Larry Flynt : Porn Mogul
Interview by Robin Benger:
Talk about the origins of modern porn…?
After the roaring 20s and the risque French postcards, that was an actual introduction to pornography. After that there was Betty Grable, whose picture of bikini was found on every ship and every soldier’s locker in the army. That laid the groundwork and I believe made it possible for Heffner’s Playboy in 1953. It was very innocent in one respect, although there were a lot of critics.
A sexual revolution became very much a part of the theme as well as the women’s movement as well. The real explosion of pornography as we know it today, didn’t come about until the late ’60s with 16 mm cameras. Johnson at that time was very much concerned because they weren’t demanding legislation. He appointed a blue ribbon committee to study the effects of pornography on our culture. It took two years, spent several several million dollars, they called social scientists from all over the world to testify to the effects of pornography on people. They concluded by saying that there was no scientific evidence that there was any effect by exposure to the material.
How did you avoid going broke when you started?
Well, what I did, I looked at Playboy and Penthouse, my two competitors, and I realized what they were failing to do. And I think the reason why they were doing it was to maintain their advertising base. I took the philosophy that if I charged a quarter, 50 cents more for my magazine and totally disregard advertisers and maintain my sales, and be able to put in the magazine what I wanted to. I knew as most American males know that for a woman the ultimate turn on is her vagina. They were not showing this in their photo spreads. Heffner showed the big breasts and Penthouse showed three or four pubic hairs and we came along with the so called pink shots and that was the rave and everybody loved them. We went from a little over 100 to number 3.
You distinguished yourself from the competition by focussing on the part at the heart of it.
Yes, because it is a fact, you know. I hear some guys say, oh I love a woman for her brain, I’m a butt man or I’m a boob man, I’m a leg man. Everybody goes for the Gspot.
Looking back now from the anarchy of the internet age, your magazine era seems calm and conventional.
Well, you know as I mentioned about the surge when they were using 16 mm cameras —. That went by the way side with the advent of the VHS and VCA. Or…what do they call them? VCR, I’m sorry, that’s what it was, yes. These were the two means of copying the material for viewing in your own home, or whoever you wanted to for that matter. So you could see although the effect of technology was not really clear at that time when it became abundantly clear is when the ’90s rolled around and you really seen technology leaving it’s footprints. When you can now download the magazine on your computer for your own home why would you want to go out and buy it at a newsstand? So naturally that cut into everyone’s circulation dramatically. And you had to change and conform. We have one of the most successful websites in America. We’ve got a retail chain, we’ve got a video production company, we’ve got a casino. Actually if you want to add all of our entertainment facilities we’re probably the largest adult entertainment company in the world.
My image of Larry Flynt is of something of a dinosaur in the internet era of porn…
I don’t know how people see me. Because of all my much publicized court battles over the First Amendment and free speech, most of my life devoted to these issues. Made it a point in the ’90s to start diversifying and using technology rather than accept the fact it was going to destroy us.
Describe your modus operandi.
The first thing you have to have to be successful is the desire. Then you got to have the wisdom to create the action to make the whole thing possible. You know, comes in education but wisdom comes from your capacity of knowledge. You have to have a huge capacity for the knowledge that you’re trying to work with and whatever endeavour you find yourself involved. I always from the very beginning subscribed to the philosophy that work only becomes work when you cease to enjoy what you’re doing. So if you thinking you’re working you need another job. Nobody ever gets ahead who works for a living. That 9 to 5 guy I feel for him but if they get their head out of the sand they can improve themself.
How much more competitive can the internet get…how do you stay big?
Here’s a simple answer. It’s quality. Anybody can get a handycam and a couple models and go out and shoot a video. But what are you doing by acting as an amateur is producing a product that’s going to be pretty much amateurish. If you look at the companies who are really successful in this business they focus on quality and not the garbage. And I think that’s what sets the company aside from people that will be successful and people who are going to fall by the wayside and not be successful.
