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Camille Paglia on Hugh Hefner's Legacy, Trump's Masculinity and Feminism's Sex Phobia

October 2, 2017 1:45 PM
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Absolutely not! The central theme of my wing of pro-sex feminism is that all celebrations of the sexual human body are positive. Second-wave feminism went off the rails when it was totally unable to deal with erotic imagery, which has been a central feature of the entire history of Western art ever since Greek nudes.

Hugh Hefner absolutely revolutionized the persona of the American male. In the post World War II era, men's magazines were about hunting and fishing or the military, or they were like Esquire, erotic magazines with a kind of European flair.

Hefner re-imagined the American male as a connoisseur in the continental manner, a man who enjoyed all the fine pleasures of life, including sex. Hefner brilliantly put sex into a continuum of appreciative response to jazz, to art, to ideas, to fine food. This was something brand new. Enjoying fine cuisine had always been considered unmanly in America. Hefner updated and revitalized the image of the British gentleman, a man of leisure who is deft at conversation — in which American men have never distinguished themselves — and with the art of seduction, which was a sport refined by the French.

Hefner’s new vision of American masculinity was part of his desperate revision of his own Puritan heritage. On his father's side, he descended directly from William Bradford, who came over on the Mayflower and was governor of Plymouth Colony, the major settlement of New England Puritans.

But Hefner’s world-view was already dated by the explosion of the psychedelic 1960s. The anything-goes, free-love atmosphere —illustrated by all that hedonistic rolling around in the mud at Woodstock in 1969 — made the suave Hefner style seem old-fashioned and buttoned up. Nevertheless, I have always taken the position that the men's magazines — from the glossiest and most sophisticated to the rawest and raunchiest — represent the brute reality of sexuality. Pornography is not a distortion. It is not a sexist twisting of the facts of life but a kind of peephole into the roiling, primitive animal energies that are at the heart of sexual attraction and desire.

It must be remembered that Hefner was a gifted editor who knew how to produce a magazine that had great visual style and that was a riveting combination of pictorial with print design. Everything about Playboy as a visual object, whether you liked the magazine or not, was lively and often ravishing.

I would hope that people could see the positives in the Playboy sexual landscape — the foregrounding of pleasure and fun and humor. Sex is not a tragedy, it's a comedy! [laughs]

Before the election, I kept pointing out that the mainstream media based in Manhattan, particularly The New York Times, was hopelessly off in the way it was simplistically viewing Trump as a classic troglodyte misogynist. I certainly saw in Trump the entire Playboy aesthetic, including the glitzy world of casinos and beauty pageants. It's a long passé world of confident male privilege that preceded the birth of second-wave feminism. There is no doubt that Trump strongly identified with it as he was growing up. It seems to be truly his worldview.

But it is categorically not a world of unwilling women. Nor is it driven by masculine abuse. It's a world of show girls, of flamboyant femaleness, a certain kind of strutting style that has its own intoxicating sexual allure — which most young people attending elite colleges today have had no contact with whatever.

My 1960s generation was the gender-bending generation — we were all about blending the genders in fashion and attitude. But it has to be said that in terms of world history, the taste for and interest in androgyny is usually relatively brief. And it comes at late and decadent phases of culture! [laughs] World civilizations predictably return again and again to sexual polarization, where there is a tremendous electric charge between men and women.

The unhappy truth is that the more the sexes have blended, the less each sex is interested in the other. So we’re now in a period of sexual boredom and inertia, complaint and dissatisfaction, which is one of the main reasons young men have gone over to pornography. Porn has become a necessary escape by the sexual imagination from the banality of our everyday lives, where the sexes are now routinely mixed in the workplace.

With the sexes so bored with each other, all that's left are these feminist witch-hunts. That's where the energy is! And meanwhile, men are shrinking. I see men turning away from women and simply being content with the world of fantasy because women have become too think-skinned, resentful and high maintenance.

And American women don't know what they want any longer. In general, French women — the educated, middle-class French women, I mean — seem to have a feminine composure, a distinct sense of themselves as women, which I think women in America have gradually lost as they have won job equality in our high-pressure career system.

Trump has certainly steadily hired and promoted women in his businesses, but it has to be said that his vision of women as erotic beings remains rather retrograde. Part of his nationwide support seems to be coming from his bold defense of his own maleness. Many mainstream voters are gratified by his reassertion of male pride and confidence. Trump supporters may be quite right that, in this period of confusion and uncertainty, male identity needs to be reaffirmed and reconsolidated. (And I’m speaking here as a Democrat who voted for Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein!)

Ultimately every culture seems to return to sexual polarization because it may be in the best interest of human beings, whether we like it or not. Nature drives every species to procreate, although not necessarily when there's overpopulation!

What Playboy doesn't know about well-educated, upper-middle-class women with bitter grievances against men could fill a book! I don't regard Gloria Steinem as an expert on any of the human appetites, sexuality being only one of them. Interviews with Steinem were documenting from the start how her refrigerator contained nothing but two bottles of carbonated water.

Oh Lord, how many times is Gloria Steinem going to play the Nazi card? What she said about me in the 1990s was: "Her calling herself a feminist is sort of like a Nazi saying he’s not anti-Semitic.” That’s the simplistic level of Steinem's thinking!

Gloria Steinem, Susan Faludi, all of those relentlessly ideological feminists are people who have wandered away from traditional religion and made a certain rabid type of feminist rhetoric their religion. And their fanaticism has poisoned the public image of feminism and driven ordinary, mainstream citizens away from feminism. It’s outrageous.

I hugely admired the early role that Steinem played in second-wave feminism because she was very good as a spokesperson in the 1970s. She had a very soothing manner that made it seem perfectly reasonable for people to adopt feminist principles. She normalized the image of feminism when there were a lot of crazy feminists running around (like Valerie Solanas, who shot Andy Warhol). That was Steinem’s great contribution, as far as I'm concerned. Also, I credit her for co-founding Ms. magazine and thereby contributing that very useful word, Ms., to the English language, which allows us to refer to a woman without signaling her marital status. I think that's a tremendous accomplishment.

Source: hollywoodreporter.com

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