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Hefner's 80, America's still childish

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner turned 80 years old. His magazine has been kicking for 53 years, and he and his three girlfriends are the subject of a hit reality show.

I’ve been reading Playboy (yes, actually reading) since age nine (Debra Jo Fondren, Sept. ’77). My dad had box after box of Playboys and it didn’t take long for me to find them. I was a voracious reader, and mom and dad had always said, “You are free to read anything you want,” thinking, I suppose, that would apply to the novels and textbooks they owned. One day, I brought up that Sept. ’77 Playboy and said, “Dad, you always said I could read anything I want, so, I was wondering…” as I slowly brought out the magazine from behind my back.

So, it turns out my parents were OK with me reading almost anything. Dad snatched the Playboy from my hands and insisted that I not mention it to mom. That, of course, intrigued me more, and I’ve been reading and subscribing ever since.

I don’t know if there are any analogues for pre-teen gay kids, but for this pre-adolescent straight boy, baffled by my body rebelling against my control, awash in pubescent hormones, suddenly both terrified and fascinated by the bumps and curves forming on my female classmates, Playboy magazine was like a Rosetta stone for gender and sexuality. Maybe Playboy is not the preferred curriculum for childhood sexual education, but it was better than an absent father and a silent mother on the issue, and far better than anything that was ever taught in public school.

Yet still, after 53 years and all the changes in American society since 1953, America wtill can’t handle the bare boob. Janet Jackson whips out a mocha-colored mammary in a Super Bowl a couple of years ago and the country goes ballistic. The bare boob is so tantalizing that there are scores of websites devoted to “nipple slips”. And if a celebrity dares to sunbathe topless in St. Tropez, there are dozens of paparazzi ready to put the image in the gossip rags. We even get riled up about statues of boobs; we all remember former Attorney General John Ashcroft covering up the bare boob on the Spirit of Justice statue with $8,000 worth of taxpayer-funded curtains. Playboy could never have succeeded as it has without America being so sexually hung-up.

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — Playboy creator Hugh M. Hefner was in the middle of an interview about his 80th birthday when a TV cameraman asked him to move a statue of former girlfriend Barbi Benton from the shelf behind him.

The statue’s nude breasts were in the shot and that might not pass muster with TV decency standards.

“As much as things change, they stay the same,” Hefner remarks, disappointment in his voice. “There is still controversy about, maybe even more than before, not just nudity — a nude statue.”

That is Hefner’s point — that Playboy with its mission of sexual liberation is as relevant as ever in these days of federal government crackdowns on television content that some consider indecent.

“Attitudes toward nudity and Playboy have changed, in many ways, very little,” says the man who gave the world the centerfold. “In some ways it is even more political than it was in the ’50s and ’60s.”

On the other hand, we don’t have our women in burqas.

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