A Tale of Two Tossers

marilynIt is less than three weeks since the “American icon,” Hugh Hefner, breathed his last in the Playboy mansion and was transported to California to be interred in a mausoleum next door to the body of Marilyn Monroe. He and Monroe never met, but she was the first of the naked celebrities who became the hallmark of Playboy, appearing both on the cover of its first 1953 issue and as its first centerfold and apparently ensuring that the magazine sold out. Ever the sentimentalist, Hefner spent a full $75,000 on a grave in this desirable location. He liked the idea, he said, of spending eternity next to the famous and fragile movie-star.

Marilyn was not available for comment, but she might have been annoyed that none of the $75,000 went to her, just as she never received any payment from Playboy for the photographs that began the making of its fortune. Four years earlier, badly needing the cash, she had received $50 for the photographs which, in the manner of these things, passed through several hands until they reached Hefner’s and those of his customers.

If Hefner and Monroe end up in the same part of the Next World, which is questionable, she might have something to say about this pay differential. But then so might a large number of other “playmates.”

These and other details of “Hef’s” iconic life were revealed with a sympathy at times amounting to reverence in most of the media obituaries that followed his death. Their theme was that he was the man who brought the sexual revolution to America, advanced the civil rights revolution alongside it, and combined these two revolutions in a sophisticated liberal lifestyle package that appealed to an American middle class then emerging from a restrictive puritan ideal.

There were, of course, qualifications. Hefner had some help in spreading the Playboy philosophy from the Pill, the Kinsey Report, and the growing liberalism of American law. The philosophy itself, together with the consumer lifestyle it promoted, were obviously directed more to the tastes and interests of men, in particular bachelors, than to those of women. (Indeed, Hefner was quick to identify the feminists of the Sixties and Seventies as enemies of the entire Playboy phenomenon.) As a result of such changing tastes, Playboyism, like its leading exponent, looked increasingly dated and “unsophisticated.” And, finally, it was impossible to ignore that the high-minded philosophizing and consumer empire both rested on naked female flesh.

The New York Times got the balance right. Its obituary leaned to the favourable:

“Hefner the man and Playboy the brand . . . . both advertised themselves as emblems of the sexual revolution, an escape from American priggishness and wider social intolerance. Both were derided over the years — as vulgar, as adolescent, as exploitative and finally as anachronistic. But Mr. Hefner was a stunning success from the moment he emerged in the early 1950s.”

And an assessment by the paper’s leading conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, was close to an exorcism:

“Hugh Hefner, gone to his reward at the age of 91, was a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain’s hat, and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies.

Hef was the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution, with Quaaludes for the ladies and Viagra for himself — a father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis, a pretentious huckster who published Updike stories no one read while doing flesh procurement for celebrities, a revolutionary whose revolution chiefly benefited men much like himself.”

When I read Mr. Douthat’s words of brimstone, I thought he might be stoned  by righteously indignant libertines. He did attract some abuse, but also a surprising number of sympathizers who began along such lines as: “I never thought I would agree with Mr. Douthat but . . .” That becomes more understandable when you read both Douthat and the anonymous editorialist carefully and realize that they contain more overlap and less contradiction than a hasty reading might suggest.

Their rhetoric is sharply different; the facts they describe are much the same. What makes the difference is the attitude each writer takes to Hefner’s life. Planting himself firmly on traditional Christian ground, Mr. Douthat, a believing Catholic, thinks he opened a gateway to the moral squalor of today’s American popular culture; the NYT scribe, standing on a surfboard as it hurtles down the stream of that culture, treats Hefner as, on balance, a pioneer who (doubtless reacting to an oppressive puritanism) went too far in the right direction and so into seedy, exploitative, and vulgar territory.

Mr. Douthat is confident; his colleague uneasy. It is almost as if they both sensed that a social change was on the way — or even that one had occurred but not yet been fully sensed by the cultural arbiters of the modern world.

Two weeks later the New York Times published the story that one of those cultural arbiters, Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, had sexually harassed at least a baker’s dozen (and apparently many more than that) of young actresses in ways both bizarre and disgusting, managed to keep this news out of the media by bribery or legally silencing his victims, been protected by an omerta permeating the film industry and subscribed to by both sexes, constructed a protective image of contemporary virtue by loudly allying himself with liberal political causes and politicans, and in general created an image that he was both formidable and untouchable.

That he was neither became clearer as every passing day revealed more actresses he had allegedly harassed (or in three cases raped — according to the New Yorker), some of them famous names, some who had appeared in his movies, some who had won awards doing so. Within a week he had been dismissed summarily by the company he created, been abandoned by his friends, threatened with losing the Oscars he had won, lost his wife, and was facing the prospect of criminal charges and a prison sentence.

