In recent years new perspectives have pushed sex positivity a bit closer to the forefront of society. Pole dancing has become as much an athletic pursuit as a debauched pastime. Modern sensibilities have allowed for models of a wide range of body types to be plastered on magazine covers and billboards. But some things never change. Even in 2018 sex sells, and so does controversy. Perhaps no man still living knows that better than Larry Flynt.
“Everybody’s got their own theory of what good taste is,” Flynt says. “We can’t legislate taste. It is what it is.”
His name alone has been enough to make anuses pucker from City Council meetings all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. So when the septuagenarian pornographer decided to open up a Hustler Hollywood location in Lake Highlands, heads turned, jaws dropped and someone cried, “What about the children?”
“Well the name [Hustler] has a certain connotation,” Flynt said. “Usually people are not that familiar with the brand and what we do. Usually after we open our stores they all settle down.”
Flynt was operating strip clubs when he first published Hustler magazine in 1974, a periodical of note for both budding gynecologists and generations worth of hormonal teenagers. While Playboy was peddling its "lifestyle," sandwiching carefully airbrushed nudity between interviews with political and cultural leaders, Hustler took the low road. As a publisher Flynt made no bones about his desire to showcase the female form, but these days he’s taken to opening a number of his personally branded Hustler Hollywood novelty — i.e., sex toys and accoutrements — shops across America. By the end of the year, he says 30 will be open across the country. But hitting store number 100 is a distinct possibility, with at least a few more planned for DFW.
Flynt visits each new location personally and in most cases, as Dallas itself was witness, shows up for the grand openings. Weather delayed Flynt nearly an hour for the grand opening of DFW’s first Hustler Hollywood location, on Sep. 15, but that didn’t stop hardcore fans from lining up for hours, waiting for nearly 10 hours in the case of the first two gentlemen in line.
“I’m amazed how many show up with the first issue of Hustler ever printed back in 1974 and they want to get it autographed,” Flynt says. “That’s a lot of damn loyalty. One man’s pornography is another man’s art.”
While fans and customers embraced the new location, nearly all of the Hustler Hollywood locations that have opened in this recent expansion have received some level of backlash. A planned store in Indiana was blocked in May after the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it was too close to a Chuck E. Cheese's. Other locations from Fresno, California, to Tulsa were unsuccessfully challenged. In Dallas the backlash was particularly pointed.
An editorial in The Dallas Morning News connected the opening of the store to human trafficking. When speaking with the local NBC affiliate, Dallas City Councilman Adam McGough, implied the shop would contribute to crime, panhandling and homelessness in the area. A quick look around outside the shop however, shows the neighborhood already has a sizable issue. Discarded bags litter the parking lot outside the blacked out windows of an aging shopping center, right next to the bright neon and fresh paint of Flynt’s store. He says people don’t have anything better to write about.
“I think we need to get back to the basics,” Flynt said. “The price you pay to live in a free society is [tolerance]. You have to tolerate things that you don’t necessarily agree with or believe in so you can be free. Freedom means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.”
Hustler Hollywood does not sell pornography. To get around city zoning laws, most of the shops focus more on apparel, body lotions and pipes to avoid being designated as an adult business. Inside it looks like nearly each of the other 20 or so sex shops in town. Except you can pick up a copy The People Vs. Larry Flynt or Flynt’s book, One Nation Under Sex, at the register.
As the man himself said, eventually the controversy will die down. Hustler Hollywood is not the swarm of locusts it may seem to some. But it’s also not the Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus of sex shops as Flynt describes it. At best, it might help teach a few people to express themselves sexually in a positive way. Flynt, ever the champion of free expression, is banking on that being the case.
“We still got a long way to go,” he says. “I think that’s the reason why the attitudes have remained so provincial. People need to understand human sexuality better. It’s the one medium we use to communicate with more than any other.”