Sex & Society » Pop culture, History, Politics: "The Naked Reader Book Club: The Subversive Universe According to Krassner"

EdenFantasys Store

The Naked Reader Book Club: The Subversive Universe According to Krassner

  • Print
  • E-mail
Paul Krassner is a writer, agitator, humorist and social watchdog extraordinaire. Where the establishment is matter, Krassner is antimatter. He speaks with the voice and the conscience of a generation who knew better than to trust the status quo. His message of thoughtful rebellion is as timely now as it was in the ’60s… perhaps even more.

  The “Left” Write Hook

Krassner’s latest books, Who’s to Say What’s Obscene? Politics, Culture and Comedy in America Today, (with a forward by Arianna Huffington) and In Praise of Indecency: The Leading Investigative Satirist Sounds off on Hypocrisy, Censorship and Free Expression” (from Cleis Press), cover everything from Janet Jackson’s nipples to a Sunday school teacher who advised a student to write “What would Jesus Do?” on his (the kid’s) penis. The crazy sexual extremism of our time—celebrity porn stars on the same cultural stage with abstinence-only education, for example—doesn’t surprise the author of a book called One Hand Jerking all that much.

“The country was founded by pioneers and Puritans and in the centuries that have gone by since, those streaks, each one has become intensified, so it’s sort of a battle between the pioneers, or say the progressives, and the Puritans.

“And everything is accelerating now because the communication is so instant—even the rate of acceleration is accelerating—so these forces of puritanical and progressive have both become much more part of mainstream awareness.”

If you think the puritanical is aggressive now, harken back to the ’60s when Krassner’s friend Lenny Bruce, was arrested multiple times for obscenity the first time in 1961 in San Francisco. “The offense was for the use of the word cocksucker in a public place,” says the Official Lenny Bruce Website.

Considering the language available on cable now the very idea of getting arrested for obscenity seems as anachronistic as being arrested for witchcraft. But it wasn’t just Bruce’s language—it was his counter-culturalism that ostensibly got him in trouble. After his second obscenity arrest in Chicago in 1962 Variety wrote “The prosecutor is at least equally concerned with Bruce’s indictments of organized religion as he is with them more obvious sexual content of the comic’s act.”

As part of that history and as his book titles suggest Krassner is a watchdog—and a funny and insightful one— on first a variety of civil rights and of amendment issues, including the arbitrary nature of some of the rulings of the FCC and the hype by the media which he wrote about in Who’s To Say What’s Obscene? He referred to the Jackson issue as “making a mountain out of an implant,” and imitates the coverage of the incident: “Now here’s what Justin Timberlake did during the half-time. Blow that up! Get a good look at that! Isn’t that terrible?”

The first amendment issue that concerns him most at the moment, he says, is the recent Supreme Court ruling declaring that corporations are people and can thus “contribute huge funds to political campaigns as a form of free speech.”

“It was as if the Supreme Court was in favor of fascism because (fascism was) the linking of corporation and government according to Mussolini…and he was a fascist so he should know. You combine that with the religious hierarchy and you have an unholy triumvirate there.” (To quote the Italian dictator himself: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”)

The priorities that come with the kind of money that buys lobbying and thus politicians are insane, Krassner says. “Cigarettes are legal and they kill 1,200 people a day in this country alone whereas marijuana never killed anybody…the worst it can do is make you raid your neighbor’s refrigerator.”

  Humor is the Best Weapon

See there? Just when you start to get bummed or angsty about corporate fascism he makes you laugh. Krassner’s he even makes his news habit entertaining: “I’ll switch back and forth between Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly.”

More seriously, his favorite is Rachel Maddow, because “she’s smart and witty and creative and fearless.” He likes what he calls “The Fake Hour ” (a.k.a. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Report) and also The Huffington Post for which he blogs, and finally, Boing Boing, which combines news and entertainment.

As to comedy, the first name that comes to Krassner’s mind when asked who most closely follows in the footsteps of Bruce’s controversial footsteps, he cites the late Bill Hicks and George Carlin, and also “Wanda Sykes, who has a lot of Lenny’s taking risks and being edgy. Harry Shearer, who is on radio and does little theatrical bits, really brilliant insights, and takes all the parts—that was what Lenny did. Chris Rock is like listening to a jazz musician go off on a riff, come back and have all these different tones in his voice and rhythms, so there’s a music to it.”

The groups he sees now carrying on the Yippie tradition of political pranksterism (like creating chaos by dropping dollar bills onto the floor of the New York stock exchange) are Billionaires for Bush (check out their latest, “Billionaires for Wealthcare” video at the link), The Ruckus and The Yes Men, who do pranks in which they pretend to be executives for big companies and go on TV pretending to speak for the company, apologizing for all they’ve done (including the above clip where they punked the BBC).

