Who’s Afraid of Free Speech? Larry Flynt

BY KEVIN LOVECCHIO

Isn’t it ironic that the self-declared embodiment of First Amendment values wants to silence his opposition? Last week, the President of the fledgling HLS chapter of the ACLU published a piece in the Record that painted a rosy picture of Larry Flynt’s upcoming visit. It’s time to set the record straight: Larry Flynt is coming to HLS to film a documentary about himself and reap personal profits, and he cares nothing about the value of free speech. Flynt, who originally contacted ACS and asked to come to campus for this very purpose, refused to participate in a debate with a student, a panel discussion, or any other sort of forum where his opposition would have an equal voice. After ACS refused to simply cater to Flynt’s self-serving motives, ACLU agreed to provide this solo forum. ACLU has since portrayed the opposition to this format for Flynt’s visit as an attempt to silence Flynt and prevent him from visiting; this is simply untrue. The truth is that we originally jumped at the chance for him to visit so that we could engage the HLS community in a debate. What we wanted, however, was true “free speech” – meaning that both Flynt and the opposing viewpoints would have a forum for speech and expression. The events that have now been organized to respond to Flynt’s visit – including the forum, “Hustling HLS: What Larry Flynt Doesn’t Want You to Hear” – are simply meant to provide the other side of the debate that Larry Flynt refused to have.

You might wonder why Flynt is so scared of having an open forum, facing his opposition and allowing for true free speech. The reason is that Flynt has amassed a large fortune by pretending to be someone he’s not. Driven in large part by the fluff movie “The People v. Larry Flynt,” the popular perception of Flynt holds him out to be some sort of misunderstood crusader who is targeted by fanatical conservatives, hardline anti-pornography feminists, and those who disparage First Amendment liberties. I for one am none of the above. Flynt, however, would have you believe that the only reason I might be writing this article is because I fall into one of those categories. He thrives off creating the perception that his only opposition is the moral majority and the anti-pornography movement, a misperception reinforced by the ACLU’s article in the Record last week, which repeatedly characterized Flynt’s opponents as being simply anti-pornography and motivated by mere “feelings.” But much of the opposition to Flynt and the material he publishes is motivated by a reasoned critique of racism, violence, and hate speech.

During the past week the HLS community has had the opportunity to get a sense of the graphic racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic imagery published by the real Larry Flynt. Cartoons filled with Nazi swastikas, racist caricatures, and child molestation are interspersed with depictions of women being gang raped, put through meat grinders, beaten, and kept on leashes. These images, all of which were reprinted from Hustler magazine, have undoubtedly offended many people at the deepest levels; they certainly have offended me. Sadly, these images represent only a small fraction of the shockingly hateful and sickening material that has long filled the pages of Larry Flynt’s pet publication, and they aren’t even close to the worst of the bunch. These images demonstrate that Hustler is about hate, not sex. The same can be said of Larry Flynt.

Perhaps the best (worst?) and most well-known example of Larry Flynt’s proclivities is the long-running “Chester the Molester” cartoon he published regularly in Hustler magazine. These cartoons depicted a man’s repeated attack and molestation of very young girls. In one, a young girl reached for a doll placed next to a “free doll to nice little girl” sign while a man hid, waiting with a net to trap her. In another, a man, pants down and genitals exposed, hid behind a corner and dangled a steak on a string to attract a seeing-eye dog leading a blind little girl. “Chester the Molester” also integrated other visions of hatred into its pedophiliac images. For example, one cartoon portrayed a very young girl with a cartoonishly large nose chasing after a dollar bill attached to a string while a man wearing a Nazi armband hid around the corner holding the other end of the string in one hand and a baseball bat in the other. In another, a penis draped in a Nazi flag inexplicably pierces the “o” in the cartoon’s title. Interestingly, the “Chester the Molester” cartoon series was published regularly until 1990, when the cartoon’s creator, Dwaine Tinsley, was arrested for sexually abusing his own daughter.

I am one of the students and professors who have organized around the cause of genuinely free speech. We oppose giving Larry Flynt a self-aggrandizing, solo forum. We aren’t anti-speech and we aren’t anti-sex. We don’t uniformly disapprove of pornography, and we aren’t some fringe faction that demands widespread censorship of sexually explicit materials. What we do believe is that debate and open dialogue should not be censored so that one man can derive a personal profit from his hatred and prejudice. We also believe that the boundaries of the First Amendment in relation to obscenity and hate speech is a critical topic, and a key part of that discussion involves addressing the type of violent, racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic images that Flynt publishes from behind the shield of the First Amendment. Our goal is to ensure that when Flynt speaks at HLS, he faces a community that is informed about the real nature of his publications and the circumstances of his appearance, in the hopes that he may at least be confronted with challenging, critical questions about the value of his speech.

Note: Flyers distributed on campus this week containing the slogan “Humor? It’s been a long time…” were not associated with nor distributed by Kevin or those with whom he writes.

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