Bottom Feeder Makes Good: An interview with Larry Flynt

Maybe it’s just me, but Larry Flynt seems to become less of a filthy sonuvabitch with each passing year. Millions of Americans are infatuated with his lucrative trade of smut – from Republican businessmen who regret missing the porn industry bandwagon years ago to prepubescent teens playing with Jenna Jameson dolls. Yet, nearly three decades after founding Hustler, Larry Flynt is still not recognized as a visionary – one who candidly invested in an insatiable, albeit once embarrassing, commodity – one who saw it through from sticky print to sticky digital.

The porn industry now collects $8-10 billion domestically each year (and that’s just the legal stuff), but few of the men profiting from hardcore porn will likely admit that strangers having sex helped pay their salaries. As journalist Eric Schlosser notes in his follow-up to Fast Food Nation, entitled Reefer Madness, much of this money, “was earned by well-known companies…such as EchoStar, DirecTV, AT&T Broadband, and AOL Time Warner.” So, why do people continue to label Flynt as the person responsible for this country’s erosion of taste and morals, when the contradictions are this obvious?

In 1978, Flynt was shot in Georgia during one of his many obscenity
trials, leaving him forever paralyzed. While the gunman escaped, it’s likely Flynt’s reputation for speaking his mind played as much a role in the incident as his choice of business. After battling bouts of depression, Flynt went on to show the resilience of a modern-day rap star, purchasing a penile implant and an outlandish golden wheelchair.

In a small room below the stage to Gusman Hall, guarded by two police officers and a bodyguard, Mr. Flynt sat in his famous wheelchair backed against a wall, waiting to speak on stage at the ACLU College Freedom Tour. He seemed sedated, but after two interview questions, he didn’t have to say another word. His eyes alone spoke huge volumes of intensity. It’s like looking into years of “bottom feeding” sin, callous professionalism and posh Beverly Hills existence all at once. That’s when you realize, Larry Flynt will be a man long remembered after he’s gone. Perhaps one day America will have the face to admit it.

Q: Do you think the porno mag will be obsolete in 20 years?
Flynt: Ahhh, no. Pornography’s more prevalent today than it’s ever been before. Ahhh, print maybe, is down a lot but that’s because of Internet and what you can see on HBO and cable television and etcetera. All of those are responsible for the printed magazines declining, but ahhhh, you’ve got the Internet, several satellite channels up operating in the country. We’ve gone from a ten-billion-dollar a year business, so I don’t see it stopping. I know that rumors that the new attorney general is going to be prosecuting some cases, but you know, any prosecutor can have all the fantasies he wants to about prosecuting an obscenity case, but if he can’t get the consensus of twelve juries, he can’t do anything. [smiles] So, most people who sit on a jury today feel that even though it may not be their cup of tea, that what you want to view or see or read in the privacy of your own home is your own business. For that reason, I don’t think they’ll be successful.

Q: To my understanding, Hustler is being revamped, the print magazine, and you plan to bring back the shock value you founded 29-years ago. I was wondering, do you feel that Americans can still be shocked by print media and how so?
Flynt: Ahhh, yes, it’s not so much the shock value as, we’re getting back to doing some of the classical, political and social satire – some of the outrageous cartoons and content that we used to run. And yeah, you can shock people with it.

Q: Have your political views and beliefs changed over the years? There’s the saying that if you’re not a liberal in your youth and a conservative when you die, you didn’t live.
Flynt: Well, I think we all tend to become more conservative as we grow older, but, while I might be physically conservative in terms of how the government handles the money on social issues, I’m about as full-left as you can get. [smiles]

Q: Even though it seems the mainstream is becoming increasingly comfortable with porn, do you think U.S. citizens, and especially journalists in the media, are becoming too politically correct? Are they perhaps too afraid to speak up about certain worldly and local topics?
Flynt: Ahhh, I’ll answer that question a little bit differently than what you asked, if you don’t mind. And that’s that all of the responsible producers of adult entertainment are doing quality material. They’re sticking to plain-old vanilla sex, you know. And you have some people on the fringe, and they do mock rapes and murders, and they do material that’s humiliating and degrading to women. And to me, I think they’re the ones who bring the industry problems for us. I hope I answered your question.

Q: That’s fine sir. Let’s say you don’t win the California re-call election. Would you consider running for another political office later on in your career?
Flynt: No. And I, ahhh, never entered this race with the intention to win it. The voters of California, they can’t separate my candidacy with my profession. I never kidded myself for one second that I had important platform issues that I wanted to get out into the mainstream. I have had a lot of fun doing it, and besides, anytime I’m doing an interview, somebody out there is going to buy magazines. [smiles]

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Hunter Stephenson can be reached at