instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Far From Flatbush

It Takes a President

In 1998, at the height of Clinton impeachment mania, I, as editor of Sex Acts magazine, commissioned a cartoonist to illustrate “choice” parts of the Starr Report, independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s record of his run-amok investigation of a White House enmeshed in scandal—financial, political, and sexual. The report, now best remembered for its explicit descriptions of the multiple erotic encounters between a 49-year-old sitting president and his 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky, was published unexpurgated in The New York Times, marking the first time the Gray Lady had allowed “fuck” and “blowjob” to stain her pages.

One Sex Acts cartoon illustrates a tryst that, according to the Starr Report, took place in the White House study on December 31, 1995. It shows Bill Clinton, pants around his knees, displaying a curving erection of porn-star proportions that appears to be Viagra-enhanced—though Viagra wouldn’t be available to the general public for three more years. It’s an image that encapsulates much of what The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido (Twelve), by Vanity Fair editor David Friend, is about.

That’s presumably why the words “Naughty Nineties,” as they appear on the cover of this 632-page epic, are shaped like a curving, fully engorged, seven-and-three-eighths-inch phallus—though the effect is subliminal. I’d been reading the book for a month before I noticed it. I now assume that phallus is meant to represent Clinton’s penis, which is really a stand-in for every Boomer phallus that ever grew erect in the nineties.

If Bill Clinton and his penis are the star of this leave-no-stone-unturned analysis of the decade in which libidinous Baby Boomers took over America, Viagra is the co-star, and the complex, dramatic, and at times touching tale of how it was discovered, tested, named, and marketed, and then became one of the best-selling prescription pharmaceuticals ever—thus bringing erections and their dysfunction into our living rooms—may be the most fascinating part of The Naughty Nineties. (See “The Hardener’s Tale” and “Homo Erectus.”)

Hillary Clinton, weaponized gossip, and the Internet are among the major supporting players, with the latter two bearing responsibility for the “tabloidification” of an era in which “we learn not only that Prince Charles is having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, but are treated to a recording of Charles stating that he wants to be her tampon.”

It’s also a decade in which expansive silicone breasts and the $10-to-14-billion-a-year pornography industry emerged from the shadows to penetrate every segment of mainstream media and society.

My book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is among the multitude of texts that Friend, whom I work with at Vanity Fair, consulted in the course of his research, and The Naughty Nineties elaborates on some of the material I touched on. In discussing Lyndon Johnson’s porn-investigation commission, for example, I describe the president as “a corrupt Texas Democrat with a big dong,” before moving on to Richard Nixon’s war on porn. But how is it known that Johnson had a big dick? Friend explains: “He was known to flabbergast acquaintances by whipping out his Texas longhorn of a pecker.”

This kind of breezy, vernacular-laced prose makes The Naughty Nineties an entertaining alternative to the slew of turgidly written textbooks dominating undergraduate reading lists for any number of history, sociology, political science, gender studies, and communications courses, such as U.C.L.A.’s “Pornography and Evolution.”

The scene in “Chez Fleiss” of Friend’s journey through the Mojave Desert to visit “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss contains another good example: “To get here, I have driven an hour along the parched perimeter of Death Valley without spying a human soul. And then, like some portent out of Castaneda, I see a vision. A titty bar.”

Yet Friend’s intent is never less than serious, and his research sets a scholarly standard for comprehensiveness, no matter how raw the subject matter. In “Botox, Booties, and Bods,” he explores rap culture’s fetishization of the female buttocks, cataloguing, in three jam-packed paragraphs, Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot’s “crooning about the merits of a fuller moon”; Experience Unlimited’s “Da Butt,” a.k.a. “(Doin’) the Butt”; 2 Live Crew’s “Face Down, Ass Up”; Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Appelbum”; Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre’s coining the word “bootylicious”; Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker”; DJ Jubilee’s inventing the term “twerk”; Juvenile’s “Back That Azz/Thang Up”; Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty”; and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

Ubiquitous and fulsome footnotes, which could comprise a volume unto themselves, enrich this meticulous detail. (The mother of all footnotes, on pages 467–68—perhaps the longest annotation I’ve personally encountered—analyzes why the institution of marriage is “on the rocks.”)

