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Did Hefner's death punch a hole in the dam?

Roxane Salonen

When the recent barrage of sexual-abuse allegations burst forth like water from a ruptured dam, I couldn't help but wonder, "Why now?"

While I understand the hesitation of the abused to come forward, given that these indiscretions had been happening for years, it puzzled me: why so many allegations in such close succession?

Someone suggested that Harvey Weinstein's downfall, which broke on Oct. 5 with revelations of rampant exploitations, provoked the initial punch. But an event a week earlier, on Sept. 27, seems even more significant: the death of Playboy kingpin Hugh Hefner.

Could this have been the force that caused the foundations of the massive wall to rumble, at least regarding Hollywood? Though Hefner didn't "start the fire," to borrow from Billy Joel, his contributions to an industry condoning sexual abuse were significant.

At the announcement of Hefner's death, the very air seemed in flux. I watched, disturbed, as people either hailed him the world's greatest entrepreneur or cracked morbid sexual jokes.

But most revolting was his requested, and honored, burial, next to Norma Jean Mortenson, or Marilyn Monroe, whom, in life, he'd used for gain, and then, in a final act of abuse, crawled into bed next to at death.

Hefner once said, "The major civilizing force in the world is not religion, it is sex." But underneath it all, Hefner's sex industry was anything but civilizing or humanizing, for he was a master of objectifying women, and in that, men became victims, too.

Seeing others as objects may be Satan's ploy, but it's not how God designed us. In forgetting we're made in the image and likeness of God, we've mistaken lust — a self-focused act producing momentary pleasure — for love — an "other-focused" act bringing lasting joy.

And though often, men show up as the aggressors in this devastating detour, women bear some guilt, too. Ladies, raise your hand if you've watched or read "Fifty Shades of Gray," and remember, porn is porn, whether soft or hard.

This is as much about an aching that only God can fill, and often, too, a misuse of power. It's not about one gender being bad and the other good, but humanity in whole failing to see ourselves reflected in the splendor of the creator, and acting accordingly. Hefner isn't solely responsible, but I submit that when he died, the gates of evil he guarded flung open, and the reality of the destruction he helped promote became illuminated. And in the same moment, Norma Jean's spirit rose up in a final cry for justice. Despite his lavish indulgences, Hefner died lonely. I pray God's mercy on his soul, even if seemingly undeserving. As for Norma Jean, I pray that she, now healed, flies high and free.

Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. Email her at