This is going to be a strange article, in a certain way: a sort of book review on a book that most readers here will never have access to – because I’ve read a Spanish translation of the original Russian. I picked up that book by a strange coincidence a few days after reading a report concerning FBI surveillance of Mr. Hefner.
The book, titled both in Spanish and Russian as (translated into English) The King of Immorality, by I. Borovoi, brought to mind some parallels between Hugh Hefner and Adolf Hitler. We have nothing good to say about the latter; if the former has any good points, we will leave to the reader to decide, though some of my own thinking will be obvious. Surely he was the life of the party!
There is a bit of frivolity in the current comparisons between Hitler and other people that one dislikes. I am not saying that I dislike Mr. Hefner. I never knew him. Depending on what I read, he may be respectable or not. In fact, The King of Immorality book seems to waffle between two positions. It should be considered as Communist propaganda, which does not mean that it is devoid of fact. This 1981 work is much more intelligent in its approach than the usual Soviet criticisms of the West were. Indeed, without having at my disposal the means to investigate the topic, it seems to be almost a Western publication – in a limited way – for Soviet society, four years before Gorbachev and glasnost.
Is it valid to compare the physical death of 6 million Jews with a moral death of an uncertain number of individuals, usually young men? I think that if one believes in free will, the deaths caused by the Nazis clearly outweigh any harm that Hefner’s works could have caused. A different question arises if one considers, comparatively, the evil of the Nazi propaganda to which the Germans and Austrians were subjected, and any evil that the likes of the works of a Hefner could produce.
Indeed, somewhere along the line some of us have learned of the cathartic nature of certain movies, and therefore, perhaps, of books and the like, dealing with the same topics. Personally, I highly doubt that watching a violent movie will cause less violence among the totality of individuals who watch it. Mr. Borovoi saw Playboy as a useful tool for the approval of such violence as was used in the United States in places such as Vietnam. Such a line of thinking, of course, was de rigueur for a Soviet citizen.
We will start with the lighter coincidences between Hitler and Hefner – two-syllabic Germanic names beginning with “H”. The former became a hit with the masses, especially after his goons beat anyone who did not have the right attitude. The true etymology is unknown, and our little word game should not be applied to those otherwise innocent of wrongdoing, but Wikipedia suggests “subterranean river” which does not suggest too much; the German word similar to, and meaning “hut”, again not saying much; and the verb “guard”, which we will apply to the blackguard that he was. Hefner, according to the website houseofnames.com, could come from antiquated German words meaning “pot” or “dish”. The words are apropos to the women of his magazine, the first in the sense of “honey-pot”. Obviously, this etymological game shows no equality, unless it is considered in view of their respective behaviors or “products”.
The initials of Hugh Hefner are sometimes used as code by neo-Nazis, with their “hailing” of their dead idol. (I have deliberately used the English form.)
Both men believed in legality, although both, at times, took certain measures to make sure that they would be in accordance with the law. Once Hitler got into power (I would not say that his help by the Brownshirts was lawful, although it was certainly insufficiently punished), he had the laws modified in order not to break them. This technique is used even now, by democracies which stack their Supreme Courts or Senates with majorities reflecting their own thinking. Hugh Hefner, according to Borovoi, and depending on the page one reads, either read the signs of the times correctly, and did not transgress the codes of the time1; or was backed up by decisions of courts2 or public opinion which he himself helped shape.3
Hitler wanted war, and I do not believe it necessary to point to the German press of the time to prove it.4 According to Borovoi, the American Government needed Hefner’s magazine to support America’s wars abroad. It is, we must state, admitted that when Americans no longer had their heart in the conflicts, the magazine changed its tune. There seems to be nothing wrong here, as we have already stated, Hefner was in tune with the times, or, to use slang, Hefner was hip.
Hitler, or at any rate, Nazi ideology, and Hefner, had similar ideas about women. For the former, it was “Kinder, Küche, Kirche”, or “kids, kitchen, and the kirk (church)”. Hefner did not present the first idea in his magazine, although it had to be a logical consequence – sometimes – of his idea of what women were to be used for (or as) – we’ll say bunnies, barbeques, and bedrooms. Some of his “girls” were shown in the kitchen.5 He had little use for organized religion, but in the same sense that Hitler tried to hijack the Lutheran Confession to his own agenda, Hefner did try to have the churches see things his way, going so far as to offer discounts to the men of the cloth, 6 inviting them to his mansion, 7 and debating with them on the radio.8
Both men were abstemious, at least in some things. Both were tea-totallers, neither smoked. 9
Perhaps the academic and business worlds, even in a free market, function horribly, in that they could not absorb the output of these two, and thus thrust them out where they could do their new deeds with no control. Hitler was the man who could not enter the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Hefner was the one who was denied a measly $5.00 per week raise by the magazine Esquire. 10
One cries about repression of the hedonist spirit, the other, of the suppression of the will to national, racial superiority.
What is cited as a principal of the Hearst newspapers is said to have been adopted by Hefner: the survival instinct, love and procreation, and vanity. 11 All 3 were in the Nazi program: a Darwinian survival of the fittest as defined by the party; increase of the supposed fittest race (to fill the vacuum which they would create or would have created), and the vanity of being of the pretended superior race.
Where they are diametrically opposite is in the question of censorship. Hefner did not want it, did not want “puritanism”. Hitler went the other way with his ideas of degeneracy in art and purity of race on the one hand, and book-burning on the other.
