual potency were rumors started and continued by himself would have been obvious tip-offs that he was faking it, that he was well past it, as mortal and as headed as quickly towards his material end as any of the rest of us mere human beings. You’d think.
People see what they want to see and I think a lot of people look at him and see what they wish they were. Not just rich and powerful, but immune to old age and ill health. They look at him and they think, if he can do it, maybe I can too.
They look at him and think, I’ve still got time.
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