Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Naked Greed?

Why I wrote for Hustler

Pornographer Larry Flynt is offering $1m to anyone who can give his magazine a political sex scandal. So why would anyone want to associate with him?
Ian Williams

June 4, 2007 10:30 PM | Printable version

In a full-page ad in yesterday's Washington Post, Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt offered $1 million to anyone who could provide proof of an illicit sexual encounter with a high-ranking government official. Flynt's offer, which asked for "documented evidence" that could be verified and published in the magazine, has set off a new round of collective discomfort with the wheelchair-bound pornographer. Why would anyone want to associate with Flynt? And who would want to have his work appear in a magazine like Hustler?

Well, I would. He's certainly not hypocritical - unlike the politicians he's after. So when an old colleague who is now working there, Ed Rampell called with a commission a few months ago, I had no such high-minded scruples. The July issue of Flynt's raunchy magazine, usually found, if at all, prophylacticly sealed in plastic envelopes on the top shelf of newsvendors, carries my first contribution.

Based on my book "Deserter" about George Bush's Vietnam record, Ed thought I was the perfect person to write about current deserters from the Iraq War. I interviewed some who had gone to Canada, and some who had stayed to fight the legality of the war inside the United States.

One of the points that emerged was that there is an easy way out of the army, based on that typically convoluted Clintonesque compromise Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Basically, all a GIs has to do is tell their officers that they are gay, and request a discharge. Even allowing for those who wanted to take a personal stand against the war, the reluctance of many the current deserters to risk imprisonment or exile rather than the "Brokeback" option suggested a lot about the sexual hang-ups of many in this country.

I had no hang-ups about Hustler. It has twice the circulation of the Nation, the other most widely circulated leftist magazine and its key working class constituency includes many people serving in the military. Having scooped up the Liverpool Press Club Award for By-line Mania in 1984 for getting the centrefold of the Baptist Times, I thought that Hustler, following a Penthouse piece two years ago, was the apotheosis of the literary promiscuity that I like to advertise as "more columns than the Parthenon".

If I can appear on Fox, forum.newshounds.us and cross swords with Bill O'Reilly, and argue with Bill Scarborough on MSNBC, then I really can see no problems with appearing in a magazine owned by Larry Flynt, with whose editorial line I totally agree. Professionally, I couldn't complain. They edited and fact-checked in meticulous detail.

Hustler even printed a picture of me, although I have far more clothes on than most others depicted in its pages and I am far less likely to get the readers' hormones running. In between the pictures, I must admit even when I agreed with what the editorials were saying, they were putting it more crudely than I would like. But then I often appear in publications whose other writers I totally disagree with. And then of course, there was the money shot: Flynt pays on time and reasonably.

Flynt has taken his fight for free speech for pornographers to a much wider range of issues, in particular by vigorously opposing the war in Iraq. An oblique testimony to American sexual repression, he sit in wheelchair (albeit in a gold-plated version) because he was shot by a white supremacist Christian for featuring interracial couples in his magazine. Ironically, this was during a brief period when he was a born again Christian himself, which did not stop him publishing the magazine, since, he said, he was hustling for Christ. Much of the circulation is in fact in the Bible Belt - that provides so many of the US's military.

He has recovered from the conversion if not from the attempted assassination and has been imprisoned harassed by the FBI and such paragons of virtue as Charles Keating, one of those convicted over the Savings and Loans scandal for which taxpayers are still paying. And I cannot help wondering how many of those who think that Flynt is a pariah who should be shunned are happy to be, or appear with, defenders or apologists for mass murderers like Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein.

Above all give me Flynt over still born-again Rupert Murdoch any day. News International's titillatory page three girls in the Sun, fact-checker free editorials and politically dictated news coverage supporting the obscenity of the war in Iraq, are far more distasteful than explicit photos of naked people voluntarily doing what comes naturally. If I have to choose, give me freely exposed genitalia to involuntary revealed exploded innards any day.

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