“It was really very intelligent pranks they pulled, and meaningful,” he says and the internet has enabled such activism like never before by changing the nature of organizing. The Yippies had to pull pranks because they had no advertising budget, Krassner says: “If we gave good quote, they gave good publicity.” The Internet has enabled groups to get away from the expenses of copying and mailing information and also to form groups via networks like Facebook.

  Watchdogs 2.0

When he talks about social networking via the web it’s hard to remember that Krassner was born in 1932. He turned 78 on April 9. (My mom, at that same age, had declared herself “too old” to use a microwave.) When asked for some advice for young writers, satirists and activists he of course makes a joke: “If they go to a restaurant and get a club sandwich, take the toothpick out before you bite into it.” Once you get stuff like that straight, you can deal with the other stuff because you have a sense of cause and effect.” But he also notes there are things he can learn from them. “It’s a different world. I see young people fighting for causes and volunteering…it’s a two-way street. I have as much to learn form them as they do from me.”

His true advice to young wannabes though, is straight up and a bit humbling: “Find like-minded people to help you live up to your values, and use your imagination and creativity. [Do not take yourselves] as seriously as your cause.”

That’s an especially moving sentiment since he’s just told me the story of having interviewed a doctor who performed abortions in the decade preceding Roe v. Wade, promising to go to prison rather than reveal the physician’s name. The doctor charged as little as $5 and because at the time African-Americans were not allowed to stay in the town hotel, he had a room built on the clinic where they could stay if they needed to. After the story appeared Krassner found himself getting calls from women wanting the doctor’s services and giving them the information they needed. And so, he found himself running an underground abortion referral service for years.

“I was called before two district attorneys and I refused to testify to the grand jury. My attorney sued the state of New York, saying that abortion laws were unconstitutional and they had no constitutional basis to go after me.” Some women’s groups joined in the fight and then Krassner moved to California; though he is still unsure how, his attorney says the whole thing lead to Roe v. Wade.

“I never thought in my lifetime though, that I would see abortion legalized, and when it was legalized, I didn’t think I’d see in my lifetime a time when that legalization would become threatened as it is now or become such a big issue.”

When he looks back it strange to look back and see himself as part of history?

“I didn’t think in those terms. It was just something I had to do because I couldn’t say no to the people who saw the interview called and me up for help. To me it was just it was preposterous that women should be calling up the editor of a satirical magazine to find out how they could get medical surgery.”

And if given the opportunity to help in another way, if, say, there was a federal endowment to create a sex education program and he was asked to put it together what would he do?

Without missing a beat he says, “I would hire Jocelyn Elders (the former U.S. Surgeon General under the Clinton administration who was forced to resign after suggesting that teaching about masturbation in schools as a safe sexual activity) … I would have people who were progressive, who were sex positive, who would think that it was totally appropriate to give young people as much information as they wanted and needed and not to be moralistic about it, and that pro-choice starts before knocking up.”

By “pro-choice” he means sexual choice. Lady Gaga is celibate, he points out, because with her career schedule she hasn’t gotten to know anyone well. That’s a choice like “monogamy, swingers, so many different facets, if they have a foot fetish, fine…if people aren’t sure they’re gay or not. I would bring in speakers to say ‘Why should it make a difference in equal rights whether gays are born homosexual or acquired it during their lifetime as a preference? It should make no difference.’ It would just be a think tank to try to get ways to educate people … And I think there would be a lot of parties.”

What kind of parties?

“Office parties. Every week would be Christmas. Every day would be casual Friday.”

To purchase the Naked Reader Book Club selections, visit the Naked Reader Book Club Store.
The Naked Reader Book Club Selections for April 2010
Best Sex Writing 2010 Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel Best Fetish Erotica Edited by Cara Bruce


Join venerated erotica publisher Cleis Press, EdenFantasys and SexIs in an ongoing online book club for inquiring minds who love to read about all things sexual—from the politics of pornography to the erotically evocative boundaries of desire.

News, meeting announcements, reviews, book readings and more can be found on The Naked Reader Book Club Blog.

Featured Books from Cleis Press
To find out about upcoming featured titles, visit The Naked Reader Book List for a listing of books to be featured in the coming months.

The Naked Reader Book Club Store
Visit the official NRBC store to purchase past, present and future featured book titles.

2- 4 books are featured each month and reviewed by a select group of Eden Fantasys Contributors. Reviews are highlighted on the NRBC Blog.

Book Club Meetings
The Naked Reader Book Club meets twice a month to discuss a selected book. Visit the Naked Reader Book Club Blog for a calendar of scheduled meetings.

If you are interested in more information on the Naked Reader Book Club, please email The Naked Reader.

Project Articles

Other projects

What's Hot

Sexis in your inbox

Keep up on new articles, projects, columns and more