Yes, I do. You know, you, people are always so quick to throw up their hands…that’s usually a mark of conservative women who want Congress to be their babysitter. Pornography was not intended for children and children should not be exploited in any way and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We stay away from —, paedophilia, bestiality and extreme bondage because these categories of human sexuality are on the fringe. So why if we’re just producing good old vanilla sex why get out on the fringe where you’re risking a prosecution and could possibly wind you in jail with some serious fines. It says stuff. You have people in this industry that they push the envelope. And this is not a First Amendment envelope that they’re pushing, you know. It’s an envelope where in many cases you’re violating the rights of someone who are not old enough to speak for themself, like children. That’s a non-issue, you know. First Amendment is not applicable in that.
I asked my own son and I felt kinda sad that my 14 year old kid’s seen porn
Well, you make a very good point. When we can’t limit adult reading habits gets to what’s good for children we’ll have nothing left but Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood. If you have a 9 and 11 year old you don’t have to plug their computer in the bedroom. You plug it in the family room so you can monitor what they’re doing. If you’re still concerned about what kind of influence that computer might have on them, throw it in the garbage can because nobody told you to buy it. That’s what upsets me about the parents wanting to blame the government or the system. They’re not in control of their parental responsibilities.
Based on your own success, making millions by pushing the envelope, by putting the fanny in the magazine. Would you advise next Flynt to follow same model?
No, not purely. One thing we haven’t touched on yet is pornography as art. I happen to think is the purest form of art that exists. Look at all the old masters, whether it be Rembrandt, Picasso, or — They all had a passion for doing the nudes. There’s something that is created and nobody else is going to create in the future. I always tell people if you’ve got a problem with the human body, complain to the manufacturer, not me. We need to accept the fact that sex is good and wholesome as long as it’s taking place between consenting adults. Obviously, you know, the things we discussed earlier, are not acceptable. And we apply that to many things in society, what’s acceptable to children, what’s not.
How much of a threat is internet porn to your business?
Well, there’s really so many free sites out there now that get a lot of traffic, a lot of activity and it’s no doubt that they cut into publications like Playboy and myself in terms of circulation. That’s why we chose to, we chose to, we chose to diversify, rather than fight a losing battle. We will incorporate technology into what we’re doing in the future, but as technology continues to improve, print media is going to become less and less and less significant.
What percentage of annual turnover is the magazine?
My circulation went from 3 million to about 500,000. That’s how much we lost just in the ’90s. And that was all attributed to the Internet. The internet making the same materials that we were selling in the magazine, making them available. But we weathered that storm terrifically and all of our other venues are very profitable and they’ve more than made up for what we lost in publishing.
At AVN expo in Vegas, you told 50% of the people they’d be out of business in a year?
I believe that.
I told them that 50% of the people at this convention will be out of business in a year. And the ones that will remain are the one that are doing quality…the 50% that I’m referring to, most of the people that fall into that category are people with 2 or 3 employees, do you see what I’m saying? They can’t do more to compete, because they haven’t really solidified themselves with competitors. So they’re going to, they’re going to have trouble finding distributors, they’re going to have trouble keeping up with the bigger houses.
How much is the porn industry worth. Forbes says its totally exaggerated. 1 or 2 billion, they figure.
That’s not true. I can give you US figures which are pretty accurate. This was probably a 8-900 million dollar business in 1970. Today it’s a 10 billion dollar a year business. Now what it is world wide I don’t know.
What’s the most profitable side?
Well, once again, it’s video production, but you’ve had so many people sort of like pollute the whole genre by coming out with just real garbage. If pornography — camerawork’s bad and the budget’s not there. If you can manage to shovel through the bad to get to the good, there are some quality houses, you know, that produce great pornography. But most of it is bad. And that’s what I was referring to in my speech and I still stand by that.
Is Porn going mainstream?
Do you know Miss Paris Hilton? She made a very explicit porno film a couple years ago. It did not do anything but enhance her profile. I think right now if a female star, or a male star for that matter, if they’ve got the talent to go to work in mainstream, I think that jobs going to be there for them. And not today, if you notice any time Paris Hilton goes on television, they never talk, they never bring up the subject that she made this porno film two years ago.
