Last Exit From Brooklyn

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Hubert Selby Jr., author of Last Exit to Brooklyn, is now as dead and soulless as the incredibly shitty 1989 movie verson of his famous story collection. (The book also inspired a Beastie Boys' song which isn't very good either.)

The most memorable tale in the collection, "Tralala," was the subject of an obscenity trial after it was published by The Provincetown Review in 1961 (the whole collection was published by The Grove Press in '64).

In today's America, where Super Bowl half-time shows refuse to honor the country's founding and instead are nipplicious displays of "decadence and degradation," it's hard to conceive of things such as obscenity trials and censorship. Unless you make the mistake of saying bad words while on TV or radio. Or you produce porn. Or show pictures of flag-draped coffins.

Update: In deference to digamma's comment, let me amend my post thusly:

In today's America, where the film version of Selby's own Requiem for a Dream has created a cult around a charcter known as the "ass to ass guy" and draws high praise, t's hard to conceive of things such as obscenity trials and censorship. Unless you make the mistake of saying bad words while on TV or radio. Or you produce porn. Or show pictures of flag-draped coffins.

NEXT: Buena Idea

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  1. OK, so let’s pretend for a moment that the press somehow represents “the real public interest” in a way that no one in government does. Now, explain to me, seeing these photos of these coffins benefits me how?… I’m waiting…

    Of course, it isn’t a requirement of the First Amendment that speech be beneficial in any sense in order to be protected. It’s up to the government to prove that the speech causes more harm that censoring it would, and even at that, courts have generally held (at least since about 1960) that the situation has to be pretty extraordinary.

    But I’d have more sympathy if the people pursing these actions weren’t deliberately trying to provoke a fight. The aim here isn’t the publication of the photos, which will be forgotten a week from now. The aim is to allow the media people to portray themselves as cutting-edge producers of “compelling content” (to use their own phrase) while simultaneously wearing the mantle of victim of government oppression. Problem is, there really isn’t all that much speech that isn’t protected in the U.S., so pursuing First Amendment cases in and of itself only gets your victimhood status so far. So, the media has adopted a new tactic: their position now is that the First Amendment implicitly grants them (and them alone) the right to trespass absolutely anywhere, whether their presence is wanted or not, and publish anything they find. No citizen shall be permitted to have Fourth Amendment protection from search by this new supra-official media, whose rights are incompatible with everyone else’s rights. Anyone, whether government official or private citizen, who denies a media person access to any function, no matter how private, is prima facie guilty of censorship.

    Thus, we have newspapers in Florida fighting a three-year battle for the “right” to publish Dale Earnhardt’s autopsy photos. There is no pretense of any concern for medical procedures, safety, any of that; they just want it because they want it, and what the media wants no one shall be permitted to deny. Under this theory, if a media person wants to invade your house and take photorgraphs of you having sex with your S.O. and publish them, you are not permitted to tell them no, because doing so violates their First Amendment rights. I give it 90 days before Memoryhole, or someone like them, sues to obtain access to the medical records of all of the Iraq dead. After all, it’s important for people to know, isn’t it?

    And no, I absolutely do not support any messing around with the First Amendment. But if you take a poll, almost anywhere in the country, you’ll find that an overwhelming majority of citizens (between 2/3 and 3/4 in most of the polls I’ve seen) of citizens do support weakening the First Amendment. And it’s not because they are stupid; they may be misinformed or not seeing the whole picture, but they have made a not-entirely-unreasonable judgement that media freedom is doing more harm then censorship would. It’s a viewpoint that I absolutely disagree with, but I can see how they could reach that conclusion. And if that day does come to pass, quite frankly, the media will have no one to blame but themselves, and I won’t shed a tear for them.

  2. You mention Last Exit but you ignore Requiem for a Dream!

  3. Because citing Requiem for a Dream would suck air from Nick’s rant.

  4. Usually the point of “In today’s America, it’s hard to conceive of such things” stories is to list examples of things that actually *would* surprise most Americans.

    If you asked the average American if he was even a tiny bit surprised that a guy making hardcore porn films of Jesus committing rape was getting prosecuted for obscenity, you’d get a reply of “no”. Ditto for the censoring of discussions of rim jobs on the radio; ditto for the military censoring coverage of soldiers’ deaths.

    This doesn’t mean the censors are right in what they’re doing; but it does mean that what they’re doing falls into category of “well, DUH!”, not “how shocking in this day and age!”.

  5. The best Simpsons-episode-ever’s title was inspired by Last Ext, so it has that going for it.

  6. “So we’ll march day and night by the big cooling tower / They have the plant, but we have the power.”

  7. Last Exit to Brooklyn is one of the most beautiful and disgusting books I’ve ever read. Contrary to Nick’s statement, it is not soulless in any way. If you had any shred of humility or compassion in you, you would realize what Hubert Selby Jr. was attempting to do with the characters. Use the characters like a mirror. You may find something out about yourself.

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