Larry Flynt, time hater

Time Haters

Via Salon, we learn that Larry Flynt and Columbia University political historian David Eisenbach have written a book together, One Nation Under Sex: How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Changed the Course of American History.  It looks for the most part like the kind of book you’d expect Larry Flynt and a political historian to write–it’s built at least 80% around secondary sources and it offers almost no acknowlegement or citation of the pioneering historians who made this kind of book possible (the feminists and the gays, of course). 

Instead, the footnotes I’ve been able to vet (via the book’s page at Amazon) offer just the usual parade of biographies of (in the words of my kiddie encyclopedia collection) “great men and famous deeds.”  Kudos for citing Catherine Allgor’s A Perfect Union, her new bio of Dolley Madison, and Clarence Walker’s Mongrel Nation, though–otherwise in the notes for the first chapter, it’s all founding fathers, founding brothers, the dogs and barn cats of the founding fathers, etc.  Shocking, I know.

It’s funny (and by funny, I guess I mean LOLSOB) how some analyses (like those offered by the feminists and queers) go from being dangerous, unsourced, risky, out-on-a-limb evidence problems, to being conventional wisdom in about 30 seconds these days.  Too bad for you, historians of sexuality–it looks like you risked your careers, your fortunes, and your sacred honor only to get buried in a footnote in a book by Joseph Ellis or Robert Remini, because those are the only books any authors of popular histories will ever read or cite.  In fact, all of you feminists and gays (or queer feminists) are pi$$ed on by Flynt, along with the rest of historians without whose years of work in the archives he could never have written his book.  From the Salon interview with Flynt:

After all the research you did for this book, (ed. note:  Srsly?!?)  what would you say is your big takeaway in terms of the intermingling of sex and politics in America?

The biggest thing I took away from this book is the degree to which it’s existed since the founding of our nation almost 250 years ago. When I started the book, I didn’t even know that we had a gay president, and I didn’t know that Lincoln’s sexuality was called into question. Historians really get under my skin because I think they’re the most anal-retentive group of professionals I’ve ever met. They can look at Mount Rushmore and get writer’s cramps. Historians never wanted to believe that this magnificent man who drafted the Declaration of Independence had actually fathered children by a black slave.

The publishers of history books tend to be conservative and they only want to know about policy and politics. They don’t want to know about sex. That’s why it’s left out of these books and has been for centuries.

Let’s say it all together for old times’ sake, friends:  AWESOME!!!  All historians are exactly alike, and they agree on everything all of the time.  There are no conflicts or controversies among historians about how to read evidence or how to write good history–a broad consensus defines the entire profession.  Thank goodness for old pr0n peddlars who can finally show us the significance of sexuality in the past!

(“Time haters” is a sketch from the Dave Chappelle Show in which Dave and friends go back in time to shoot a slave owner at point blank range.  It’s actually hilarious, but more importantly it sends up white people’s nostalgia/affection for the past and for American history re-creations and re-enactors.)

0 thoughts on “Larry Flynt, time hater

  1. On the contrary, loyal reader–I’d call him a huge winner, in that the establishment media and historians all forget about his Walter Mitty-esque-apades and his being entirely WRONG about Sally Hemings and they continue to cite him as the big expert, as opposed to all of those feminist historians/historians of slavery and sexuality who got it right (Annette Gordon-Reed, who doesn’t appear anywhere in the footnotes of the Flynt-Eisenbach book.)


  2. Thank the goddess that Larry Flynt has finally shown up to shake things up in the history profession. I mean, we were just sitting around waiting for somebody to mention that sexuality might be an important topic of analysis in the past. Who knew?


  3. I was totally with you right up until the final word of the entry. Not all reenactors do what they do because they are nostalgic, some of us actually want to know what life was like. Since you are so right in pointing out that not all historians are exactly the same, please do not then clump all reenactors together. I promise, there are quite a few of us who are anything but nostalgic about the past.


  4. Alena–I meant no disrespect to reenactors. I was just reporting what I thought was the point in Chappelle’s skit.

    There were a number of reenactors in Philadelphia this weekend–even excluding the waitstaff at the City Tavern. All of them seemed to be very serious and effective in teaching the public about the history they knew. Special marks to the woman playing Betsy Ross at the Betsy Ross House around 11:30 or 12 noon on Saturday–she was really terrific.


  5. Ah, yes. When THEY write about sex, it’s populist and ground-breaking. When WE write about sex, it’s irrelevant, irreverent and probably also derivative of them, even if we wrote it first.



  6. I guess the bit I missed was our gay president, but hey, I’m grateful to Larry Flynt for letting me know that sex was connected to politics before JFK (or FDR, or Woodrow Wilson or…Henry VIII?) I *am* a Tudor Stuart historian after all. I’d never known that sex was important.



  7. Ok, I appreciate the boys letting me know sex is important, but it is only important with big boys at the center? I guess sex matters to politics WAAAY more than say culture, daily life, women’s experiences, slave labor system…

    Meanwhile, according to Flynt: “Benjamin Franklin was publishing a tabloid newspaper that had the first-ever sex advice column.” What in the PA Gazette counts as a sex advice column? And how is it a tabloid?