Is mainstream hypocritical about the porn business.
You know, I am who I am. I’ve got strong feelings about all the issues, whether it be politics, pornography, whatever. But I think I have a pretty good ability to assess the culture and how it’s going to develop.
Well, I think that Americans have become much less uptight about sex and pornography. And as a result of this, they’re more, they feel more free to enjoy one of the most important assets they have, their sexuality. That’s very important. Almost all of the people. As I’ve said earlier, they don’t want the government involved. Now, we’ve come a long way from the early ’60s to where we are today because you know that was right on the eve of the McCarthy era and all the communists were running wild, they had to have conservatives in government and conservatives 1 and 2 will dictate your sex life and even your social functions.
Have you defeated the anti-pornography forces?
No, that’d be naive to think that…
Look, I’d be kind of naive to think that. But I’ve always looked at it Moses freed the Jews, Lincoln freed the slaves and I’d just like to free all the neurotics, because that’s the situation we’re talking about, the knee-jerk liberals and the uptight conservatives need to get a life, and that life consists of human sexuality.
In Afghanistan and Somalia and Iraq found that Islamic fundamentalists are fired up with a fear of women…Does this age of US-based liberated thinking fuel that fury?
This has nothing to do with human behaviour with the exception of how each culture is indoctrinated. We as Americans are indoctrinated basically with the Judeo Christian ethic. The Muslims, they’ve got their issues, the berka and no face, even if you just suspect the wife of committing adultery you can stone her to death. Some of the, some…it varies and Iraq, by the way Iraq is not the worst. Some of the other Muslim countries are much worse in terms of how not only they treat their people but how they relegate their women to be second class citizens. Now I don’t care what anybody says. We can criticize Americans, we can criticize Muslims, whatever. But I think women have been used and misused and relegated to basically nothing in their culture. And I think that’s got to stop. And as part of the religious doctrine the Muslims are pushing on their people.
Do you reflect on the irony of the fact that you are known as a great lover and creator of this empire…now because of the assassination attempt you’re in a situation you can’t do it.
No, that’s not true at all. The bullet that hit me never hit my spinal cord. It hit the cord…that come out of the base — so I still have sensory feeling. I just can’t walk. So, it’s not as much fun. I have a lot of trouble gettin’ on and off, but I still have a sex life.
Anything you want to add?
Well, ever since the Victorian era, the rich and the privileged have always had their leather-bound editions of pornography. Today the poor man’s — has become the video store and the book store. So the genie’s out of the bottle. They’re going to have live with it. They’re going to have to find ‘em a different boogie man.
How did you like playing the judge in the movie…
Well, considering that he was such an ass, it was bittersweet, it was nice.
What was the Importance of the Jackie O. pic.
I paid 18,000 and I must have made well over 10 million on it, plus it spiked our circulation up over a million copies.
What year was that?
It was in 1975. Now see, you got to understand, those photographs when they were taken they were considered golden. This paparazzi was in the bay on Onasis’ greek island. And Jackie O. and Onasis come out there to sunbathe in the nude, well he started clicking away. They said that the US market was going to be a mecca for that. At that time it was unclear whether Ted Kennedy was going to run for president or not. And both Playboy and Penthouse declined to buy those photographs for political reasons because Jackie O was like an icon, they wouldn’t touch them. So they were trying to sell it to them for millions and all of a sudden they had no market at all. So I went in and bought ‘em sort of like for nothing.
You still work. Why?
Oh, I could retire and be set for the rest of my life, but like I said earlier, work only becomes work when you cease to enjoy what you’re doing. I love what I do and what would I be doing now if I wasn’t here?
What do you say your worth is?
You know, a man who knows what he’s worth is usually not worth very much, okay. But when you consider the multiple of what companies sell for on the stock exchange, probably six, 700 million, somewhere in that category.
What percentage of the porn industry is Hustler?
I probably got a pretty good piece of it.