“The Hustler publisher, who won a landmark First Amendment legal battle against Jerry Falwell Sr., writes about Jerry Falwell Jr.’s fall from grace—and the Trump of it all.”
In civics class my senior year of high school, we were divided into groups and chose topics for the big class project. Seeing as Theatair-X (in its original drive-in format) was in the news at the time, and a local group had been formed to combat obscenity (one of many before and since), we chose smut as our focus.
Well, someone had to do it.
A woman representing the Citizens for Decency committed to addressing the class, and then one of my stablemates reached Theatair-X by phone. A fellow calling himself the manager (Tim?) said sure, he’d come and speak, too. Alas, Tim was a no-show, and later that summer he was gunned down in a drive-by shooting as he was mowing his lawn.
In the meantime, someone acquired source materials for our research; it was the dawning age of the VCR, but they as yet they were very expensive, and we opted for the print medium: Hustler, Penthouse, et al. Why not Playboy, I asked? “Too many words for the money,” came the reply.
Now, to the real point.
In this 1978 edition of Hustler, Larry Flynt had a photo spread to the effect of “War: the Ultimate Obscenity.” There were truly gruesome, horrific photos of battlefield mutilation, such that I can still “see” one of them today, 42 years later.
However, I can’t recall a single one of the nude shots.
This isn’t to issue a blanket defense of obscenity, or to express a preference for pornography … whatever THOSE words actually mean in the context of freedom of speech and expression, which of course are the components of the real discussion.
I understand it’s complicated, and as with racism, sexism is destructive.
At the same time, Flynt was absolutely right. War strikes me as the ultimate obscenity, and this includes violence of all sorts, war or non-war, directed against human beings.
All too often those hypocritical pastors in the mold of Falwell Pere have blessed the destruction, and it strikes me as poetic that Flynt has issued his final farewell.
Larry Flynt: My Final Farewell to the Falwells, by Larry Flynt (The Daily Beast)
When I heard that Jerry Falwell Jr. had resigned the presidency of Liberty University in disgrace, it struck me as the belated ending to a long personal saga with the Falwell clan—and an essential footnote to the role of religion and free speech in America. For those unfamiliar with ancient history, it began in the 1970s, soon after I started publishing Hustler.
Jerry Falwell Sr., then head of the Moral Majority Christian interest group, sued me for libel and the “intentional infliction of emotional distress” over a Hustler parody of a Campari ad that used the liqueur’s slogan: “You’ll never forget your first time.” The parody featured an interview with Falwell waxing nostalgic about his “first time”—with his mother in a Virginia outhouse.
The legal battle lasted five years, from 1983 to 1988, including three decisions against me in federal courts. There was an important principle at stake: the right of artists, writers, and publishers to satirize public figures. Finally, I was vindicated by the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision written by conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist. This case is often cited as a landmark ruling for the preservation of our First Amendment rights to free speech.
Ironically, Falwell Sr. and I actually became friends later. We enjoyed many cordial visits, participated in debates across the country, and even exchanged Christmas cards. I have to concede that his friendship with me proves that, for the most part, he was practicing an essential tenet of his faith, forgiveness, and was a sincere Christian.
Which is more than can be said for many of his fellow televangelists—the sorry parade of charlatans like Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Paula White, and all the other prime-time Elmer Gantrys—including the son, Jerry Falwell Jr. They’re obsessed above all with sexual behavior, ignoring and subverting the core message of Christianity—humility and compassion for the downtrodden—while embracing “prosperity gospel,” which is to say the gospel of greed above all other values.
They support Republican politicians eager to gut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and other programs designed to do what Jesus Christ strived for: the reduction of human suffering in this vale of tears. They live in multimillion-dollar mansions and fly around in private jets, while fleecing their flock for “prayer donations” guaranteed to cure incurable diseases and afflictions. They forget that Jesus Christ only lost his temper and acted violently once: when driving the money-lenders from the temple. But they are not troubled in the least by the banksters on Wall Street, who hoovered up millions from middle-class Americans, granting the 1 percent a get-out-of-jail-free card to do it all over again. Instead, these evangelists reserve the whip for gays, women who want to control their own bodies, pot smokers, and other “heretics” who are only trying to lead fulfilling lives. They actually work to increase the sum of human suffering. They are peddlers of religious snake oil …
As an addendum (2013):