Hefner: A beneficiary of a biased court of public opinion

Hugh Hefner is dead. Long live The Hef.

Love him or hate him, Hefner captured the world’s imagination living his dream surrounded by a posse of women and living with them in his Playboy Mansion.

The founder publisher of men’s magazine Playboy was admired by many, albeit quietly.

But make no mistake, Hefner got away with murder because he was a white person and an American citizen.

If what he did and flaunted publicly was done by someone in the global south, the world would have run short of adjectives and expletives to describe him.

The late Nigerian superstar Fela Kuti was called a savage, sex-crazed beast for doing the same. And to think that Fela actually married all his 27 women. But I digress.

This is not to say Hefner has never faced insults. A simple Google search will show how many have called him out. I expect some to do so in their epitaphs to him.

Reality is that the court of public opinion is not a fair one. Often similar crimes face different judgements and sentences on the basis of class, privilege, gender or race. Sometimes all of these.

We see this also whenever it comes to white collar crimes. In South Africa this is more often than not referred to as collusion, a privilege never extended to government related crime, otherwise known as corruption.

Of course we should never be tolerant of anyone who steals from the public coffers. But corrupt corporates should face as much scorn and derision.

Similarly white wealth is often legitimised as opposed to black wealth, the latter often cast in aspersion.

Who can forget how Business Times once published a story questioning why the head of the Public Investments Corporation was driving a luxury sports car worth R4-million?

Mind you the “culprit” was at the time on a R9-million annual salary. If he cannot or should not afford the said car, who should?

In my talks and my seminars I always address this matter. I remind my audiences that female crimes, black crimes and crimes of government, get a different treatment to those of white people, especially white males.

I do not know what the solution is to this. It is not in my bouquet of services. But what I know is that I find myself counselling clients on more than managing crisis, but dealing with bigotry as dessert.

Of course this is a function of institutionalised frames the media use to judge different people. It is less deliberate in my view, but no less prejudicial.

Inevitably, those that have always been offended by this turn of events, have vociferously and constantly argued that until media ownership changes, black people and black female voices especially, will continue to be muted.

I cannot argue much against that. But we should also remember that the majority of editors and reporters in South Africa is now black. And the ownership patterns have changed considerably in the past two decades or so.

For me the solution lies in the media being more conscious of the long formulated prejudices than are now accepted, subconsciously, as a norm.

Good journalists have the responsibility to be more reflective in how they tell stories, especially where there are racial, gender, economic and class nuances.

That said, let us not fool ourselves. We still live in the animal farm where all animals are supposedly equal, but definitely where some are more equal than others.

This therefore calls upon us to always do right, not because we are black or white, but because right is good.

But the media must always be called out where they have double standards. They cannot celebrate Hefner and vilify Kenny Kunene for instance.

It is either both of them are virtuous or just pigs.

[Follow me on twitter @ramsbythehorns]