It is always unpleasant to watch a pack of hounds turn on and rend a fugitive even when the fugitive has it coming. All his old associates run for cover; no chits for past favors can be redeemed; his accusers grow in number and vehemence (though not necessarily in credibility.)

We never knew!

Yet it was apparently common knowledge in the movie business, whispered about by the Weinstein staffers, gossiped about by waiters at his favorite restaurants (who knew his modus operandi when it came to seducing starlets), and even joked about at Oscar performances and on the sitcom 30 Rock. It’s the old, old story: everyone knew and no one knew until it was in their interest to know it — as it had previously been in their interest to be ignorant about it. Now the difference is that they are volubly ignorant.

It was a different time.

But what time was that and who made it different? Modern social etiquette, even in Hollywood, was not always either brutally transactional or coercive. Ray Milland, learning that Audrey Totter (one of film noir’s bad girls who was actually a good girl) was about to have dinner with a notorious seducer, insisted on going along to help her escape. It was Hefner-ing of sexual revolution that put a stop to that kind of chivalry, making it seem a different kind of coercion and delegitimizing it to the point where people looked away from harassment as well as from flirting.

Sexual harrassment is what powerful men do.

Really, all of them? That’s the feminist interpretation of Weinstein’s M.O., and we’ll be hearing a lot more of it. Even in this case, however, the hypocrisy and lies are not all on the one side. If the silence of the stars was transactional, as it plainly was, maybe some of the sex of the starlets was transactional too. But the coming new sexual etiquette is likely to insist that we must believe the victims at all times, even when that same rule in the child-sex abuse panic of a generation ago led to innocent teachers of both sexes spending years in prison before the lies of their accusers and prosecutors were exposed.

And this is not just another tale from Hollywood. Weinstein was an influential donor in the liberal politics and the Democratic party. He was a friend of Hillary Clinton. He bankrolled Tina Brown’s magazine, Talk, to enable Hollywood to influence Washington and vice versa. He had talked his way into national prominence by proclaiming that Hollywood was the compassionate conscience of America. And as his world was collapsing, his first response was to offer to redeem himself by destroying the National Rifle Association. You couldn’t make it up.

So more hangs alongside Harvey than some Hollywood reputations, as his former friends realize. When Tina Brown gave a qualified defense of her old boss, some instinct prompted her to mount a pre-emptive attack on the vast right wing conspiracy that might profit from the scandal: “Harvey is an intimidating and ferocious man,” she wrote. “Crossing him, even now, is scary. But it’s a different era now. Cosby. Ailes. O‘Reilly, Weinstein. It’s over, except for one — the serial sexual harasser in the White House.”

But that only drew attention to an obvious name missing from her list: a serial sexual harasser who used to be in the White House and whose enabling wife she championed passionately until recently: the Big He, Bill Clinton.To be sure, there are risks to Donald Trump in this scandal. But the Clinton machine and its cash nexus with Hollywood is definitely finished. Hugh Hefner doubly so. He died at just the right time. His obituaries today would all be written as if by Ross Douthat.

And Marilyn Monroe must be turning away in her grave.

13 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Tossers

  • pgang says:

    “American priggishness and wider social intolerance”. Hmm. That reads very much like revisionism. Or an extremely juvenile take on simple, everyday morality that protects people like oh, I don’t know… women. Children. Families. Dare I say it; men. Everybody.

  • prsmith14@gmail.com says:

    “A tale of two tossers.” If only their indiscretions had been so solo fewer women might have suffered. I have recently been to Melbourne and took C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity for company. What a reread. We would all benefit from absorbing its message. Temptation is hard to resist. We need all the help we can get. People like Weinstein need it more than most. They have the power and opportunity and are at particular risk of succumbing to bullying others to get their way. But you don’t mean to tell me that he’s not one among a multitude. The ‘casting couch’ did not come into being because of Weinstein. All those Hollywood notables are a bunch of hypocrites. Quite honestly, I am not sure that he deserves to be singled out but they have a scapegoat and he’ll be torn apart. One good thing that may come out of it is less moralising at Hollywood award ceremonies. Maybe they will even keep shtum about Trump.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    It is common knowledge that gross sexual misconduct by powerful men, using their position and wealth, is not at all uncommon. That would be especially true in show business, particularly in Hollywood. What is puzzling is why particular individuals are suddenly singled out to be fall guys while the rest with similar culpability carry on regardless. Harvey Weinstein is the current example of the phenomenon, reminding one of the case of Dominique Gaston André Strauss-Kahn, cost of the IMF at the time, who was also brought down by a sexual scandal back in 2011.

