Beliefs Opinion Politics

COMMENTARY: Ordinary people should be horrified at the honoring of Larry Flynt

c. 1997 Religion News Service

(Frederica Mathewes-Green is a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. She is the author of”Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy”(HarperCollins), and a frequent contributor to Christianity Today magazine.)

UNDATED _ Not long ago I was invited to participate in a television talk show on the topic of”Castration for Sex Criminals.”I was being invited to take the position in favor of the proposal, though why was a mystery; I’d never written or spoken about the topic, and any reading I’d done had been purely in passing.

The fly in this particular ointment, however, was that they wanted me to take the wrong side. Arguments about”cruel and unusual punishment”aside, I do not believe that even castration is sufficient to deter sex criminals.

Exhibit A: Larry Flynt.

The recent movie,”The People vs. Larry Flynt,”has brought America greater familiarity with a leading figure on the national porn scene, but not as much familiarity as is necessary to rouse contempt. It would take exposure to actual copies of Hustler magazine to do that.

People who haven’t visited this world may imagine playful Playboy fare of decades ago, and feel indulgent about others’ right to purchase naughty fun. They may congratulate themselves on their open-mindedness; they’re not vicious oppressors of free-speech rights, like the movie’s villainous Jerry Falwell.

But Hustler is not about girlie photos, not even the cruder kind.

It’s about children, for one thing. Matt Labash reports in The Weekly Standard that”A 1986 report for the Justice Department said Flynt’s flagship Hustler magazine depicted children sexually an average of 14.1 times per issue.” Bob Herbert writes in The New York Times that the anti-censorship movie”has rigidly censored the vile and hateful images that are the cornerstone of Mr. Flynt’s empire.” Herbert writes of seeing in those pages images of blind and naked little girls, and a cartoon showing an obstetrician holding up a stillborn baby girl and making”a crude sexual reference.” Adult women aren’t treated more kindly: blacks are depicted with”enormous lips and buttocks”and infected with disease and lice; whites are shown beaten, raped, and killed. A notorious photo spread from June 1990 featured charred skin, body parts on fish hooks, decapitated and dismembered women, one lying dead by a toilet. The person for whom this is a turn-on is a person in big trouble. As is the hapless woman he manages to kidnap.

Not only women are at risk. In October 1990 police in Norman, Okla., asked stores to remove the latest issue of Hustler from their shelves. It contained an article on torture, including instructions on a crude surgical procedure to remove the human eye intact, rendering a person unable to look away”as, for example, you mutilate his genitals.” Police asked removal of the magazines after a little boy was brought to the emergency room, the victim of an attack imitating these instructions. The newspaper story reports that his hospital room was filled with flowers and gifts from horrified citizens of the town.

Ordinary people are horrified at this. Flynt apparently is not. It’s all part of the pursuit of sexual stimulation.

The irony here is that Flynt has already effectively undergone castration. An assailant’s bullet in 1978 left him paralyzed, in a wheelchair, incapable of sexual response. But still, in some fashion, capable of sadistic rape; capable at least of fantasizing about it, relishing it mentally, selling it as a stimulating product to nearly a million readers across the country.

Without Hustler they might feel ashamed, alone and frightened of their impulses. With the magazine nurturing their imagination, they feel part of a hip and amusing subculture, one fully protected by the Constitution. It’s women and girls and little boys who can’t be protected.

No kind of castration can eliminate this sadism because it doesn’t originate in the sex organs. It begins in the calculating mind, or the corrupt soul. Jesus spoke of lust being rooted in the heart.

In interviews, Flynt appears as a grotesque specimen, obese, dead-eyed, droning in a nasal voice, a pile of flesh as repellent as Jabba the Hutt. No further physical limitation can restrain him, because the corruption roosts like a buzzard in his heart.

Flynt has nothing on the Marquis de Sade, whose works anticipate Hustler in far more contrived and excrutiating detail. But the people of his time had the sense to recognize evil when they saw it, and throw him in jail. Flynt is likely instead to be honored. That’s the scariest part.