The Nazi poison was so strong, in the opinion of the Allies, that energetic means were required to detoxify the people affected. Anyone military-aged man, anybody in any position capable of forming policy was questioned, and according to the results, punished or let free (and some of the guilty left free for the expedience of the occupying powers). The Allies censored the newspapers and letters. The language in which a letter went abroad had to be printed outside of the envelope, in order that it could be reviewed by the appropriate interpreter.
Hefner had imitators, of which Borovoi names some.12 The poison which these generated eventually led to the downfall of their media empires, when more audacious competition became available with the Internet. From a religious point of view, these works are usually, (or have been) roundly condemned. They are condemned by feminists. The type of content is what drives men to commit the actions condemned by the #MeToo movement.
From the point of view of Borovoi, the magazine was a bourgeois product, 13 one of the few times that a word of the Soviet vocabulary came through. Hitler too, appealed to the burghers, or, if the reader prefers the French word for this, the bourgeoisie.
We have said enough about how they are similar. Now we go on to other considerations.
We have already stated that the style of the book is somewhat odd for Soviet writing, at least as far as we are aware. There is another oddity, in that the Spanish version of the book which we have, was published in Argentina during the last military government. This is rather strange, in that we were given to believe, by multiple sources, that the government disapproved of anything communist. I would say that that was more in the line of friendly advice, rather than absolute truth, for I have seen, in 1981, books by leftist authors in a shop window in the city of Mendoza. In this particular case, the government may have been lenient, because of a shared moral point of view. However, magazines of the type here described were not to be found at that time.
Borovoi’s true point of view is often masked by his irony or sarcasm. We ask ourselves if he secretly enjoyed the magazine. Of the first edition, he says that the girls did not seem vulgar, and were pleasingly presented. 14 Before the critical moment came, “[Hefner] kept his conservative attitude, roundly refusing a radical change in the content of the magazine [in the context of competition by more explicit magazines – P.K.M.] The lack of overt pornography is what permitted Playboy and its readers to boast of respectability. 15 This segues in later on with the question (of that time) of whether “[Playboy] would continue to be conservative, as it was previously, to please its readers, putting the appearance of respectability before anything else … ? 16 He refers to the young American as supermen,17 perhaps here deliberately forcing a comparison to what the Nazis had.
There is a certain difficulty in translating the word “playboy” into Spanish, and Ms. Wugman offered three suggestions, none of which translate back into English with the required word. One translation, somewhat valid in English, is part Spanish, part Italian: aficionado a la dolce vita. We will give her forced renditions in the following observation (but it must be remembered that the original text probably would be much different if translated directly from the original Russian):
Is it possible for anyone to be more inoffensive than a fickle person (literally, weather-vane) or a follower of Bacchus represented by a mere rabbit (because that rabbit is really charming!)? … the inoffensive playboy, removed from all politics, self-sufficient, boasting of his freedom … is a puppet on the string of his experienced masters. 18
At times Borovoi seems contradictory, when he states that the Hefner magazine was for the elite, for millionaires. But then again, it seems that millionaires are for him just a higher class of the bourgeoisie. 19
In the end, we see the up-to-then image of Mr. Hefner becoming tarnished, although the FBI material which we have seen in news reports does not go into that. We have said that he neither drank nor smoke, but we find testimony against him about his taking drugs, to which the magazine replied that his only stimulant – as was public knowledge of the time – was a certain well-known cola. 20 Both the C.I.A. and F.B.I. were more successful in compiling negative reports on Hitler and Nazis. 21
Millions of dead souls through World War II, 6 million through genocide. From a religious point of views, another type of dead soul resides in the living. While Borovoi would not state it in such terms, his constant harping upon the “bourgeois”, as seen in our 13th footnote, suggests to him dead souls of a different type – seen through his ideological lens, no doubt – but not necessarily untrue in its entirely.
June 28, 2019, rev. June 30, 2019.
© 2019, Paul Karl Moeller
All footnotes refer to the Spanish edition. A Russian version was found on-line at https://e-libra.ru/read/518005-korol-beznravstvennosti.html
1 Referring to the pro-military period, p. 30; later, for disarmament, p. 58.
2 Pp. 57-8. On page 64, a court in the state of New York is seen to have overturned the refusal by a police commissioner to licence one of Hefner’s clubs.
4 It would be very difficult to get hold of any German publication of the Nazi Years. I have seen copies of a virulent publication at a university library in Canada, but I do not have access to such sources at the present.
5 Playmate in kitchen, frying buns, preparing cake-mix, p. 37
6 p. 55.
8 p. 56
9 p. 70, paraphrasing: Hefner does whatever it takes to appear respectable. He neither drank nor smoke, drove an out-of-date car, and has a taboo about going to the clubs he created.
10 p. 15.
11 p. 50. A web search on the Hearst criteria was unfruitful.
12 pp. 74-8.
13 p. 20. If the word were cut out, the booklet would be more readable. Here is a partial list of the times we find “bourgeois” or “bourgoisie”: p. 17 and 70, with the words hyprocrisy; with “immorality” on p. 22, and again on p. 36; bourgeois class on p. 38; petty bourgoise standard(s) on p. 41; limited critique of their vices – p. 44; the propaganda – p. 48; its mass culture – p. 49.
14 p. 20.
15 p. 76.
16 p. 87.
17 p. 30 refers to the superman of the 20th Century, p. 49 to the playboy superman.
18 p. 34.
19 On p. 32, the required income (in 1981 dollars) is given; the following page states that readers are wealthy and successful, and p. 41 refers to the new millionaire.
20 On p. 85.
21 If the reader is interested, the following can be typed into a good search engine: “FBI report on Nazism”, “CIA report on Nazism” and “CIA report on Hitler”. Different options are available, of course.