  • mburke@pcug.org.au says:

    People of a certain age know that Weinstein is just the latest in a long line of Hollywood sexual predators that goes back to the silent movie era and no doubt thrived in earlier show business wherever it was based. The legendary “casting couch” predated Weinstein, Chaplin, Hitchcock, Polanski and Co by many decades, so the shock/horror being expressed by people in the industry and their media claque is literally incredible.

    The most important benefit to come from this scandal may be the exposure of the disgraceful links between the Hollywood sewer and mainstream Democratic politicians.

    • Jody says:

      Don’t forget Woody Allen, please. Married his partner’s adopted daughter after an affair with the under-aged girl right under Farrow’s nose. One rule for them; another for the rest of us?. I don’t think so!!!!

  • en passant says:

    Weinstein is a dirtbag. Period. No excuse for his pure sexual depredations and depravity. He is at the disgusting end of the totem pole with no ‘feelings’ for any of his victims, but lots of remorse because he has been caught and destroyed.

    However, can anyone tell me the ‘proper’ way to meet and court a woman these days? Is it chaperoned meeting with no touching like Michael in the Godfather in Sicily?
    Is it an arranged marriage with your first cousin?
    Should we just buy a bride for XX pigs or a dowry?
    Is it a Russian blonde online?
    A blind ‘speed’ date?
    What is the the acceptable method these days?

    How would this go today? I saw a girl once – and for me it was love at first sight. I visited her work at every opportunity and (seemingly by today’s definition) ‘harrassed’ her until she agreed to come to dinner. After just two dates it was all I needed as we have now been married for 42-years. I guess I could just as easily have been prosecuted.

    Anyway, I am lucky to be here at all as my father first dated my mother when he was 24 and she was 14. They married 4-years later and were still inseparable until he died 52 years later.

    The problem is (as some teachers in the USA {who have gone to prison, got out and married the previously underage ‘object’ of their affection} – and French President Macron of France demonstrate) it is well-nigh impossible to draft a rule that makes sense in all cases.

    Tell me how do you separate the predators from what is actually just normal behaviour?

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Aren’t the Obamas strangely quiet.

  • Doc S says:

    The ‘casting couch’ certainly pre-dates Weinstein but does not excuse his vile behaviour towards all who crossed or refused him (well known according to his brother and business partner who claims not to have spoken to him for five years) let alone hundreds of sexual assaults and even (allegedly) rapes. But that’s just the thing – it WAS well known and an open secret in Hollywood for years. This morning I heard an American journo interviewed on the ABC who, virtue signalling like a semaphoring sailor, gave a hearty congratulations to ‘all those journalists’ who had exposed Weinstein! What intrepid members of the 4th estate you may well ask. I know of only one who tried to do this BEFORE the story broke – Ronan Farrow. That’s Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s son who joined his mother in her crusade against paedophiles in Hollywood like Woody Allen (who seduced and raped Ronan’s adopted sibling – then a teenager – while still married to Ronan’s mum) and as a journalist had tried to get tried to get one of the major media channels to run the story back in 2013: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/10/how-badly-did-nbc-news-blow-the-weinstein-story

    The hypocrisy of the Hollywood elites is only surpassed by the liberal/Left mainstream media who ran a mile rather than expose a powerful man and serial sexual predator like Weinstein. But the Hollywood sewer much like the Washington swamp, is deep and wide and sexual predators like Weinstein, Allen and Roman Polanski can, just like Bill Clinton, get away with it for years. But funnily enough not that vulgarian Trump – never Trump! – note Meryl Streep using every opportunity to attack Trump including for his misogyny and alleged sexual assaults (dozens of cases supposedly brought against him during the election but which have since magically disappeared – you’ll note the same Hollywood attorney who represented them is doing so for the women alleging being attacked by Weinstein) while at the same time claiming ignorance of Weinstein’s actual sexual predation and of course waxing lyrical about child rapist Polanski as a great artist! Streep and all those all applauding Polanski at the Academy Awards demonstrate a moral sickness that permeates celebrity actors and the US entertainment industry.

    Even those who may appear to be reasonable give voice to the same or similar gobsmacking opinions. Take for example Whoopi Goldberg as a TV host talking about Polanski, commenting that ‘there’s rape and then there’s rape’ to belittle his crimes. To her the drugging and repeated sodomising of a 13 year old child does not constitute rape, well ‘real’ rape anyway. Besides, Polanski is such a great artist all should be forgiven with the passage of time and that’s the level of moral depravity that exists in Hollywood and the entertainment industry of today. Little wonder pigs like Weinstein get away with their crimes for years.

  • Doc S says:

    Great opinion piece by the way – ‘A Tale of Two Tossers’ is the prefect heading!

  • Doc S says:

    ‘perfect’ heading!!!

Leave a Reply