“Hefner and Playboy have been around so long that not everyone remembers what America used to be like. It was sexually repressed and socially restrictive. College students were expelled for having sex out of wedlock. Homosexuality and miscegenation were illegal. Freedom of choice was denied. McCarthyism still cast a pall over the freedom of speech. Many people joined in the fight against that unhealthy society. Hefner was one of them, and a case can can be made that Playboy had a greater influence on our society in its first half-century than any other magazine.
No doubt Playboy objectified women and all the rest of it. But it also celebrated them, and freed their bodies from the stigma of shame. It calmly explained that women were sexual beings, and experienced orgasms, and that photographs of their bodies were not by definition "dirty pictures." Not many of today's feminists (of either gender) would be able to endure America's attitudes about women in the 1950s.”Of all the things in my life that I feel guilty about from time to time--my weakness for donuts and Guinness, the difficulty I have sticking to an exercise regime, my periodic inability to think objectively about personal conflicts --my subscription to Playboy is not among them, largely for reasons that Ebert lists in his piece. The women that are presented in the magazine are more pleasant than they are arousing; they have more in common with the nude sculptures at your local art museum than they do the images and videos you may find at your favorite porn site. And the articles, interviews, stories, cartoons, essays, and trifles that appear in the magazine make it well worth buying in and of themselves.
Overall, Playboy magazine promotes a largely progressive, epicurean worldview and culture that I cannot fault. I didn't know all of the history of Hugh Hefner that Ebert presents in his piece, but it makes me appreciate him and his magazine even more.