The Unexamined Life Of Larry Flynt

Illustration for article titled The Unexamined Life Of Larry Flynt

Some consider him a champion of First Amendment rights. Others think he's a vile smut peddler who's made his fortune by playing into the basest of immoral fantasies, particularly those that tend to feature females as victims of violence or molestation. But what does Flynt think of his own experiences as a victim of violence and molestation?


Judging by journalist Johann Hari's in-depth profile of the pornographer, the 69-year-old Flynt hasn't seem to have done very much critical thinking about life at all, and hides behind his First Amendment rights. Flynt credits his education about and attitude toward sex from being raised in the hills of Kentucky, saying, "I'm a hillbilly and people like me come to sex without all the hang-ups imposed by the hypocritical morality of the middle class." And that might explain why he has no notable feelings about losing his virginity to a chicken—which he immediately killed afterward, as it was bleeding—when he was nine, saying he didn't feel any remorse because, "It was a chicken."

When Flynt was 15 he ran away from home and was picked up on the side of the road by a man who forced him to perform sexual acts at gunpoint. When asked how this affected him, he told Hari:

"I don't think it did. I've always been heterosexual. I've never had thoughts of being gay." But abuse isn't about sex for the victim, I say. He looks puzzled by this. "It made me more aware," he says. Of what it's like to be a victim of sexual assault? "No." He looks bemused by the question. "Of... uh.... It didn't cause any psychological trauma."

In 1978, an assassination attempt left him paralyzed from the waist down. He says he can still function sexually with "a battery devise" but when pressed about how a man, once so famous for his libido, could no longer get an erection, Flynt only said, "It hasn't caused me so many problems. I resolved early on not to think about something I can't change."

But it seems like Flynt avoids thinking about much more than merely what cannot be changed. When Hari brings up the infamous Hustler spread "The Naked and the Dead"—in which a woman is depicted as being forcibly shaved, raped and killed in a concentration camp—Flynt couldn't come up with any kind of analytical commentary about the nature of the shoot:

"It's satire," he says, testily. But what's it satirising? "What?" he says. What's it satirising? "It's satirising the whole idea of a pretty girl being executed." But how is that a concept that needs satirising? How is that even a concept at all? "It wasn't done as any kind of statement," he says. But you just said it was a statement—a satirical one…"Look," he says, "you're talking to me about something that is legally protected speech and I don't feel I have to explain the various parodies and satires we do in the magazine. I will concede to you one thing—Hustler is offensive, even to the point of being iconoclastic. That's our purpose—to be offensive. We're always pushing the envelope, it's understandable that people are getting upset—but that's what built our reputation and it's what our core readership like."

At one point, Hari reads Flynt a passage that feminist group Praying Mantis Brigade wrote to him in 1981, taking him to task for "routinely make a laughing matter out of sexual torture," going on to ask, "Larry Flynt, you were the victim of a violent, lawless act. Did you love the brutality directed against you in 1978 in front of the Georgia courthouse? Did you find it sexually exciting? If not, why do you continue to perpetuate the myth that women enjoy suffering pain inflicted by sexual violence?" It was apparent that 30 years later, Flynt still can't understand the comparison:

"[Getting shot] wasn't a sexual act. So how can you compare it?" But being gang-raped isn't a sexual act for the victim. Being put in a concentration camp isn't a sexual act for the victim. Being killed by the Hillside Strangler wasn't a sexual act for the victim. That's the whole point…"I don't know how many different ways I can say this—the First Amendment gives me the right to be offensive…I don't know why you're asking these questions."


In 1977, Flynt had a mental breakdown which seemingly led to him having a brief stint of self-awareness in which he publicly said, "I owe every mother an apology for treating women like pieces of meat." Today, he attributes that quasi-sensitive period of his life to "a psychotic or manic depressive episode," adding, "It's not how I think. I've been on medication since then and I've never had thoughts like that since." Good medicine, huh.

Larry Flynt - Freedom Fighter, Pornographer, Monster? An Interview [Johann Hari]



Hm. The thing is, Flynt did in fact make some incredibly important strides for free speech, censorship, and exposing the extreme Conservative Right's hypocrisy and hatred of sex. Those are real things he did, whether we like the material he did it with or not. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be critiqued, and I'm certainly not a fan of Hustler. But I do understand the importance of the things he did beyond the content of his porn. That stuff has always been on the rougher side and he's never pretended to be particularly concerned with good taste or being inoffensive.

Honestly, his answers read like someone who is either very medicated or legitimately didn't understand what he was asked because he's not all there. A lot of these issues he has addressed before and very articulately. He clearly isn't interested in analyzing his own work and he's not really required to. I leave that to those who view it and I absolutely think there's a lot to look at and examine as misogynistic and problematic. But like his own abuse, he's not required to think/feel about it the way we think he should.

I know it's hard to support that kind of thing under free speech, but that's pretty much the point. Defending things you find reprehensible. It's why the ACLU has defended hate groups. Does some of what he has said/published bother me? Yes. But thankfully I don't have to buy Hustler. I'm all for criticizing what part of his work contributes to or supports misogynistic portrayals of women...but like it or not, it's better to critique it than censor it.