There is a man standing next to me at Brazos Bookstore named William Igel who claims to be mixed up in one of the biggest scandals in American history of the past 20 years. He says it involves the federal government, the Mob, the United States Marine Corps, underground porn rings, closed circuit networks featuring said porn, and the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. O.J. did not kill anyone, by the way.
I keep trying to ask Igel pointed questions about his situation, but he cuts me off, like most people with wild and improbable stories do. It's not that I don't care about the bug in Igel's own vehicle, or that I don't have an inkling of belief in what he is saying about the Marine base gang bangs or the woman who was in the middle of it all and broke his heart.
But all I care about is watching the front windows of the place for Larry Flynt, founder of Hustler and free speech fighter, to show up in a black Lincoln Town Car. As the story becomes more fanciful, I lose interest. And once Igel gets on a tangent, he still doesn't answer my questions. In fact, he starts talking lower and creepier, like a scare tactic.
Flynt is here at Brazos to talk about his new book, One Nation Under Sex, and sign a few copies for a limited few in the crowd. The book uncovers the sexual mores of some of our most esteemed leaders in American history, exposing them as sexual humans and not just the infallible gods we are taught about in school.
Around half past 6 p.m., a car shows up, and a man in a black Hustler shirt and a suit jacket show up to the bookstore. Flynt is in the front seat of the vehicle, and within seconds he is rolling into the store, in a gold wheelchair with an aide pushing the chair behind him.
He strikes an imposing, but warm, figure even in the wheelchair that he has been in since the 1978 shooting that paralyzed him. I feel uncomfortable standing so high above him while he sits in the chair, so I find a spot to get down to his eye level, out of courtesy.
Along with his "body" man in the Hustler shirt, we are hanging in the back office of the book store, where a small succession of photographers and a TV news crew will come in and take pictures or video of Flynt while he and I talk. It feels positively official.
Art Attack: Is there anybody in the political scene right that you may have an eye on, or your investigators are looking into for the next great big sex scandal?
Larry Flynt: It's hard to say. We always have investigations going on and it's not to expose people's personal lives, but just the hypocrisy. But you never know, we got a lot of leads, and most of them go nowhere.
AA: In terms of your industry, the porn industry in 2011, what is the biggest hurdle today? Society or politicians?
LF: The biggest issues are the social issues. The conservatives are all of course pretty against gay marriage and against pornography, and down on anybody who doesn't have a religious affiliation. The so-called morality tests. It's a little worse than it has been in the past. Michele Bachmann is carving out her territory of morality. What doesn't help is that we have a conservative Supreme Court. Obama was able to appoint two members, but he was pouring liberals on and the balance of the court didn't change.
AA: Who is the biggest opponent to the First Amendment right now in your eyes, after four decades of your own fighting? Who should we be looking out for now?
LF: Boy, you know I have to say our biggest problem is the invasions of privacy from Google and Facebook. Spying, revealing information about individuals that they don't necessarily want out there in the market place. It all started with the Patriot Act. Bush got it through, and Obama allowed it to be renewed, and I think that was one of the worst decisions that he has made as president.
Like Ben Franklin said, if we are going to trade our civil liberties for security we deserve neither. And it would be wise to take a page from his book. A counterpart to this that is often being ignored in modern politics, aside from all this crap about the debt ceiling, is that we don't have a live and let live policy for other people.
AA: You have always stood up and reiterated your First Amendment rights, in spite of everyone else's protests.
LF: The reason why I always stood up is because I believe that the First Amendment is only important if you are going to offend somebody, if you aren't going to offend anybody you don't need protection. Things like the New York Times don't need it, but magazines like Hustler do.
I have always fought hardest for the First Amendment because free speech is not for the speech that we love, it's for the speech that we hate the most. We have to tolerate a lot of things that we don't necessarily like to be free.
AA: It takes all kinds, even if some kinds are bullshit. What always interested me about Hustler was that aside from all the lurid imagery, it was reality, as opposed to Playboy's airbrushed fantasies. You were showing what people were doing in their bedrooms.
LF: It's much deeper than that, too. You know, you can run a picture in a newspaper of the most horrifying, decapitated mutilated body, and you might even win a Pulitzer Prize. But if you run a picture of two people making love in the same paper, you might go to jail. So what does that say about a country that condemns sex but condones violence?
That's what I never understood when I was publishing things that were more explicit than Playboy or Penthouse. You brought up reality, you know, what's going on. Why should something be protected just because it's airbrushed?
