The movie of focus, People vs. Larry Flynt, is a film by Milos Forman which stars Woody Harrelson as Flynt. Larry Flynt is the president and publisher of Hustler magazine. Hustler is sort of the Mad magazine of written pornography which was started in the early 1970s. The interest for me was seeing how this movie depicts the sexual exploitation of women in the sex industry with a specific look at how the material devalues women.
The movie starts out in 1952 with a young Larry Flynt along with his younger brother peddling moonshine somewhere in Kentucky. Twenty years later they own a strip club in Cincinnati, Ohio called Hustler. Larry says, If we could let people know what great lays these girls are, wed have something. His magazine begins with an idea of a Hustler newsletter containing only a few double sided pages of written and nudie material geared for men on the go. From there he built a million dollar porn magazine which today is sold globally.
The moral majority protested heavily against Flynt and his magazine on grounds that the material was corrupting peoples thoughts and actions. Keep in mind, Playboy magazine was legally operating at this time. The difference between the two magazines was not that they contain nude pictures of women but the quality of the pictures themselves. Hustlers pictures were more vivid, real and risky; Playboys pictures were more artsy geared for an upper class man. Hustler also included pictures and stories of the sexual acts like bestiality.
Flynt raised eyebrows and dropped jaws with every issue of his magazine, but one issue in particular really got peoples attention. In this issue, the magazine targeted the Reverend Jerry Falwell, former president of the Moral Majority, in a liquor ad parody recounting his first time. The ad featured Falwells first time with his mother in an outhouse. Falwell sued Flynt for libel, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Hearing this Flynt counter sued which ultimately brought this case to the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1988, the high court ruled unanimously in Flynts favor.
As you can imagine, the ruling exacerbated the controversy further among the moral majority, feminist, and freedom lovers across the nation. After viewing this movie, I decided to redirect my research from how pornography devalues women to the controversial issue of the high courts decision. I found that probably the biggest groups to debate censorship of pornography are those feminist groups. However, they dont agree as a whole; the groups are split in half. Some feminists believe that pornography doesnt degrade women; it empowers them and censorship of things like pornography would only bring further discrimination. On the other hand, we have those right winged feminist who sincerely believe that degradation of women in pornography leads to criminal acts such as rape. They only reach a consensus in regards to strengthening their 1st Amendment Right by protesting against pornography or supporting it.
Unsure of my opinion on the correlation of pornography and rape, I considered two articles: (1) Egalitarian, sexist, and aggressive sexual materials: attitude effects and viewer responses; and (2) Mens enjoyment of explicit erotica: effects of person-specific attitudes and gender-specific norms. In the first article, research on sexual attitudes was conducted among a sample of college students in Syracuse University. Hypothesis one was that both sexist and sexually aggressive scenes would increase acceptance of sexist attitudes; Hypthothesis two was that only sexually aggressive scenes would increase acceptance of rape myths and sexual coercion (Bauserman, 1988). Study one was conducted to identify the ways in which the sample described what sexism and sexual aggression meant to the sample. The second study examined change in attitude. Hypothesis one was weakly supported. Hypothesis two was totally rejected. This wasnt surprising to me. The idea that there is more correlation than that is absurd, because violence is not sexual in any way. It is simply an act of empowerment over another individual using coercive means of doing so. In the case of rape, it is a sexual invasion to achieve a sense of domineering gratification for the offender over the victim to intentionally inflict harm. Therefore, rape and sex or sexuality can not be linked together.
The second article focuses on the definitional differences between erotica and pornography. These two terms are commonly misconstrued in an industry such as pornography. By dictionary terms, erotica is defined as of, devoted to, or tending to arouse sexual love or desire, erotica as literary or artistic work having an erotic theme or quality (Lopez, 1995). Almost alike, pornography is defined as the depiction of erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement(1995). Studies were conducted to measure men and womens responses to sexually explicit material and to see whether gender-specific norms had anything to do with the enjoyment exhibited from several slides. The investigator approached person-specific attitude studies using an Erotophobia-Erotophilia terms which are defined as the disposition to respond to sexual cues along a negative-positive dimension of affect and evaluation (1995). The idea was that the enjoyment of the explicit material would be influenced by an individuals person-specific attitude. Lopez argues that the difference of gender-specific norms of males and females in sex is positively correlated with the enjoyment of sexually explicit materials. More specifically, gender-specific sexual norms for men allow more freedom for them to view the material and to express their supported desire openly through masturbation for example. Womens gender-specific sexual norms are more inhibited. This hypotheses were supported through his research.
With the above said, it is safe to indulge deeper symbolically to give some meaning to why there is a double standard of sex between men and women. Perhaps women are supposed to be more conservative according to societal sexual norms. When a women dresses more provocatively, or she is promiscuous, she is referred to derogatorily. When the same situations for men are considered, its just a part of his manly hood. This could give some insight to why rape victims attain a sense of self responsibility for the rape or why some people think a women, a prostitute for example, might deserve a violation of rape because they brought it on themselves.
The fact about pornography is that it illustrates material that is brought from the private sphere to the public. It illustrates personal sexual material that defies what it considered moral among people with deep religious belief. Perhaps the major problem with pro-sex feminism has been its failure to embrace the mens magazines (Paglia, 1996). Do you think that if women participated actively in supporting porn magazines people wouldnt be so conservative about sexual ideas? Do you think if there was a balance in pornographic material among men and women alike there would be debate about the devaluation of women? I think sexual attitudes would become more liberal and women and men might find common interest with each other in that aspect. It would open doors sexually for couples in bedrooms. I disagree with the moral majority that pornography corrupts the mind and body. I believe if an individual is socialized knowing the difference in erotica and pornography there would be a deeper understanding of sexual exploration and whats all involved including whats deviant.
The movie, People vs. Larry Flynt, is really about 1st Amendment Rights. However, I found it thought provoking in regards to the big debate between Anti-porn feminists and those freedom lovers who think that an opposing decision of the Supreme Court in this particular case could have meant the abolishment of all 1st Amendment Rights to everyone no matter what the subject. Pornography in this case is simply a matter of taste not law.
Bauserman, Robert. Egalitarian, sexist, and aggressive sexual materials: attitude effects and viewer responses. The Journal of Sex Research. V. 35, no.3 (1998). P. 244-53.
Formon, Milos, dir. People vs. Larry Flynt. With Woody Harrelson and Edward Norton. Columbia Pictures, 1996.
Lopez, Peter A.; George, William H. Mens enjoyment of explicit erotica: effects of person-specific attitudes and gender-specific norms. The Journal of Sex Research v. 32, no. 4 (1995). P. 275-88.
Spalding, Alison D. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Gender Studies. Is The Sex Industry Harmful to Women? Ed. Camille Paglia. Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, 1998. 66-73.