Larry Flynt, like most larger-than-life personalities, looks a lot smaller in person. Thursday afternoon, Seattle University law school students had the opportunity to take a gander at the Hustler publisher and First Amendment devotee, when local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Constitution Society sponsored an appearance by the patron saint of smut.
As one student blowing off his instructors observed: "I'll probably learn more about the Constitution here than in class."
"I know, he's a living legend," his slacker friend added.
But first, a delay: Flynt's bodyguard called 15 minutes after he was scheduled to begin to say he had just landed at Boeing Field, so spectators had to wait an extra hour for him to arrive, gold wheelchair, bad red hair dye, and all.
Larry Flynt is the man who bridged the gap between ambiguous references to where babies come from in sex ed and the way it really works—sort of. He publishes photographic representations, complete with whips and chains, of the real nuts and bolts of the procreative process. He fought for the right to distribute his material, taking on his equally vehement conservative counterpart, Jerry Falwell, in a faux print ad that led to the 1988 Supreme Court decision protecting parody as free speech.
As Flynt himself says, without Hustler, there would be no Daily Show. But these days, while Flynt is more quaint than edgy, he's still making a pitch for the acceptance of graphic material in a world where the Internet has made the pages of Hustler look tame.
Flynt has a series of platitudes he draws out to justify his own material: "The price we pay to live in a free society is toleration," he says. Or: "The church has had its hand on our crotch for over 2,000 years."
While this may all ring true, Flynt just isn't under the kind of constant assault he used to be. He asserts that anyone broaching the subject of sex is attacked, but universities around the country have started porn studies classes. Even Seattle Pacific University, a local Methodist school (and this writer's alma mater), has a class on human sexuality that gets into the biological role of foreplay. Flynt himself seemed to miss the irony of the fact that he was speaking at a Jesuit school.
But if sex doesn't suffer the same censorship as it did in the '80s, free speech may still need protection in a country where for six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, journalists and pundits who questioned the evidence leading us into war have been branded disloyal and unpatriotic.
And maybe this is where Flynt still has something important to say. "If you're not going to offend anybody, you don't need the protection of the First Amendment," he says. "It's the people out there that are really raising hell that need that protection."