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You Still Can't Buy a Vibrator in Alabama

Krassner's new book "In Praise of Indecency" attacks the taboos surrounding sex and pornography.

The following are excerpts from In Praise of Indecency by Paul Krassner. Copyright 2009 by Paul Krassner.

In Praise of Indecency

The late Harry Reasoner, who was an ABC News anchor and a Sixty Minutes correspondent, wrote in his 1981 memoir, Before the Colors Fade :

“I’ve only been aware of two figures in the news during my career with whom I would not have shaken hands if called to deal with them professionally. I suppose that what Thomas Jefferson called a decent respect for the opinion of mankind requires me to identify those two. They were Senator Joseph McCarthy and a man named Paul Krassner or something like that who published a magazine called The Realist in the 1960s. I guess everyone knows who McCarthy was. Krassner and his Realist were part of a ‘60s fad -- publications attacking the values of the establishment -- which produced some very good papers and some very bad ones. Krassner not only attacked establishment values; he attacked decency in general, notably with an alleged ‘lost chapter’ from William Manchester’s book, The Death of a President .”

I appreciated Reasoner’s unintentional irony -- I had started as a political satirist in college, poking fun at McCarthyism -- but now I resented being linked with McCarthy. He had senatorial immunity for his libels. I risked lawsuits for what I published. What I really wanted to do was crash a party where Reasoner would be. “Excuse me, Mr. Reasoner,” I would have said, “I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your work on Sixty Minutes .” And then, as a photographer captured us shaking hands, I would add, “I’m glad to meet you. My name is Paul Krassner or something like that.” Instead, in 1984, when my one-person show opened, I decided to call it Attacking Decency in General . It ran for six months, and I received awards from the L.A. Weekly and Drama-Logue . That was my kind of revenge.

Decency is, of course, a sublimely subjective perception. And so arbitrary. In 1964, Lenny Bruce was found guilty of an “indecent performance” at the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village. In 2003, New York Governor George Pataki granted Bruce a posthumous pardon -- but it was in the context of justifying the invasion of Iraq. “Freedom of speech is one of the great American liberties,” Pataki said, “and I hope this pardon serves as a reminder of the precious freedoms we are fighting to preserve as we continue to wage the war on terrorism.”

Earlier that year, when rock-star/activist Bono received an award at the Golden Globes ceremony, he said, “This is really, really fucking brilliant.” The FCC ruled that he had not violated broadcast standards, because his use of the offending word was “unfortunate,” but “isolated and nonsexual.” You see, it was merely an “exclamative” adjective. The FCC did not consider Bono’s utterance to be indecent because, in context, he obviously didn’t use the word “fucking” to “describe sexual or excretory organs or activities.”

But in 2004, Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s breast during the halftime extravaganza at the Super Bowl. I had never seen the media make such a mountain out of an implant. A few years later, a CBS lawyer would argue that the network shouldn’t be fined $550,000 for Janet’s half-second “wardrobe malfunction” because it was fleeting, isolated and unauthorized. Nevertheless, that half-second of Nipplegate provided a perfect excuse to crack down on indecency during an election year. And so the FCC reversed their own decision, contending that Bono’s utterance of “fucking brilliant” was “indecent and profane” after all.

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