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An Improbable Couple
Great LA Times op-ed piece by Larry Flynt, the only person in Los Angeles who will publish my writing, on his friendship with Jerry Falwell. And they even let him say "ass," when the other day, an Augustin Gurza piece prissily used "derriere." (Oh, those Calendar ladies!) Here's an excerpt from Flynt's piece, about the years after he won a Supreme Court case against Falwell for parodying him in Hustler:

No wonder that when he started hugging me and smooching me on television 10 years later, I was a bit confused. I hadn't seen him since we'd been in court together, and that night I didn't see him until I came out on the stage. I was expecting (and looking for) a fight, but instead he was putting his hands all over me. I remember thinking, "I spent $3 million taking that case to the Supreme Court, and now this guy wants to put his hand on my leg?"

Soon after that episode, I was in my office in Beverly Hills, and out of nowhere my secretary buzzes me, saying, "Jerry Falwell is here to see you." I was shocked, but I said, "Send him in." We talked for two hours, with the latest issues of Hustler neatly stacked on my desk in front of him. He suggested that we go around the country debating, and I agreed. We went to colleges, debating moral issues and 1st Amendment issues — what's "proper," what's not and why.

In the years that followed and up until his death, he'd come to see me every time he was in California. We'd have interesting philosophical conversations. We'd exchange personal Christmas cards. He'd show me pictures of his grandchildren. I was with him in Florida once when he complained about his health and his weight, so I suggested that he go on a diet that had worked for me. I faxed a copy to his wife when I got back home.

The truth is, the reverend and I had a lot in common. He was from Virginia, and I was from Kentucky. His father had been a bootlegger, and I had been one too in my 20s before I went into the Navy. We steered our conversations away from politics, but religion was within bounds. He wanted to save me and was determined to get me out of "the business."

My mother always told me that no matter how repugnant you find a person, when you meet them face to face you will always find something about them to like. The more I got to know Falwell, the more I began to see that his public portrayals were caricatures of himself. There was a dichotomy between the real Falwell and the one he showed the public.

He was definitely selling brimstone religion and would do anything to add another member to his mailing list. But in the end, I knew what he was selling, and he knew what I was selling, and we found a way to communicate.

I always kicked his ass about his crazy ideas and the things he said. Every time I'd call him, I'd get put right through, and he'd let me berate him about his views. When he was getting blasted for his ridiculous homophobic comments after he wrote his "Tinky Winky" article cautioning parents that the purple Teletubby character was in fact gay, I called him in Florida and yelled at him to "leave the Tinky Winkies alone."

When he referred to Ellen Degeneres in print as Ellen "Degenerate," I called him and said, "What are you doing? You don't need to poison the whole lake with your venom." I could hear him mumbling out of the side of his mouth, "These lesbians just drive me crazy." I'm sure I never changed his mind about anything, just as he never changed mine.

I'll never admire him for his views or his opinions. To this day, I'm not sure if his television embrace was meant to mend fences, to show himself to the public as a generous and forgiving preacher or merely to make me uneasy, but the ultimate result was one I never expected and was just as shocking a turn to me as was winning that famous Supreme Court case: We became friends.

You could say this is the porno/fundanutter version of that camp where Israeli and Palestinian kids got together.

Posted by aalkon at May 21, 2007 12:03 PM


Interesting. God knows Jerry Falwell wasn't my favorite guy - growing up Catholic in the Bible Belt, one gets a lot of flack from fundamentalists - but, if one goes by theoretical Christian principles, one really is supposed to love the sinner. Jesus hung out with a prostitute and other similar characters, after all. Aside from his excellent taste in the writing that he publishes, I'm not terribly impressed with Larry Flynt, either, but I am impressed that, unlike many modern-day "sinners," he was comfortable enough in his beliefs to be willing to debate them regularly. Reading this article takes me back to a yesteryear in which people didn't whine that they were being "oppressed" or "censored" if others didn't agree with them, but instead saw the disagreements as an opportunity to sharpen their own thinking on various points.

One thing I will say, though: I was seeing the "purple Teletubby is a gay icon!" thing LONG before Falwell wrote about it - in writings by people in the gay community. Falwell was crazy, IMHO, for thinking that *small children* were going to pick up on the supposed "gay overtones," and I in my insensitive way never would have associated any of the Teletubbies with any type of sexuality, but Falwell wasn't the one who came up with the initial association between purple Teletubby and gayness.

Posted by: marion at May 21, 2007 7:36 AM

Interesting. It would take somebody with gaydar to spot that!

