(Gosh, I do seem to write an awful lot of responses to famous people dying, don’t I?)
I spend a lot of time thinking about narratives in reality. About how desperate we are to cobble together stories of lives, make everybody fit into neat boxes, neat tales that we can tell. You see it, often, when people die.
Hugh Hefner is dead, and people are scrambling to make an understandable narrative, and this is leading to a lot of really divisive articles: some want to talk about Hefner’s stance against America’s puritanical obsession with sex, and his libertarian attitude towards that; some want to talk about Hefner’s progressive stance on race; and others want to talk about Hefner’s abusive relationships with the women in his life.
The fact is, each of these tells a different story, and the way we think about narratives makes it difficult to tell all three at the same time; but if we don’t, we forgo reality for stories. And I feel that’s where a lot of danger lies.
Reality: Hugh Hefner was a shitty human being. Does that mean his legacy is likewise shitty? No, not necessarily. But if you only focus on one aspect of his legacy you do yourself a disservice by flattening the world into black, grey and white.
Don’t dream in monochrome: dream in complicated color, and tell stories where people don’t fit into boxes simply labelled ‘heroes’ or ‘villains’. Realize that reality does not fit ‘happy ever after’ stories; that all stories, as Gaiman tells us, end, eventually in death. Look at the people who surround you, and see if you can understand that each of them is someone’s hero, someone’s villain, someone’s hated enemy.
Live a life so full that when you die, nobody can fit it in one obituary.
As for Hefner? Maybe there is something to learn from him. That when all you’re surrounded by is sex…then sex is all you’re surrounded by. The human mind had to invent romance, intimacy, love, which are so much more complicated than the simple physical act of attempted to reproduce. Romance, that complicated dance between smiles and perfumes and what is and is not expected; intimacy, that quiet silence of what is said and what doesn’t need to be said, and what you can share with only one person in the whole world; and love, delicate and complex and simple and strange as a frost-drawn cobweb in early spring.
In life, in love, in stories, in everything, if you fill yourself with simplicity, you leave no room for the complex. Remove simplicity: revel in the complex. Hold two conflicting opinions of a man and understand that, at the end of the day, we will all be just words on a page, at the mercy of an editor trying to make a Good Story of our complicated, messy lives.