  8. The Pennsylvania Gazette was published in tabloid, not broadsheet form, right?

    Franklin is one of those plastic historical characters one can mold into whatever shape necessary. Like Mark Twain (only moreso?), he was into everything and said something about everything, so he’s still a reliable font of opinions.

    (I wonder if they got the “sex advice” bit from Clare Lyons’s book, and just “forgot” to footnote it? She’s got a LOT of discussion in that book about representations of sexuality in print culture in the mid-18th C.)


  9. Maybe he is confusing Poor Richard and PA Gaz. Though he gets the date, 1729, of the Gazette’s founding right. Although, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Franklin founding it; he took it over later.

    But it is a well researched book, so I must be wrong on all these pesky facts.


  10. The Playa Haters time travel sketch from Chapelle’s Show is perhaps my second favorite bit they ever did. (Nothing will ever top the black white supremacist from the first episode. I’m also partial to “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories.) Crucially, though, that sketch wasn’t approved to air. After they filmed it, apparently no one but Chapelle and show co-founder Neil Brennan found Dave shooting a slave master dead all that funny. They only worked it back on the air in their “Rejected Sketches” episode when they needed more material.

    The moral of the story–perhaps not everyone shares my sense of humor on pimps, pistols, and manumission.


  11. It’s The Man, as always — we went from that golden age of blaxploitation vengeance to forced mellow real quick, din’t we? Time Hatas could’ve been a stellar AIP series, if anyone with Chappelle’s vision existed back then, under Corman’s, um, whip….


  12. I am the coauthor of One Nation Under Sex. I was disappointed to see your criticism of our alleged lack of feminist or queer studies analysis. My first book was Gay Power: An American Revolution which chronicles the history of the gay rights movement.

    When you read the book you will notice many gay and female heroes from Frederick Von Steuben to Eleanor Roosevelt. We made a great effort to give women and and gays a central place in the history of the presidency and America. All I ask is that after you read the book to please offer a review. I promise you will not be disappointed.

    David Eisenbach


  13. Also check out Chapter 3 which deals with our first gay president James Buchanan and Abe Lincoln’s complicated sexuality. You will see an extensive discussion of Jonathan Ned Katz’s work on popular attitudes toward homosexuality in the mid 19th century.


  14. David–I took your advice and went back to the footnotes of your book and used the “search inside” feature to see if I could find the names and books of prominent feminist and LGBTQ historians whose work would appear to have been foundational to yours. Here are the names I searched:

    Leila Rupp: 0 citations
    Martin Duberman: 0 citations
    Carroll Smith-Rosenberg: 0 citations
    Nancy Isenberg: 0 citations
    Blanche Wiesen Cook: 1 citation

    Please correct me if the search engine didn’t pick up these names. I skimmed over the footnotes but I’m sure it’s possible that I missed them.

    Understand that my critique here was not so much about your book with Flynt in particular as it is about the genre and style of writing popular histories. I know that trade publishers are pretty hostile to the scholarly apparatus and that you’re limited to only very brief footnotes, etc. But understand too that it grinds the gears of those of us who were publicly scolded in conferences & risked our careers to advance what were seen as “dangerous” and “subversive” ideas and have finally published them with university presses to see our work both not credited for its insights and then ALSO scolded publicly by the likes of Flynt.

    My point is that your book with Flynt rests on the labors of a lot of people who worked for years to win professional and public acceptance for their scholarship, but once again they get lumped in perjoratively with all “historians” as anal-retentive killjoys whose ideas are at war with the ideas in your book.


  15. How you can judge a book based on a Google search?

    Not only did you miss Katz who is extensively discussed in the text of the book but you also missed our citations of William Benemann “Intimacy in Early America,” Rodger Streitmatter “Empty without You: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickock,” (Cook actualy had 7 citations of her two volumes on Eleanor Roosevelt), David K Johnson “The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government.”

    You must admit that pulling out a handful of historians and criticizing us for not citing them is not at all fair. What history cites everything?

    I still would like you to review the book. Let me know if you want a copy and Ill have one sent to you.


  16. I judge books all of the time by their footnotes, and I don’t think that’s something unusual among professional historians. I like to see if they’re in dialogue with scholars whose work interests me. That’s the criteria by which I’ve judged your book, along with the foolish comments of your co-author.

    There are a lot of books that focus on the history of the U.S. Presidency that I don’t read. Lots. In fact, there’s an almost undending stream of them!

    You’re coming from expertise in an entirely different century than I am, and you’re not very interested in the feminist scholarship that built much of the framework for your book. But that’s what I’m interested in, given my training and interests, and that’s what interests most of my readers. But we of course are not your target audience–so I’m sure that whatever we think will be entirely irrelevant in the overall scheme of things.


  17. But you and your readers are my target audience and I am certain that feminists who read the book will love it. For the first time a popular history places women– first ladies and mistresses — as pivotal players in the grand sweep of the history of the presidency and America. Believe me you got to read this book. If you read it and hate it and slam it — great! But don’t just take shots based on presumptions. We all know that’s what the enemies of progress do to us all the time. Why are we do it to each other?


  18. Pingback: Sausage party, or wiener roast? Founding Fathers/Presidential Chic, again! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.