AA: Where do you see our country in 50 years?
LF: I was much more hopeful when Obama was elected, but now things are in such turmoil now, and I think that we should prepare ourselves to lose many of our civil liberties and individual rights that we gained from the liberal Warren court in the '60s, because of the conservatives in the Supreme Court now. A president's legacy is determined by the Supreme Court, not so much by the wars he fought. They are just going to keep appointing more conservatives.
AA: What do you think of Houston, or at least Texas? Do you make it here a lot?
LF: I have never really had anybody show me the city.
AA: Don't be scared of all the churches. We are freaky and diverse here too. We do have the first lesbian mayor in the United States here too, you know?
LF: I was always afraid of coming here to Texas because of Rick Perry, that he would get me arrested for something. He may get the nomination though. I would rather see him get it than Mitt Romney, but Perry, he's got a lot of baggage that in a national race will come out.
AA: Oh, so you probably know about some things that we probably don't know?
LF: Well, he's got a lot of religious affiliations that will upset a lot of people, and a lot of aid and support from real wacko evangelicals...
AA: Hypothetically, if you had some damning evidence of something Rick Perry had said or did that would effect his campaign, would you use it?
LF: We would only publish something if there was a pattern of activity, not just isolated incidents.
AA: Would you be willing to offer something to Casey Anthony?
LF: We have already made her an offer, and you would be surprised what a make-up artist and a hair-do could do for a girl like her. We are in the business of making money. We have an offer out there for half a million dollars for her to pose.
I think she was responsible for the child's death, but I don't think it was murder. I don't think that the prosecution proved a capital offense though. When you can't establish how someone died or a time of death, and you push for the death penalty with none of that, I think the jury did the right thing.
After the interview, Flynt needs time to get ready for his appearance outside, so I make my way back into the waiting crowd in the middle of the book store. The throng has increased exponentially since Flynt and I began talking. Judge Larry Joe Doherty, who you may remember from his old court show a few years back, will act as the moderator for the evening. When he and Flynt met earlier in the evening, they bonded over having the same tremor in their right hand. Flynt's is more controlled; Doherty's is much stronger, but he doesn't hide it.
I look out into the crowd and see people of all ages. Younger people like myself who grew up hearing the legend of Flynt on cable played by Woody Harrelson; academic types with perfectly tousled hair and wire-framed glasses; well-scrubbed residents from the neighbor, and a few older, buxom women who may have even been in Hustler years back, or so we imagine.
Doherty begins asking Flynt questions about the book and the kingpin begins dishing out facts from his book, which the judge reminds us all that boasts over 12,000 footnotes. Stories about Dolly Madison turning the White House into a pseudo-brothel delight the crowd. James Buchanan had a live-in life partner for decades, but still was a staunch advocate of slavery, and basically let the southern states secede from the union without a fight.
Above all, though, he decries the American notion that people in power should be held on high on pedestals when they are flesh and bone just like the people who elected them. He makes the case that had we not been so interested in impeaching Clinton in the late '90s that he could have spent his time fighting the same terrorists that would orchestrate 9/11. People forgave Clinton because he was a lovable rogue, beloved my men and women, but John Edwards and Arnold Schwarzenegger are "douchebags who will never be publicly forgiven."
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The man from earlier, Igel, stands up and starts to tell Flynt his story in front of the whole crowd. I have already heard it, so I know the dirty details, and I am smiling, but everyone else is cringing.
Toward the end of the session, Doherty asks Flynt if he thinks that sex is pornographic, to which Flynt playfully fires back, "Only if it is done right," and the crowd cheers and laughs with him. His condition has made his humor all the more dry, with limited animation. Once everyone settles down, a woman asks what the future of Hustler holds, and Flynt drops a bombshell.
"Hustler as a magazine, even Playboy as a print magazine, will not be around in two or three years. So many daily newspapers are folding, and production costs are rising all over the board. Only 5 percent of my income comes from the magazine." He's diversified plenty though, with movies, a clothing line, and the Hustler name brand strip clubs dotting the map. The Internet and the free porn that it holds is killing traditional pornography, it seems.
The last question of the night comes from a white business suit in the front row; a woman asks Flynt if the term "porn" is now archaic, to which Flynt counters, "People confuse porn with obscenity. Porn is free speech protected by law and the First Amendment. No one can decide what is obscene anymore."