Porn Mogul Flynt Speaks at Sanders

Publisher claims that American civil liberties are in jeopardy

THE HUSTLER
Naomi O. Hausman

LARRY FLYNT addresses a crowd in Sanders Theatre last night on his experiences with the First Amendment and his worries about the erosion of American civil liberties.

In his quest to publish the magazine Hustler, Larry Flynt has encountered more than his share of controversy over the First Amendment.

At a speech last night that drew over 600 students to Sanders Theatre, Flynt recounted his experiences with the magazine, which has been the recipient of both criticism and legal action because of its erotic content.

Flynt justified free speech on moral grounds and warned of the dangers of censorship.

“The greatest right a country can offer to its citizens is to be left alone,” he said, describing the censorship policies that characterized the beginning of Hitler’s dictatorship. “First he banned the pornography and then the Voltaire and Shakespeare.”

He warned that citizens today take civil rights and liberties for granted and allow the government to “chip away” at their freedoms, gradually decreasing them through a process that is difficult to reverse.

“It’s a huge problem,” said Flynt, citing U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s legislation proposals as an example of such moves to restrict freedom.

The same principles justify his publication, Flynt said.

“A person’s personal lifestyle and sexual preference is his own business,” he said.“The Religious Right, I can dismiss them out of hand. But feminism is a different issue.”

Flynt’s appearance caused several community members to protest outside the event, singing “Hey hey, ho ho, sexual violence has got to go,” displaying mock “Wanted” posters of Flynt and putting tape over their mouths.

“We’re not protesting Larry Flynt’s right to speak, but we have a right to speak back,” said Melissa M. Williams ’02,. “We’re tired of seeing women portrayed in a degradingly submissive way.”

But some people said they thought the protests did little to further the case against Flynt.

“It’s hard to take them seriously when they’re singing,” said Daniel D. Diaz ’05, while first-year Harvard Law School student Paul P. Petrik said the protesters were “misled.”

In addition to criticism of his magazine, Flynt attracted several light-hearted questions after his speech.

“How did you like the movie?” one audience member asked, referring to the 1996 Oliver Stone film The People vs. Larry Flynt.

“It was all true,” Flynt answered.

Flynt also criticized the U.S. government for trying to control foreign cultures.

“I’m not defending terrorists,” he said, but pointed out that “Muslims don’t want Western influences. The United States has acted like the schoolyard bully in trying to force its culture on them.”

Flynt’s talk was sponsored by the Harvard Law School Forum. The forum’s vice president for programming, Brian C. Devine, said it was one of their biggest events.

“I think the event was a great success,” he said.