DOI: 10.1177/01968599231220927 ISSN: 0196-8599

Change in Meaning of Hugh Hefner and Playboy: From Horatio Alger to Sexual Predator

James K. Beggan
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Communication
  • Cultural Studies

Between 1953 and 2023, mass media changed how they cover Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine. My thesis is that the defining narratives of Hugh Hefner and his famous creation involved five distinct media personas, which were entrepreneur, activist, paradox, tragic figure, and predator. Using key magazine articles as central points of information, I consider how changes in Playboy's success combined with cultural shifts in the structure of feeling, such as fourth-wave feminism and the Me Too movement, to transform the dominant representation of Hugh Hefner from an entrepreneurial Horatio Alger to a salacious predator. Media attention after his death recognizes that Hugh Hefner had a definite but undeniably controversial influence on American life.

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