'Flynt' in Perspective

Milos Foreman, director of 'The People vs. Larry Flynt,' and winner of a Golden Globe award, said he has "never bought a copy [of Hustler magazine], nor will I. I'm in agreement with the people who say Hustler is tasteless. The film is about the First Amendment."

Yes and no. Yes, the pornographic magazine is tasteless - and much worse. And yes, the movie is about one man's fight to freely publish even the most vile material. But whether Mr. Forman says so or not, his film also is about pornography, and the message it sends is clear: Pornography may not be to everyone's liking, but it's harmless, even humorous.

It's this message that makes the picture - a strong Oscar contender - disturbing. While the movie focuses on the 1988 Supreme Court decision Falwell v. Flynt, which found that Hustler publisher Larry Flynt had the right to run a sexual parody of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, it celebrates Mr. Flynt in the process. The hero may be the Supreme Court, as Mr. Forman claims, but it also is Flynt and his magazine.

Hustler magazine is filled with depictions of women being raped, beaten, and tortured. (It regularly runs cartoons lampooning African Americans as well.) But "Larry Flynt" the movie ignores all that. By doing so, it tends to support the argument that pornography does no harm. In fact, pornography pollutes thinking and thus damages individuals and society. It may fall under the First Amendment umbrella, but it's far outside the bounds of useful or constructive speech.

Larry Flynt did indeed win an important freedom of the press case, but his corrupted and corrupting use of that freedom does not deserve the respect this movie affords it.

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