Culture Friday – Larry Flynt and cancel culture

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday, February 12th, 2021.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday and so let’s welcome John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast.

Now, John, am I peeling you away from television? Are you locked in on the impeachment drama?

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Not even a little bit, even as much as I love good theater, it’s a little over done, really, on both sides at this point and just not really interested.

There’s not really a lot of consequences I think that’s going to come from it and other than I think it’s just going to further embed a fast and loose use of the language within our political discourse, which we don’t need any more of, obviously. But what does incitement mean? What does innocent mean? There’s no real good that can come from this, in my view.

EICHER: Well, let’s talk about a culturally significant passage from the scene. We know that man knows not his time and Larry Flynt—a prominent pornographer from the 1970s—knew not his time. But his time was this week. 

Any reflections on the death of a guy who culturally really changed a lot of things for the worse?

STONESTREET: You know, ideas have consequences as we often say. But ideas don’t have consequences without champions. Ideas grow feet and arms and walk into the world because of people who are able to make them palatable or acceptable or enticing or illicit to the cultural imagination. The two most effective champions of ideas have always been artists and educators. And we talked about this a little bit when Hugh Hefner passed away, that Alfred Kinsey came up with the ideas, but he was creepy. Nobody wanted to claim him. And so Hugh Hefner really took those ideas and embedded them into the culture.

Now, Hugh Hefner was kind of taking — he was really a student of Kinsey’s “pseudoscience.” Larry Flynt was much more just about the perversion side of it, just more about the pure lust side of it. And he also was able to captivate the cultural imagination toward the illicit, so that things that were unthinkable a generation ago became titillating— a couple generations ago, I guess I should say now, became titillating. And now in many ways it’s become normal. The sort of—not just the behavior but the fantasies that he encouraged and embodied in what he produced in his magazine. And I know it’s—I just talked about playing fast and loose with language and I just used the word artist to describe Larry Flynt. So I own that one. But it really is something to learn from, how effectively Hefner and Flynt were able to embody this new sexual ethic and make it completely palatable. And, you know, the thing is, people might argue and say, look, things like Hustler, it’s still considered to be taboo, it’s still considered to be over the line. But the fact is that much of his vision in the early days has been mainstream today. And that sort of pornography is ubiquitous everywhere. I mean, he was basically beaten by new technology that took the same thing and made it more prevalent, more accessible, more in the face, more predatory on children than ever before. So, yeah, he has a legacy and it probably has something to do with a millstone around the neck.

EICHER: You know, and just thinking this through, John, the idea that Flynt’s transgressions have arrived in the mainstream and digitally instead of on paper and plain brown wrapper. 

So is there even anybody like Larry Flynt anymore? Isn’t he sort of the passing of the guard where that’s concerned? 

Are there any of these sorts of reviled figures like this pushing boundaries that you can point to?

STONESTREET: Well, there’s a couple different ways to look at that. I mean, number one is obviously there’s a whole lot of backlash against things like PornHub and some of the big players in that industry today. But it’s not coming out of grounding of sexual morality. It’s coming out of the only ground for sexual morality that a culture has left when they’ve given up on sexual morality, which is this kind of flimsy notion of “consent.” So, it is the accusations of abuse of women and children, which of course PornHub is guilty of, that is causing all the trouble for them. And rightly so. But it’s not based on any sort of structure or moral structure around what sex is or what sex is for or how we should properly order our sexual lives and how we should govern them within a life together. 

So, that’s one way to look at it. The other way to look at it is to say, yeah, there’s lots of people that are as edgy as Larry Flynt. They’re just called mainstream entertainers. Cardi B. I’m old enough to remember because it was just last year that the number one song in America for a long time was a celebration of just horrific behavior by two female rappers who still earn the title historic, ground-breaking, revolutionary, poetic, artistry in our culture. So, you know, I don’t know that he pushed any lines any further than Cardi B is today.

BROWN: Right. And I guess it’s safe to observe Cardi B is in no danger of being cancelled, but one of the actresses on Mandalorian was cancelled this week. Gina Carano, cancelled for a post on social media. 

Probably not the wisest post to compare Jews in Nazi Germany to people with unpopular opinions in America today. She said— and I’ll quote from the now-deleted post—“Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors … even by children. Because history is edited most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?” End of quote.

Now, again, controversial post. But Lucasfilm—the Disney-owned production company—cut her loose. In a statement, the company said: “Gina Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans for her to be in the future. Nevertheless, her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”

So, John, is this cancel culture or a company trying to protect its brand after a policy violation?

STONSTREET: I don’t know. Is there an answer that says yes? I think both of them are true at the same time because so many company policies are kind of based around this new idea of you can’t allow any sort of opinion that violates whatever the values are of a woke society. And now, to be clear, the statement was just uneducated. The statement was just poorly put. The statement wasn’t true. And so but that’s the new reality.

I just did an interview, for example, with the Billy Graham Association on this idea of cancel culture and said far more powerful, far more intrusive in our lives is not what the government can do to us but what corporate America can do to us. And that’s saying a lot because the government obviously can do an awful lot to us as well. But the corporate complicity of cancel culture is the thing that’s giving it its biggest bite right now. Now, I’ll also say this, though, because I think there’s a worldview reality under this that just goes along with the whole idea of “wokeness,” which is what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. Which is this idea that somehow today we are morally preferable to people in the past. We think different, we behave different, and so on. And so there’s this sense here that we know who the good guys are and we know who the bad guys are. And the bad guys are the Nazis and not the everyday average people who were victims of the Nazis. And what that misses, of course, is a whole understanding of the problem with the world, which is the problem is all of us, not just those people over there. It is a very woke sort of thing to locate the fall of the world around a particular group of people. And anything that suggests that we might have some sort of shared guilt, too, sparks not moral reflection but outrage. And that’s an easy way to subvert the debate.

And I think that’s what you can see in so many of these conversations and so many of these what I would call faux outrages around this sort of thing. It was a dumb statement. It wasn’t a true statement. There’s so many things wrong with this statement, and at the same time, I don’t understand kind of the moral intolerance of it, other than it just doesn’t fit this narrative that we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast.

BROWN: Thank you John.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick. Thanks, Myrna.

(AP Photo/Danny Moloshok, File) Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt poses for photographers on the red carpet during the RainbowPUSH Coalition 10th annual awards dinner celebrating Jesse Jackson’s 66th birthday, on Nov. 8, 2007, in Los Angeles.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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