Last week I went up to Rapeville to give a talk. (That’s obviously not the real name of the place, but trust me: in real life, the name is every bit as violent.)
I was nervous about traveling to Rapeville because it’s the home of Jerry Falwell. If Falwell and I were in the same room together, something bad would happen. There would be a duel, with “Get behind me, Satan!” being generously yelled by both sides; or we would both spontaneously explode; or, at the very least, we would both sense a disturbance in the Force.
I grew up in evangelical territory. Billy Graham has a big retreat not far from my childhood home. But Billy Graham is a nice old man. I even used to read his column in the local paper, which was hilariously located right above the astrology column. Teehee.
Billy Graham left me alone, and I left him alone, and everyone got along fine. That’s the great thing about western North Carolina. It attracts all sorts. There are bible-thumping conservatives and pagan peaceniks and everything in between. Somehow they all manage to coexist.
But Rapeville doesn’t have airy-fairies to balance out the fundamentalists. All it has is Jerry Falwell, and Jerry Falwell is not a nice old man. He doesn’t like free speech, for one thing.
Larry Flynt taught him a sound lesson about free speech, though it cost him a trial in the Supreme Court and a bullet that left him wheelchair bound. Parody is protected by the First Amendment, Jerry, like it or not.
Do I like Hustler? Goddess, no. It is misogynistic. We’re not just talking run-of-the-mill porn: it features women in horrible, degrading situations. The photos show women being abused, raped, mutilated, you name it. Hustler offends me to my feminist core.
At the same time, publisher Larry Flynt is one of my heroes. I hate what he puts in Hustler, but I am grateful for everything he’s done to protect free speech in America.
A few years ago, he ran for governor in California. He came in second or third, can’t remember, touting himself as “a smut peddler who cares.” Hell, I would have voted for him, with motto like that.
So there I was in Rapeville. I myself look a bit nontraditional—I have short spiky hair of a color not found in nature—but what really worried me was my car, Charlotte. She is plastered with bumper stickers of a liberal bent.
So when I got out of my talk and saw a piece of paper under my windshield wiper, my heart jumped in my throat.
“Please don’t be a death threat,” I prayed. “Please. I am not meeting ANYONE at sunset for a fight to the death. No. No. And no.”
But I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s what the note said (with the name changed):
“My name is Joe Schmoe and your bumper stickers are really cool, you have lightened by day and brought a smile to my face. Thanx!”
Aw, shucks. I guess Joe Schmoe doesn’t get to see liberal sentiments like that too often, not in Falwell-land. I am delighted to have brought some liberal goodness to his day, at great personal risk to my car and my person.
Not that I was, um, ever worried. Not for a second.