“Mr. Hefner’s magazine is most widely known for its total exposure of the human female,” says William F. Buckley, introducing the guest on this 1966 broadcast of his talk show Firing Line. “Though of course other things happen in its pages.” Not long before, publisher and pleasure empire-builder Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine ran a series of articles on “the Playboy philosophy,” a set of observations of and propositions about human sexuality that provided these men fodder for their televised debate. Hefner stands against religiously mandated, chastity-centered codes of sexual morality; Buckley demands to know how Hefner earned the qualifications to issue new codes of his own. Describing the Playboy philosophy as “sort of a hedonistic utilitarianism,” Buckley tries simultaneously to understand and demolish these 20th-century revisions of the rules of sex.
“The Playboy founder is no match for the Catholic who snipes him at will with ‘moral’ bullets,” writes the poster of the video. “The acerbic, dry Buckley is on attack mode with a conservative audience, in moral panic, behind him. The Catholic had the era of conservatism behind him. [ … ] In the 21st century though, Buckley would have a harder time defending morality with Hefner.” One wonders how Buckley and Hefner, were they still alive today, might revisit this debate in 2017. (Buckley died in 2008, and Hefner passed away yesterday at the age of 91.) Times have certainly changed, but I suspect Buckley would raise the same core objection to Hefner’s argument that loosening the old strictures on sex leads, perhaps counterintuitively, to more satisfied, more monogamous pairings: “How in the hell do you know?” Though this and certain other of Buckley’s questions occasionally wrong-foot Hefner, the faithful can rest assured that he keeps enough cool to fire up his signature pipe on camera.
Note: This post first appeared on our site back in 2012. We brought it back today for obvious reasons, and updated it to reflect Hefner’s passing. Since 2012, a huge archive of “Firing Line” episodes have been put online. Get more on that here.
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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.
The right could use another Buckley. The current crop of tv clowns irritate the heck out of me.