This week, Hugh Hefner, the man who built Playboy, passed away at age 91; and of course, everyone on the Internet is now an expert on his legacy. Some regard him as a hero of free speech while others dismiss his accomplishments as adolescent and sexist. Both points of view, without a doubt, hold some weight, but that is beside the point. There is no need to make someone into a saint or devil just because their time on Earth has ended.
There is no doubt that Hugh Hefner did some things in his life well. It is a fact that he was able to build an empire worth millions of dollars from a 600-dollar investment into a start-up magazine. Obviously, he was a great businessman. Now, the details of that business and his empire are dirty, and there is absolutely a debate to be had about the morality of many of his business decisions. At the same time, there is evidence that he fought for civil rights. He was obviously not a saint, but concluding that he was evil does not feel accurate either. No historical figure that we revere is perfect, and few of the hated characters have made all the wrong decisions. It is inaccurate to say that someone is all bad or all good because we are human beings; we are not made to be all one or the other. This is not to say that when we reflect on history, we will not see that some people’s bad outweighed their good, or vice versa. Still, most of the time these conclusions are extremely subjective.
The Left: Hugh Hefner was a secret women's rights activist
The Right: Hefner was really a champion of traditional sex roles
— Brooke Rogers 🌻 (@bkerogers) September 28, 2017
In the age of hot-takes, it is seemingly necessary to suddenly have an opinion on the departed, even though you had not thought about the person once while they were alive. Respecting the dead, which is a virtue, does not need to mean defaulting to reverence. When Hugh Hefner was alive, free speech advocates were not looking to him as a leader for their cause. In fact, the man was usually just a footnote on the entertainment page of publications. If he was not a free speech icon when he was alive, I am not sure how he suddenly jumped to that status upon his passing. I understand the desire for a clean obituary, but assertions of heroism are not necessary. Your Legacy does not begin on the day of your death, you shape it every day you are alive.
Your Legacy does not begin on the day of your death, you shape it every day you are alive.
Sure, everything may come into perspective once you die; but in Hefner’s case, he did not pass legislation protecting First Amendment rights, or vehemently defend others practicing their rights. We all know that was not his first and foremost goal, so let us stop pretending as if it were.
With this in mind, though, I do not think that it is right to sully the man for all his unsavory actions on the day of his death. People cared about him during his life, and I think it is just respectful as human beings to hold your hot-take and respect the ideas of death and grieving. Consider the passing of Phyllis Schlafly. On the one hand, she was a conservative hero for fighting against Planned Parenthood, but liberal America regarded her as a sexist trying to preserve “traditional” family norms. Frankly, though, her work will live on in history books, so Twitter didn’t need everyone’s hot-take before the funeral rites. In the case of Hefner, we know about his successes and his shortcomings. We should take a day just to say, “rest in peace.” We are all better people for it.
Frankly, it is not difficult to just read a news alert and get on with your day. If you honestly looked up to a person while they were alive, by all means, say that in the event of their death. For me, Nancy Reagan’s passing was heartbreaking, but that was because I followed her life and legacy long before she passed away. If you despised a celebrity or politician in their life, maybe just keep your mouth shut when they eventually pass on.
Death is a tough concept for us as people to understand and react to appropriately, so if you are not sure that your hot-take is a good idea, maybe it is best just to delete it. Remember, your opinion means more if you give it sparingly, and no one likes a controversial opinion on someone’s death. In the end, there is no point. It is not like you’re going to get a response.