Get out the garlic! Hef is back. That was the gist of a series of articles last summer and fall chronicling the return to the limelight of Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner. Profiles in Rolling Stone, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and The Washington Post all told the same story. After a quiet decade of marriage and family life, the newly separated Hefner was making the scene once again. The 73-year-old swinger had opened the semi-public Playboy mansion to celebrity parties again. He was trolling the predawn L.A. club scene, giving testimonials for Viagra, and maintaining a harem of four 20-something blondes (including a set of identical twins).
A few of the profiles noted not just Hefner’s immaturity (that’s hardly news), but his eerie agelessness—"especially his wrinkle-free hands," Time magazine marveled. Hefner’s always lived a nocturnal existence. Even in L.A. he religiously shuns the sun. And for 45 years his company has fed off the fresh blood of young women. It may take wooden stakes and silver bullets to stop this millennial media comeback.
Maybe that’s appropriate. Sadly enough, Hefner stands as one of the emblematic American figures of the last half-century. His "Playboy Philosophy" of selfishness and commercial hedonism seems to have won the day. Hefner’s shallow individualism, written in large block letters, is the Hammurabic code of our media-addled civilization. The Playboy lifestyle is about guilt-free, no-strings sex—sex as a commodity. But it is also about commodities as relationships. From the earliest days Hef’s magazine has shown a fetishistic devotion to cool stuff, the more expensive the better.