By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Party Like It's 1969
The weekend past brought some 800 members of the so-called "alternative media" to Phoenix for the annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. New Timeswas the host, and the Arizona Biltmore teemed with mostly white, increasingly hoary and paunchy denizens of what once was considered the radical press. There are seminars and parties and a croquet tournament and parties and even a basketball game -- played outdoors at 6 p.m.; EMTs stood by.
A gathering of this many people -- let alone freaks -- is always a recipe for mishap. During the 1999 confab in Memphis, one conventioneer strayed from the pack long enough to wind up in the trunk of a car. He lived to tell about it.
This year's near catastrophe involved a certain NTscribe/musician who thought it would be apropos to relieve himself in the canal that fronts the Biltmore. Okay. It was Brian Smith. Of course, he wound up in the canal and had to be extracted by a couple of heroic colleagues. He didn't lose his life, but he did lose a shirt that had been given to him by Keith Richards.
The conference attracted such luminaries/panelists/speakers as skin purveyor Larry Flynt; Linda Tripp confidante/handler Lucianne Goldberg; Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America; California affirmative action conqueror Ward Connerly; California bilingual education basher Ron Unz; California rouser of rabble Tom Hayden; Texas author/songwriter Kinky Friedman; Valley boy and Spawncreator Todd McFarlane. And the Flash, of course, whose overflow lecture was titled "Hey, People, How About Trying to Be Interesting?"
In Like Flynt
Wheeled to center stage at the AAN First Amendment Luncheon by a beefy bodyguard, Hustler magazine publisher and AAN keynote speaker Larry Flynt had a reptilian presence. He has a thick neck, lazy eyes, downturned mouth and guttural voice. If only he had a slave girl on a chain (something he could surely arrange), he'd be a dead ringer for Jabba the Hutt."There's nothing of literary merit that qualifies me to be speaking with you," Flynt began. "But I've got enough on-the-job training."
His on-the-job training includes years of expensive courtroom First Amendment showdowns, an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed below the waist, and a 1998 offer of $1 million to anybody who could produce evidence that a Get-Clinton Republican had had an adulterous affair.
"We pay a price for everything, and the price we pay to live in a free society is toleration. . . . Freedom of speech is not freedom for the thought we love, it's freedom for the thought we hate the most -- journalists must remember this if they want to remain true to their profession," Flynt lectured. "Freedom is not lost in one fell swoop, it's lost one movie at a time, one magazine at a time, one newspaper at a time."
Flynt had several inspiring, if suspiciously familiar, one-liners such as these. A few were even aimed at the alternative press ("The New York Times and Washington Post don't need First Amendment protection; they're not going to offend anybody but a political hack"). Nearly everything Flynt said, in fact, was undeniably righteous -- and that was part of the problem. The Flash likes agitators to actually agitate, not kiss up to ultra-right-wing Goldberg by telling her, "I admire the way you express yourself."
Not that Goldberg's question for Flynt during the Q&A session was anything but the softest of pitches (Was Flynt ever going to publish any revelations about Democrats?). But her question was, the Flash regrets to say, tougher than anything thrown at the publisher by the roomful of supposed carnivorous muckrakers.
Flynt's courtroom battles were no small feat and set crucial precedents, but only in 20/2000 hindsight can anybody honestly believe they were fought for the Good of All Press rather than for the benefit of Larry Flynt. Likewise his efforts to turn the tables on hypocritical Republicans was an example of daring guerrilla politics, but there's a wide gulf between muckraking a pol's background and purchasing evidence to force a congressman's resignation.
Flynt's lone attempt at offense was a couple of sexist jokes. Noting that most of his opponents have been "religious conservatives and radical feminists," he opined that the latter's only success was in "organizing ugly women to march in the streets." That one got a lot of laughter and a single loud hiss.
Reporters gave Flynt a standing ovation. Then they amassed at the front of the stage to have their picture taken with the man. The journalists grinned, all Flynt-stoned, like 18-year-olds ready to spread for their first centerfold.
Violins on TV?
The panel of living caricatures assembled for a "Media Violence" discussion looked and acted like perfect stereotypes for their given professions: University of Oklahoma law professor Kevin Saunders, beefy and studiously bearded.
Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti, Hollywood-short with Mafioso eyebrows.
Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, too thin and creepily handsome, like a refugee from a CoenBrothers film.
Anti-violence crusader Jack Thompson, instantly identifiable as an attorney with his gray glasses, narrow nose and mirthless hyphen of a mouth.