Hugh Hefner, America’s favorite playboy, is celebrating 50 years in the business. He hosted Joe Scarborough on Thursday’s ‘Scarborough Country,’ at the Playboy Mansion. Scroll below to read Hugh talk about the sexual revolution, Playboy’s surivival, and why the magazine is not the antithesis of American values.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Now, a lot of people watching this show are going to be stunned, because we have a lot of conservative viewers. They’re going to say, what’s a conservative congressman like Joe Scarborough doing hanging out with Hugh Hefner at the Playboy mansion?
A lot of them have not been very kind to you or Playboy over the years. And they’ve considered Playboy to be an enemy, an enemy of family values, an enemy of whatever. How do you respond to that? Have you considered conservatives to be Hugh Hefner and Playboy’s enemies?
HUGH HEFNER, FOUNDER & EDITOR, PLAYBOY: No, not necessarily. I think that most comments about Playboy are a projection of one’s own particular prejudices, fantasies, dreams. So I think, always, it reflects a certain amount of connection to me and a certain amount of connection to wherever they’re coming from.
SCARBOROUGH: Where they’re coming from?
HEFNER: Sure. Absolutely. It’s a Rorschach test.
SCARBOROUGH: 50 years ago, you really launched in America the sexual revolution. Was there ever a time, as you saw society changing over the years, that you thought maybe, maybe at the onset of AIDS, that you maybe thought, “Hey, you know what, America may be taking this sexual revolution a bit too far; this is getting dangerous?”
HEFNER: Well, have I felt over the years that there were excesses and exploits? Of course. Sure. Freedom itself is very dangerous. Democracy is a dangerous idea.
If you give people free choice, they’re going to make some smart choices and they’re going to make some dumb choices. I think that’s the nature of things. It just happens to be the best way of living your life. That’s all.
SCARBOROUGH: How has Playboy survived in the age of the Internet, obviously, where porn is a multimillion dollar business, while you’ve got magazines like “Penthouse” who are reportedly struggling for their survival? What’s the secret of your success?
HEFNER: Well, I think the simplest and most obvious way is that we took the high road.
In other words, from the beginning, I never thought of Playboy really as a sex magazine. I thought of it as a lifestyle magazine with sex incorporated as one part of it. The more explicit magazines like Penthouse are suffering because they’re in direct competition with the Internet and readily available hard-core almost everywhere.
SCARBOROUGH: So, when friends of mine tell me they read Playboy for the articles, that’s a fair statement?
HEFNER: Probably a half-truth, sure.
SCARBOROUGH: Let’s talk about the Internet. Let’s talk about some of “Playboy”‘s more hard-core competitors, whether it’s Penthouse or Hustler. Do you think those more hard-core magazines to pornography are degrading to women and actually harm American society?
HEFNER: I don’t think explicit images of sex, per se, hurt people, certainly in terms of adult society. I don’t think sex is the enemy.
I think that the enemy is essentially violence and bigotry and war and things that really hurt. I think we’ve gotten more harm historically out of keeping sex hidden. It was in Victorian times that we got child slavery and the most abusive excesses in terms of sexuality. I think that sex, by its nature, is healthier when it’s out in the open.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, Playboy remains the biggest player in the men’s magazine market. With a circulation of more than three million a month, your closest competitor is Maxim, selling 2.5 million. And the classic men’s magazines, GQ and Esquire, sell less than 1 million issues a month. And, again, Penthouse,which once thought they were going to take over your market share, is now reported to be on the verge of going under.
What do you think it says about Playboy’s success and magazines like Maxim’s success? What does that say about tastes in American culture, specifically men’s tastes, as we go into the 21st century?
HEFNER: Well, I think it’s obvious, for a lot of reasons, that there is a certain dumbing down of society.
We get our news and information now by sound bites, the briefest kinds of moments on television and radio and on the Internet. And I think the nature of things also is that the younger generation has a shorter attention span. You see that reflected not only in magazines like Maxim, but you also see it in changes that have taken place in Playboy.
In other words, readers, by and large, are not as given to a thoughtful, extended periods of time with fiction or nonfiction. I think we’re bombarded now by so many different sources of information, that it’s kind of pick and choose.
SCARBOROUGH: Briefly, in the few seconds we have remaining, what’s next for Hugh Hefner and the Playboy empire?
HEFNER: Get ready for the big celebration. We’re going to be celebrating half a century. And it’s been a remarkable ride, with a lot more to come.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you so much, Hugh Hefner. And, again, thank you for hosting SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY tonight from the mansion.
HEFNER: It is my pleasure.