Old Playboys Never Die, They Just Turn Into Reality TV

Tracey Barnett ©June 2008

Oh. My. Gawd. Did you see those?” I point at the blonde with two floatation devices surgically affixed to a teeny tank top bobbling across my television screen.

I had stumbled on Hugh Hefner’s current “reality” television show set in the Playboy mansion.

Trust me, when the words “Playboy” and “reality” collide– be very afraid.

“That’s one of his three girlfriends,” I explain helpfully in case my partner had lost count of Hefner’s recent tally, down from the seven entirely different Barbies he had a decade ago, bless his tired pipe– and slippers. My partner studied the screen intently in the interest of good marital conversation.

I state the obvious, “The man is 82 years old. It’s like watching Thomas Jefferson defrosted to do party tricks. There’s passé, then cliché, then this—it’s sad.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”


There it was, New Zealand, just one man and one woman skilfully articulating the sexual pulse of an entire generation.

For every man who needs to believe that Hugh Hefner is blissfully happy, there’s a woman who needs to believe he’s incredibly sad.

I saw Hefner as a deflated revolutionary, now cool again because he’s kitsch. Whereas my male counterpart just saw him as one gifted bastard.

The same clichéd perspectives have been ping-ponging in bedrooms since 1953. He looks at that screen and wonders what it would be like to end up like Hef, up to his eyeballs in bodacious blondes sixty years his junior who would do anything for him. I look at that screen and wonder where all the 82-year-old Playboy Bunnies have gone. Fat chance seeing that reality show anytime soon.

Maybe I’m the one who needs asmoking jacket. Otherwise, what modern female’s wildest dream is to voluntarily spend her twenties as part of a fraught mini-harem with an octogenarian who never leaves the house and stays in his pyjamas all day long? Who do you think cuts his meat after the cameras stop rolling and his Viagra prescription wilts? His tax attorney?

Okay, undoubtedly I’m missing the point when I worry that this bright, savvy man is living with women whose conversation rises to the intellectual level of Snapper bait. But is this what becomes of an old playboy? The man who transformed the puritanical grip of the 50’s into nice vices? The man who was arrested in 1963 for violating obscenity laws? The man who both championed and chided feminists in the same breath?

I grew up outside of Chicago, the land where it all began. The high-rise Playboy Tower stood like a black monolith with its silver rabbit logo at the top, greeting you as you approached the skyline.

By the time I became cognisant of the brand, Hefner had put his daughter Christie in charge a few years after he suffered a stroke in 1985, a time when the company was in serious decline.

His cultural revolution had long since simmered down into mainstream sexual mores. But by making his daughter CEO [and not his son], Hefner chose brilliantly. Not only did she diversify and pull the company back onto its feet, she represented something completely different from the man-boy party image of her father. She was the Brandeis-educated, driven, sexually empowered businesswoman of the 80’s, an entirely different face from the Playboy bimbo.

When she, like her father before her, tried to differentiate between porn and erotica, espousing her brand of second wave feminism, you wanted to listen. It was a completely new way of protecting the fantasy.

Today, an astonishing fifty-five years since its inception, the struggling Playboy brand is buried in a sea of harder core 24-hour online competitors that have long since become the norm.

And where do we now find that beatifically relaxed 82-year-old man who started it all by living out every adolescent boy’s fantasy?

Hugh Hefner can be seen shuffling placidly across your reality television screen still working to keep a lifetime’s mystique from cracking into inconsequence, like Orson Wells resorting to fronting bad wine commercials in his dotage.

The man who once started the wave is now awash in ridiculous foam. Watching The Girls Next Door is like seeing an innovative icon become a cultural compass of our nouveau vacuous-ness.

When Holly Madison, his #1 girlfriend, commented that being a centrefold is “all that [a woman] can achieve in both body and mind”, women today just wonder what kind of purple Kool-Aid she’s drinking.

Two years ago Hugh Hefner told The Sun newspaper, “I’m bored with hanky-panky. I’m still active, but its different — I like to play dominos with my girlfriends.”

Careful Hef, your reality is showing—and that’s not sad at all.

Today Hugh Hefner’s greatest measure of success as a social revolutionary is that he is now blissfully, thankfully obsolete.

Domino-on, good sir.

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