DAVID FRENCH ON HUGH HEFNER
These are my thoughts on a recent piece in National Review, my favorite conservative magazine. Please comment nicely!
Hugh Hefner died this week, and since he was the founder of PLAYBOY magazine there were a lot of pieces online about how his famous nude centerfolds and topless Bunny clubs demeaned women and were ugly and sexist and a threat to sexual equality.
I wouldn't argue with any of that. I read Playboy all the time as a teenager, and I thought some of the Playmates were really cute. I had pictures on my wall of Kelly Gallagher, Miriam Gonzalez, and one or two other Eighties playmates for many years. But after a while I just found Playboy depressing. Hugh Hefner kept getting older and older and the women around him kept getting younger and younger, and I kept seeing pictures of this cadaverous seventy year old man surrounded by vacant, dead-eyed women and wondering "what is this man really trying to prove?"
In short, I will concede that Hugh Hefner was a very unappealing specimen of American manhood.
Still, I was a little bit shocked when I checked in at National Review Online the other day and saw a savage attack on Hugh Hefner by one of the most brilliant minds in America, David French. I admire David French because he's a lawyer who served in Iraq, and a southerner who adopted a black child, but he's still not afraid to challenge the excesses of the anti-American left and defend old-fashioned values like patriotism and respect for the military. I was a Marine for six years and I'm proud to consider David French as a comrade and fellow patriot.
Now David French's piece had nothing to do with feminism, or with objectifying women. All of his anger at Hugh Hefner is based on three assumptions. 1.) Playboy magazine made pornography respectable, easily available, and popular in mainstream culture. 2.) Pornography leads to masturbation. 3.) Masturbation is a dangerous habit, because men who masturbate frequently stop loving their wives and become unable to perform sexually, thus destroying the marriage and the family as well.
How can I even begin to describe all the ways this argument makes no sense? Millions upon millions of men of all ages, races, and educational levels masturbate every day. Men have always masturbated and they always will. If masturbation could have destroyed the institution of marriage, it would have long ago. Men have been masturbating since the Stone Age. Since it is and has always been virtually universal, we can assume that pornography has neither improved the process nor made it more widespread. If, on the other hand, the Conservative movement, or the Christian Right, is trying to regain momentum after the election of Donald Trump, going after the masturbators is not the way to go. There are simply too many of them. And they are too hard to catch.
Now the idea that genital self-excitement is unhealthy is not new. It goes back more than a hundred years. And it was debunked by medical science almost that far back. David French doesn't offer any sort of scientific evidence for any of the bizarre claims he makes in his article. He just says he's "heard the stories" of men who started consuming porn, and then couldn't stop, and then began neglecting their wives, and then because sexually impotent. He leaves out the part about the hairy palms, though. And he also leaves out the danger of insanity or blindness. Why on earth does this courageous veteran, this powerful conservative voice want to embrace the outdated superstitions of the Victorian era? Are there no real evils left to fight?
It's interesting that David French has nothing to say about women and masturbation. They do it too. Some of them do it a lot. Even married women do it. They may not read Playboy, but there happens to be a multi-billion dollar a year industry called romantic fiction that specialized in satisfying the urge in women to fantasize, to dream of passion, and to . . . well, to masturbate.
But David French is silent on the problem of female desire. He has no horror stories to tell of women who read too many romance novels, or women who can "make love to thousands of men" in their minds and therefore find their husbands unappealing. Everyone knows women can and do fantasize about sex, and that it happens every day. But David French can't think honestly about sex. Male or female, gay or straight, any form of sexual appetite fills him with panic. He's not interested in facts. He responds to imaginary danger with hysteria and finger-pointing, insisting that everything will spin out of control and we'll all be destroyed if "those people" are allowed to get away with it.
But in this case, "those people" are simply the entire human race. Everyone masturbates. Hugh Hefner didn't start it, and David French can't stop it. The irony suggests itself that these two men have a lot in common. David French's obsessions are just as unhealthy as Hugh Hefner's. But as long as he focuses on silly problems the conservative movement will remain a joke.