Friend is at home, as well, with the erotic. In “The Glory of O” he brings to life a masturbation workshop: “Ken, ever stroking, tells the audience, ‘Her clit just grabbed on to my finger.’ Her legs shake and flutter. ‘The clitoris is a spinning top,’ he says, ‘now spinning by itself.’”

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how the nineties set the stage for the ascent of Donald Trump and a presidency in which politics, pornography, gossip, and reality TV are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. And Friend, rising to the occasion, ends with “The Trumpen Show.” But is Trump the terrible tyrant of a passing moment—the Tawdry, Tempestuous Teens, when the Times turns to titan of adult cinema Ron Jeremy for insight on POTUS paramour Stormy Daniels, the biggest XXX superstar since Deep Throat’s Linda Lovelace? (It takes a president.) Or has he brought us to the edge of an Enervating Endtimes, leaving us longing for the days when the most horrific thing you’d read in your daily newspaper was Ken Starr’s depiction of Oval Office anilingus?

We’ll just have to wait for the return of the Roaring Twenties for an answer. They’ll be upon us soon enough.

—Robert Rosen

 Read More 

Post a comment

Mi entrevista con El Submarí Groc/My Interview With The Yellow Submarine

En mayo de 1981 el asistente personal de John Lennon, Fred Seaman, me dio los diarios que Lennon había estado escribiendo, entre enero de 1975 y el 8 de diciembre de 1980, el día en que fue asesinado. Esos diarios, explicó Seaman, eran la clave del proyecto, que Lennon le había pedido llevara a cabo en evento de su muerte. Seaman iba a escribir la historia verdadera de los últimos años de Lennon, y quería que yo lo ayudara a hacerlo.

Yo acepté ese encargo sabiendo, que podría ejecutarlo en un espíritu que fuera verdadero para John. La historia de los diarios es la historia que cuento en Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon.

Desde ese día de 37 años atrás en que Seaman me dio los diarios, mucho se ha escrito sobre lo que hice con éstos. Pero una simple verdad se ha perdido en las resmas de la cobertura de los medios: yo traté esos diarios con amor y respeto, y los usé para crear un retrato de John Lennon como un ser humano tri-dimensional.

En la entrevista de María Martín a mí, en el último número de la revista beatleriana española El Submarí Groc, y en el video de abajo, en inglés con subtítulos en español, ella pone en claro esa simple verdad, diciendo en el titular que “Robert Rosen… nos acerca la belleza de un John Lennon humano.”

Ha sido como un arribo tras largo tiempo.

Para pedir una copia de El Submarí Groc, escribe a elsubmarigroc@hotmail.com.

Te invito a unirte a mí en Facebook o a seguirme en Twitter.



My Interview With The Yellow Submarine


In May 1981, John Lennon's personal assistant Fred Seaman gave me the diaries that Lennon had been writing in between January 1975 and December 8, 1980, the day he was murdered. These journals, Seaman explained, were the key to the project Lennon had asked him to carry out in the event of his death. Seaman was to write the true story of Lennon's final years and he wanted me to help him do it.

I accepted this assignment knowing that I could execute it in a spirit that was true to John. The story of the diaries is the story I tell in Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon.

Since the day 37 years ago that Seaman gave me the diaries, much has been written about what I did with them. But a simple truth has gotten lost in the reams of media coverage: I treated those diaries with love and respect, and used them to create a portrait of John Lennon as a three-dimensional human being.

In María Martín’s interview with me in the latest issue of the Spanish Beatles magazine El Submarí Groc (The Yellow Submarine)—and in the above video, in English with Spanish subtitles—she makes that simple truth clear, saying in the headline that “Robert Rosen… brings us the beauty of a human John Lennon” (“nos acerca la belleza de un John Lennon humano”).

It’s been a long time coming.

To order a copy of El Submarí Groc, write to elsubmarigroc@hotmail.com.

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on TwitterRead More 

Be the first to comment