Let’s Fap One Out On The Ground For Al Goldstein Of ‘Screw’
Al Goldstein, reporter, publisher, incessant litigant, and pornographer died today at age 77. Goldstein was the mastermind behind Screw magazine, a lad mag that was defiantly unacceptable. Screw didn’t want to be Playboy, with its John Updike interviews and jazz festivals. Screw began in 1968 with a fuck you manifesto to end all fuck you manifestos.
“We promise never to ink out a pubic hair or chalk out an organ,” the magazine’s manifesto read. “We will apologize for nothing. We will uncover the entire world of sex. We will be the Consumer Reports of sex.”
Actually, the “Consumer Reports of sex” doesn’t sound all that baller, now that we think of it, but you get the picture. Screw had no airbrushing. No pretending. It did actually have Consumer Reports-style assessments of things like the best jerk-off techniques and guides on how to cheat.
During its heyday, Screw gave the world a signature visual style shaped by people like Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman, both of whom would go on to much more critical acclaim and respectability, but Goldstein never seemed the least bit interested in the trappings of acceptance.
Long before Larry Flynt starting stirring shit, Goldstein was on point as the guy that would go balls out for First Amendment rights, but he never gave you the luxury of believing that he really had noble goals in his discourse:
In 1973, though, a United States Supreme Court decision made it easier to prosecute pornographers. […] This led federal prosecutors to direct some postmasters in Kansas to order copies of Screw. Upon delivery, Mr. Goldstein was charged with 12 obscenity and conspiracy counts and faced up to 60 years in prison.
His lawyers argued that the anticensorship diatribes in Screw made the magazine sufficiently political, though Mr. Goldstein himself ridiculed this defense, insisting that a reader’s erection “is its own redeeming value.” After three years and two trials his conviction in the first was overturned, and the second ended in a hung jury.
Who among us could possibly argue that an erection is not its own redeeming value, amirite?
Goldstein seemed congenitally incapable of stopping himself from tweaking the noses — or maybe more like smacking the faces — of the powerful. He ran fake endorsements from former presidential candidate George Wallace, complete with pictures of Wallace enthusiastically thanking Screw for teaching him certain sex acts. (Goldstein actually had to pay up on that one and settled with Wallace for $12,500, but we suspect he probably thought it was well worth it.)
The thing of it is, Goldstein really really loved the fight. He loved getting arrested. He loved being in trouble.
“I really need the attention of being arrested, because that means I’m still bugging the establishment, that I’m still gadfly to the state,” he told Playboy. “Acceptance of me and Screw would be the kiss of death.”
When Larry Flynt came along with Hustler, there was a new outrage game in town, as Flynt made Goldstein, in Goldstein’s words, “look like a member of [the National Organzation for Women].”
And sadly, when he was no longer able to use Screw as a way to thumb not just his nose but his very being at the world, when he was no longer the baddest boy in town, then he got angrier and weirder, and his targets were the powerless rather than the powerful.
He was convicted in 2002 of harassing a former secretary in print, and he published doctored photos of his son having sex with men and his own mother, Goldstein’s third ex-wife, after the son asked him not to attend his graduation from Harvard Law School.
For someone that burned so bright and angry, Goldstein eventually faded away. He didn’t leverage or synergize or thought leader Screw into the internet era, and eventually he sold the publication and skipped from subsistence job to subsistence job before passing away in a nursing home. You just can’t fight that hard forever.