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Larry Flynt champions First Amendment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — How’s this for a challenge? Write a 683-word column on famous smut peddler Larry Flynt without using a single four-letter word.

You may remember Flynt best by his infamous insult to the eight men and “token” woman of the U.S. Supreme Court or the uber-explicit material in his Hustler Magazine.

The guy is certainly objectionable to a lot of people, but as I sat down to speak with him during a promotional event at the new Hustler Hollywood store on Menaul, I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I heard of him.

It was in a college classroom, my freshman year in journalism school in 2008, a media law course.

While I don’t think we went into the details of the parody ad featuring evangelist Jerry Falwell’s alleged first sexual encounter that led to his appearance before the Supreme Court, the case and many of Flynt’s other cases are pointed to as pillars embodying the power of the First Amendment.

Flynt’s court battles are one reason dozens of Albuquerqueans waited in line for more than an hour Saturday night; to pay homage to a man they see as staunch advocate of the right to free speech.

A single-file line of fans snaked along the lingerie-laden walls of Flynt’s newest retail store, strangely equal parts heavily made-up young women and tubby and bearded men in their 50s and 60s wearing stained T-shirts.

Many of those in line clutched swag bags and door prizes – some were of the battery-powered variety – and sipped samples of something called “Thrust” energy drink. Although the store’s main focus is on lingerie, one corner offers more adult-themed products.

When Flynt, 76, entered in his signature gold-plated wheelchair, the room erupted into cheers and whistles.

After signing autographs and talking with fans for around an hour, Flynt’s public relations manager ushered me over to sit next to him for an interview.

He’s much thinner now than he was in his American flag diaper-wearing days, but he still boasts a shock of fiery red hair. A stroke he suffered years ago has made him difficult to understand, but he obviously remains mentally sharp.

And as in his younger years, Flynt continues to be an unabashed First Amendment absolutist.

“There’s a lot of people I’d like to shove a sock in their mouth, but you’ve got to be able to tolerate free speech,” Flynt said.

For Flynt, that extends to some speech labeled on social media these days as hate speech.

“I think they’re looking for a way to compromise the First Amendment,” he said.

Flynt’s live-and-let-live mentality does have its boundaries when it comes to President Donald Trump “and that bunch of clowns.”

“I just wouldn’t let him on the air,” Flynt said. “If he’s going to lie, why should we let him push those lies?”

Flynt’s reputation isn’t only for his First Amendment court battles.

His magazine was known for its boundary-pushing content considered by progressive feminists and Bible-thumpers alike to be highly offensive.

But Flynt believes – at least he tells me – that pornography is an art form and his brand has “probably saved more marriages than the pope.”

“I always say Moses freed the Jews, Lincoln freed the slaves,” he says. “All I ever wanted to do was free the neurotics.”

No one at Hustler Hollywood on Saturday night would have argued with him.

“I really admire Mr. Flynt,” said Nancy Ava Miller of Tijeras, who had brought along a copy of her book, “Pervert: Notes From the Sexual Underground,” and a letter as a gift for Flynt out of reverence.

Miller, who led sadomasochism groups in Albuquerque and ran a phone sex business in past years, credited Flynt with playing a role in her own sexual liberation.

Nial Tack of Albuquerque, one of the first in line to meet Flynt, called him a “father” for First Amendment rights.

“I think he’s a very valid activist, even if it was through smut,” he said.

But for Tack and undoubtedly many of the other men in line, Flynt also stirred a sort of, um, nostalgia.

“I mean, what boy in the ’80s didn’t look at his dad’s Hustler?” Tack asked.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Maddy Hayden at 823-3881 or mhayden@abqjournal.com.

 

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