And one of the things I loved about Cathy Seipp was how she could be friends with lots of people -- people whose beliefs she thought were idiotic, among them. She once called me a wingnut on her blog for some political belief of mine, and she and I once had a half-hour disagreement about gay marriage at a party at my house, and Matt Welch, at the half-hour mark, walked past and said, "She's wrong, she'll never admit it, don't waste your time!"

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 21, 2007 7:42 AM

The reason I like this blog, Amy, is that when someone disagrees with you, instead of whining, you get a glint in your eye and respond with, "Oh, yeah? Well, what about THIS argument? And what about THIS?" What a boring world it would be if we all agreed with one another 100% of the time. Don't get me wrong - I don't have much interest in debating my beliefs with a proud member of the KKK...but that doesn't mean that everyone disagreeing with me is morally equivalent to the KKK.

By the way, if you want a more witty, cordial version of Flynt/Falwell, click on my name to go to a clip of Woody Allen interviewing Billy Graham in the 1970s. The second clip is up on YouTube too. No name-calling or wild accusations, but it's rather amusing nonetheless.

Posted by: marion at May 21, 2007 9:16 AM

Thanks, Marion. I love intelligent debate, which I get a lot of from the commenters here. Also, the way I see it, the possibility always exists that I’ve been an idiot, and I welcome being told so. It’s the only way I might be less of an idiot in the future.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 21, 2007 9:28 AM

It'll take more than this to make me like either of these guys. They were able to join forces to put on a good road show... So what?

In the 90's Zappa made a bit of noise when Tipper(!) was chairing(!) hearings in Senate chambers(!) about labeling record albums as obscene or whatever. But he gave up the advocacy business after a few months, because he realized that to the TV producers who claimed to be giving him a precious forum, it was really just another booking.

I'm starting to wonder about Hitchens in this regard. It's not that he's not fighting a good fight, but I had no idea how repellent a human being Shawn Hannity really is... He's so priggish, and smarmy, and pandering and gutless, that there's no point in quibbling with him.

Let's spend another paragraph together reflecting on the repugnance I feel for Shawn Hannity. It's the haircut; it's the suit; it's the word choices, the affect, and above all, the vector of his argument. I recognize the moist, flavorless softness of his Wonderbread. This little weasel spent the first ten years of his life being pinched on the cheek by fat old white women at church, but wasn't masculine enough to resent the gesture. And he's spent the rest of his life catering to that kind of witlessness. In adult life he's found an audience, and what do you know, it happens to be Falwell's people.

Before seeing that clip with Hitchens on Fox last week to discuss Falwell's death, I didn't really know who Shawn Hannity was. But now that I know, I hate him with the fire of 10,000 scorching suns. And I don't honestly admire Hitchens for doing piss-swordfights with him on television.

Falwell and Flynt used each other to preach to their own choirs. See also, Haggard and Dawkins.

Posted by: Crid at May 21, 2007 10:58 AM

..two pathetic old gasbags in their rockers on the hot front porch of hell -bragging to each other about squeezing a bundle out of folks' basest urges...

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at May 21, 2007 11:24 AM

Crid, you have expressed the awfulness of Hannity more effectively than I ever could. Nice job.

Posted by: justin case at May 21, 2007 11:26 AM

I went to a service at Jerry Falwell's church once. My overwhelming memory of it, and him, was when they passed the collection plate. There was at least a grand in cash in it, not counting checks and credit card slips. And there were about two dozen plates circulating around the auditorium.

Posted by: Gary S. at May 21, 2007 11:50 AM

Crid, m'love, it's _Sean_ Hannity.

I point that out not to nitpick, but so that the next time you're writing a diatribe about him no one will be able to start their counter-argument with, "I would be more impressed by Mr. Crid's knowledge about Sean Hannity were he able to spell the man's first name correctly," or something along those lines.

Carry on!

Posted by: marion at May 21, 2007 12:03 PM

> next time you're writing a
> diatribe about him

I done my part. Justin's up next, then it's your turn. Kill.

At least draw blood! That's the thing about the Fox clip:

If you must dignify an argument like that with your participation, you should go the extra mile and hurt someone's feelings, or wound the insularity of their thinking. Don't let their fan supporters (ie, Hannity's) turn off the set thinking it was a draw. At the end of this one, all we saw was a round of didso/didnot between Beltway cocktail-party attendees. Who needs it?

Posted by: Crid at May 21, 2007 12:28 PM

Fans OR supporters... Y'know....

Posted by: Crid at May 21, 2007 12:29 PM

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