Larry Flynt speaks on First Amendment issues

The controversial publisher and First Amendment advocate speaks about free speech, and the 25th anniversary of his most influential Supreme Court case.

Pornographer and publisher Larry Flynt spoke about his experiences in media and the importance of free speech to the campus community Tuesday night.

It’s one thing to create a legacy of porn but quite another to go down in history…and law books. From being condemned, censured and practically killed, Flynt’s entire life is a grand testimony to the First Amendment and it was apt that the talk organized by SU’s Tully Center for Free Speech was titled, “Fight for First.”

"It is not freedom for the thought you love but freedom for the thought you hate most."
- Larry Flynt

Striking diamond rings and a studded watch scintillating brilliantly from the light’s at Syracuse University’s Goldstein Auditorium as he got wheeled in on a gilded wheelchair; a portable throne reportedly worth S17,000, that he’s been confined to ever since the assassination attempt on him in 1978.

“Here’s a pornographer that does things that are important for all of us,” spoke Professor Roy Gutterman who heads the centre. “It’s easy to accept things that we agree with but you test our mettle as a democracy where we have to accept speech that we don’t agree with.”

And what better time than at the heels of the 25th anniversary of Flynt’s decisive and iconic case, Hustler v Falwell, to check the pulse on the First Amendment.

“Free speech is not free,” the 70-year-old political activist said ceremoniously. “Everyone feels that they understand free speech but they have their own version of the First Amendment. It is not freedom for the thought you love but freedom for the thought you hate most.”

Brazen, bold and most importantly, brave, Flynt was as witty, articulate and occasionally foul-mouthed as you might expect. “I’ve been blamed for every ill society has had for the last 40 years. I can understand why I get the heat,” he said. “The church has had its hands on our crotch for 200 years. If they can control pleasure, they can control us.”

“He went to the extremes to protect the First Amendment and sometimes it has to be done,” said Dave Fulhan, a fire safety officer attending the talk. “He’s paved the way for a lot of what’s allowed on TV now.

For Mathew Holmes, a graduate law student, Flynt’s persona was quite admirable. “You can tell that the man likes what he does and doesn’t care what the world has to say and no one’s going to stop him.” His friend, Reid Kasmarian, also a law student said he felt that it was commendable that, “he can say what he wants without falling into public intimidation.”

As may be widely believed Flynt doesn’t have a narrow filthy mind. He’s got a very clear understanding of what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, and the reason it causes so much heart burn to the conservatives in the country. For Reverend Jerry Falwell, Flynt justifies that, “he was selling religion”, a product diametrically opposed to what Flynt was selling.

An astute businessman, Flynt is aware that he can no longer just be selling porn in print. “Magazine publishing has become passé. There’s not much future for print because most of the country gets its news from the net,” he said echoing the fears that are mounting on the publishing world.  Hence Hustler Magazine is moving operations online and will cease to exist in 3 to 4 years, he said. While he’s still going to be vested in adult erotica, he said his interests have moved towards fashion retail, casino gaming and broadcast communications.

Melissa DiRado, a young woman attending the talk, said she didn’t find Flynt offensive at all. “He’s really in tuned with what he’s talking about,” she said. “The government has become intrusive. We should have a lot more rights than we do.”

For those that accuse him of exploiting women, he retorts, “If I exploit women isn’t that like Sport Illustrated exploits sports?” In all his years of work, Flynt said not a single woman he’s worked with has ever expressed feeling exploited.

“People don’t understand why a woman would do it,” he said. “It’s a one-time gig and sure they get paid but that's not why they do it. They’re young with beautiful bodies and they want to preserve it for posterity.”

Flynt noted that while he’s in the adult business, he’s strongly against child pornography though.

“Violating the rights of someone not old enough to speak for themselves cannot be lumped with people who enjoy adult erotica created by consenting adults,” he said.  He also narrates the time a young man came up to him and thanked him for making adolescence easy on him.  And for those that contest that pornography is to be blamed for social ills and poor child rearing, he shares that studies conducted by social scientists found no correlation between the two. The proof? “My daughter grew up all over my magazines and she’s the most normal person I have ever met,” he said. His advice to parents is to supervise children because content is everywhere especially in a digitally connected world.  

“Americans have a knee jerk reaction to sex that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” he said. “It says a lot about a society if they have a problem with a cover with people making love than they do with a cover with images of mutilated people.”


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