The last year or so has seen the passing of many prominent public figures: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Diana Rigg, Sean Connery, John Le Carré, Chick Corea and Tony Rice, to name a few. (Not familiar with Tony Rice? Neither was I, until a music-loving friend sent me links to his amazing bluegrass performances.) It’s enough to start a senior citizen like me musing on mortality, but I imagine that wouldn’t make a very entertaining blog post.
One very recent death that you might have missed was the demise last week of porn mogul Larry Flynt. I don’t know how many ERWA readers will mourn him. He was, based on reports, an irascible troublemaker who gleefully promulgated the crudest and most inflammatory sexual imagery imaginable and who made a fortune doing so. Unlike Hugh Hefner, whose Playboy empire sold a fantasy of wealth, power and high class erotic indulgence, Flynt purveyed unapologetic smut aimed at the sort of guys he grew up with in small town Kentucky. Calling his publications sexist and exploitative would be kind. Feminists despised him – Gloria Steinem described him as a “violent, sadistic pornographer”. Meanwhile the cover of the 1974 Hustler issue that included the first-ever photos of women spreading their legs to display their genitalia promised “down to earth sexy girls”.
I’ve never been a Hustler fan. The few issues I’ve seen struck me as quite tasteless. Nevertheless, I hold some admiration for Larry Flynt. He was honest about what he was doing and even more important, willing to fight for his right to do it. Over his lifetime, he engaged in multiple court cases involving First Amendment rights as they applied to so-called “obscene” material, winning some and losing others. He seemed to enjoy battling against authority, and spent significant money and time trying to expose the sexual peccadilloes of conservative Republicans and born-again Christians. Furthermore, he paid, very personally, for his stubborn insistence on his right to publish porn. In 1978, a would-be assassin shot him as he was on the way to argue an obscenity case in court. The attack left him partially paralyzed and in constant pain, and he spent the rest of his life in a wheel chair. Still, he didn’t stop disseminating smut – or stirring up trouble for people who opposed him.
How many of us erotica authors can claim to have sacrificed that much for our art? (Not that Flynt would ever have dignified his products with that term…)
Anyway, I’d like to suggest a few minutes of silence to recognize the passing of a colorful figure in the history of the sex wars, “an unseemly man” (according to the title of his autobiography) who to the very end of his life maintained that what kind of sex people have or what kind of pictures they look at is none of the government’s business.
The world will be a bit more boring now that Larry Flynt is gone – a bit tasteless.