|image which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine is from here|
To mistake these magazines as promoting nudity and bucking puritanism or prudishness is to not understand the social and political function or effect of them at all. The values of their magazines were the values of the allegedly heterosexual male rulers of the Republican Religious Right. The values of Hefner and Guccione were fundamentally the same values of those politicians and preachers who claimed to despise pornography while they secretly used prostitutes as if they were pornography. They all wanted and worked hard to keep women down, always and perpetually under men in any number of ways, at precisely the time in Western history when feminist initiatives to free women from the conservative-to-liberal sexist shackles of patriarchal social, economic, and aesthetic imperatives was taking hold through grassroots activism. They all promote the ownership or rule of many women by one man, whether in marriage and through affairs, or through no marriage and plenty of conquests.
To dig at those roots of women's liberation, pornographers took on the feminists by calling them prudes instead of human rights activists. The public bought the lies as much as men bought the magazines selling the lies. Promotion of anti-feminist propaganda was a primary aim of pornography in the 1970s and 1980s. Nothing has changed and much has gotten worse since then.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, I remember befriending a seemingly progressive heterosexual man who hadn't yet read anything by feminists. When I suggested he read work by Andrea Dworkin a strange look came across his face. I asked him what he knew about her. He spouted off a few things, none of which were true. I then asked him, "Do you consume pornography?" He said "yes". I asked, based on the misinformation he rattled off, whether he was a fan of Penthouse. He subscribed to it. I was already familiar with Guccione's campaign to target and malign the feminists who were pointing out the racism and the misogyny of the pimping publisher's message. He didn't just subscribe to what was being sold to him. He also bought it: hook, line, and sinker. I ended our friendship when he made it clear he preferred the politics of Penthouse to treating female people with dignity.
The magazines, and the men who made them, portrayed women as subordinated things, as sex objects owned or possessed by men, as toys, dolls, and domesticated animals. Domestication of women to be of service to men is a primary goal and fundamental value of the Religious Right and Liberal Left. That the models were naked or nearly naked is what lured voyeuristic men into purchasing them, month after month, year after year. Little did they know what else was between the covers.
Those two men very subliminally and successfully sold an idea of woman along with a very political aesthetic that was also a practice--something done to real women, not non-existent as if only a fantasy. Many of the straight men who habitually looked at Playboy and Penthouse then wanted women in their lives to look (and behave) like the models in the centerfolds, to act the way the models acted. But the way models in pornography act is the way pimps direct them to be. There's no freedom from male direction, from male domination, in the aesthetic or the idea, in the practice or in the society as willed and ruled by male pimps with cameras and their male consumers of sexism. The advertising industry took its cues from the successes of both magazines while Hefner and Guccione were two billionaire pimps battling for racist pornographic supremacy inside a Western patriarchal system in which only white straight men ruled, liberally or conservatively, with one woman at his beck and call, or several.
The dehumanised images were never meant to enable women to do anything other than exist for straight men's pleasure and profit, which is the purpose to which women had been put for centuries. What Hefner and Guccione did uniquely was mass-produce the images in magazines that were then sold in neighborhood stores and through subscription across the U.S. and the world. This set up a very racist and misogynistic standard of heterosexualised white female beauty for all Western women that not even the models could maintain; that standard made male cosmetic surgeons very rich as well.
The medical malpractice of performing dangerous breast implants, other unnecessary (cosmetic) surgeries, as well as the proliferation of lethal eating disorders is traceable to the publishing practices of Hefner and Guccione. The globalisation of the terribly narrow and unattainable aesthetic is responsible for many racist and misogynistic surgeries practiced across the globe, from eye surgery on East Asian women to nose surgery on Central Asian women. And surgeries have proliferated across the Americas as well as in other regions of the world. Hefner and Guccione contributed mightily, using billions of dollars, to promote this very racist and sexist aesthetic that can only be achieved by actual women through practice: personal and medical both.
Men's contemptuous violence is always a subtext and awaits the women who refuse to comply with the standards altogether. Note the brazen vitriol unrelentingly pummeled against any feminist, any woman, who won't abide by these standards of beauty, who rejects them outright as inhumane and unbecoming. From Andrea Dworkin to Susan Boyle, if the white woman won't submit to the ritually sadistic or merely inhumane heterosexist beauty standards, she will be taunted or tormented by men, straight and gay.
For women of colour there are other specific abuses and accusations, for not being white enough, or for attempting to be white, or for being the particular ethnicity they are. Women of colour in these magazines are typically regarded as "exotic animals" to be viewed or preyed upon by white straight male procurer-hunters. In Playboy and Penthouse women of colour are dehumanised beyond recognisable personhood both by being raced and gendered "ownable". Bob Guccione, when he allowed women of colour to appear in his magazine at all, allowed "them" to appear to be available for unspeakable cruelty. His portraits of women of colour could be particularly chilling in this regard.
