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In the Air – Art+Auction's Gossip Column

Hugh Hefner’s Youngest Son and Playboy Heir Apparent Joins “Nude vs. Naked” Debate

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Cooper Hefner, the 21-year-old (and youngest) son of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, made some bold claims regarding the artistic merits of his father’s adult magazine in a recent interview with the Independent, and seems poised to take over the family business, which he’s looking to re-brand as an art magazine. Sort of. “If somebody is trying to argue the point that Playboy is pornography, then you probably shouldn’t be showering or going to a museum where there’s nude art,” the youngest Hefner told the U.K. newspaper. “That’s very hypocritical.”

While Hefner’s apparent analogy between showering and looking at pornography is confusing — and kind of flattering? — the point he’s driving at is the age-old “nude v. naked” debate, whereby the former is considered art and the latter pornography.

“At either end of the cultural register we have the images of high art and pornography,” Lynda Nead wrote in her landmark 1992 book “The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality.” “On the one hand, there is the fine-art female nude as a symbol of the pure, disinterested, functionless gaze and of the female body transubstantiated; and, on the other hand, we have the images of pornography, the realm of the profane and mass culture where sensual desires are stimulated and gratified.”

Hefner, however, sets out to blur and ultimately abolish this distinction between the high culture nude body and low culture naked body. “I don’t think Playboy objectifies women,” he told the Independent. “I think you’re going to talk to many women who think that putting on the bunny outfit objectifies women and you’re going to talk to just as many women who thinks putting on the bunny outfit empowers women.”

While Nead might take issue with Hefner’s point about the empowerment of Playboy Bunnies, she does allow that there are many of gray along the spectrum between nude and naked bodies. “Between these two extremes there lies a range of cultural distinctions,” she wrote, “and a sacred frontier which is drawn and redrawn along the lines of competing definitions of acceptability and unacceptability.”

Hefner, however, takes a hardline, all-or-nothing stance, claiming that images of nude women in Playboy, like those in any museum, are aesthetic equivalents, and therefore they must all be accepted as depictions of either nude or naked bodies. “If you consider Playboy pornography,” he told the Independent, “then you consider any photo of a nude woman or man pornography.”

Asked about the status of his own body, however, Hefner the younger revealed his views to be far more prudish than his father’s, saying: “I have no intentions of putting on silk pajamas and smoking a pipe.”

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image: Andy Warhol’s cover for the January 1986 cover of Playboy.)

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