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Larry Flynt, The King Of Obscene Who Refused To Be Canceled
Larry Flynt, The King Of Obscene Who Refused To Be Canceled

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Larry Flynt, the Hustler publisher and self-made pornography magnate who died yesterday at 78, was an extremely crass man.

Aesthetically, Flynt was a one-note gold accent obsession accentuated with frat-house-horny kitsch. Professionally, Flynt trafficked in offense, peddling whatever transgression would scandalize the most people.

He published nude photos of a revered, sanctified First Lady. He published a crude joke about a reverent televangelist coupling with his own mother in an outhouse.

Flynt provoked, insulted, and scandalized for profit. And he persisted to do so, despite enormous personal cost. This is how Flynt became an accidental First Amendment antihero, and an extremely important American.

A generation before the online culture wars and bad-faith actors popularized and then mangled the term, Flynt was a target of what we might call “cancel culture.” Except that unlike Josh Hawley whining about a (briefly) revoked book deal or Bari Weiss and Glenn Greenwald sanctimoniously “self-canceling” from plush jobs at the pinnacle of the mainstream media hierarchy in order to further self-promote, Flynt, a constant underdog, suffered and survived real physical and professional violence in the name of free speech, that almost always challenged a more powerful adversary.

In this way, he offered an example of what “free speech” actually is, and how precarious the First Amendment can actually be. He refused to be truly and actually canceled.

He took a bullet, went to jail, and gambled his fortune in commitment of this ideal. He was an antidote to the disingenuous and entitled contemporaries who cry victimhood at the first sniff of conflict, at the first challenge to their platform and authority.

You may not have enjoyed his company, and you may think Barely Legal doesn’t offer much to “Western civilization.” That was the point. In these and Flynt’s many other contradictions is a lesson in what our society’s ideals really are.

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