One of his more racist-misogynistic publishing accomplishments was profoundly violating the rights and personhood of Vanessa Williams, the first Black Miss America; after successfully humiliating her, she was forced to resign after he printed nude images of her she had posed for when in need of money. He acquired and put them in his magazine without her consent or permission--he profited off of them "handsomely" for doing something terribly ugly to her.
Guccione is also known for a Penthouse pictorial featuring East Asian women appearing to be dead, murdered, naked but wrapped almost completely in white sheets, bound with rope, and thrown off a cliff onto large jagged rocks. (White sheets and rope both signify the use of white het male supremacist power in the U.S. as blatant terrorism; the restriction of movement, binding, and murder of women across Asia is a particularly pernicious fetish of U.S. straight white men.) The models were not distinguishable from one another as unique human beings. In Guccione's pictorial narrative, they had no names or personal histories. This was an attempt by Guccione to sexxxualise violence against ethnically and nationally non-specific East Asian women by depicting them as deceased human things for primarily U.S. straight white men to masturbate to and think of as "sexy" and "hot"--even if they were, in the storyline, quite cold to the touch. Bob Guccione didn't just publish the photo spread, he profited off of their bodies being presented as murdered, wrapped, and bound (or wrapped and bound then murdered), and tossed off a cliff.
Misogyny. Racism. Heterosexism. And ageism. These are the fundaments of the values infused into each image. Ask any woman over fifty if she feels straight male-dominated society values her appearance as much as that of twenty year old females who are considered "pretty" and "sexy" by men who consume massive amounts of pornography and other media that has adopted its political aesthetics and norms--its postures, positions, lighting, fetishes of airbrushed body parts, and visual violations all normalising forms of degraded inhumanity presented and mandated as supremely erotic beauty always for women to attain, never for men. They taught straight men that having regular and routine visual access to dehumanised women was a right, an entitlement, and something to which millions of men ought to be readily accustomed. It worked. Fast forward to cameras in hotel room walls and the phenomenon of up-skirting. Men took their cues and orders from these pimps well, as soldiers do from generals.
Hefner and Guccione are uniquely each responsible for mass-producing new social manifestations of racist sexism which have become commonplace, contemporary racist misogynist practices in the West. The hands of both Hefner and Guccione have plenty of blood on them and always will; it is the life-blood drained out of women's lives as they felt increasingly physically unappealing or sexually inadequate and sought surgical solutions or employed techniques of self-starvation or bulimic bingeing and purging to try and control their bodies by destroying them.
Mass-produced pornography showed millions of men the monthly images that taught them how to desire women who cannot exist in reality and also be healthy. Playboy and Penthouse have always contained both covert and overt violence against women made to appear only as an increasingly dehumanised and degraded version of "eroticism" which is synonymous with men's right to have access--visually and otherwise to women in systems of prostitution. Pornography means the graphic depiction of 'whores'. In Hefner and Guccione's worldview, all women are potential candidates for such use and violation. If they get enough surgery and practice enough eating disorders, and allow themselves to be photographically manipulated, they may be paid to be pictured as a sex-thing for sexist straight men. But the pimps always make the profit.
As a result of the consumption of these images, plenty of women were also overtly coerced, abused, and neglected by men and a male-dominated society that found the many ways women exist to be increasingly unattractive and undesirable--ways of being that including saying "no" to men's selfish sexual demands, and objecting to men's flagrant disrespect and disregard. Some of those male abusers have been traffickers and pimps. Some of those pimps had cameras. One of the richest among them was Bob Guccione.
While he died in a hospital in Plano, Texas, he based his life and career as a pimp and publisher in New York City and so within a U.S. configuration, he might best be called The Wicked Wretch of the East. (With the anti-humanitarian Hugh Hefner being The Wicked Wretch of the West and Larry Flynt, the anti-human rights Hustler, The Wicked Wretch of the South.) Bob Guccione owned one of the largest mansions in Manhattan for years. He had a likeness of his face carved into marble there to honor himself in life while he dishonored women, portraying them as if they were dead. His magazine, primarily, is what made this white Italian-American pimp a multi-billionaire*.
When you hear his name you ought to associate it with him introducing U.S./Western society to overtly racist-misogynistic images of and practices against women, accomplished through the mass production, distribution, and consumption of his magazine. May he rot in some form of hell for all of eternity for all the crimes against humanity he committed and from which he profited. This pimp will no longer reign as emperor of anything or anyone any more. The Wicked Wretch of the East (U.S.) is dead. May we never forget the terrible things he did to womankind while he lived.
Guccione was once listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people ($400 million net worth in 1982). An April 2002 New York Times article quoted Guccione as saying that Penthouse grossed $3.5 billion to $4 billion over the 30-year life of the company, with a net income of almost 500 million dollars.
Click on this link for BBC News' obituary of him.