by Charles Platt
I’m slightly stunned to learn that Bob Guccione died ten days ago. Why would I care? Because he was an idiot-savant of the sexual revolution who also launched Omni magazine, a bastard mix of science fiction and science. It spawned a slew of imitators, including Discover, which I think is the sole survivor.
I used to write for Omni, and thus was invited to a party at Guccione’s brownstone on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the early 1980s. Sinister Sicilians in dark blue suits stood guarding million-dollar oil paintings that were hung casually, as if they were mere reproductions. A swimming pool occupied the entire basement. Strange-looking women with big mouths and revealing dresses were tottering around on high heels, and I wondered who they were, until Isaac Asimov remarked to me, “It’s quite an experience to see real glamor models in person.” Belatedly, I realized that the women were Penthouse Pets.
Guccione was not a very civilized character, but he played a role in securing the sexual freedoms which we now take for granted. Hefner, at Playboy, had brought naked pictures to the masses by wrapping them in intellectual pretensions (Norman Mailer used to be published in Playboy). Guccione made Hefner look old-school with a more in-your-face attitude and, of course, photographs showing pubic hair. Larry Flynt, in turn, made Guccione look staid by revealing the inner folds of female genitalia, and then the World-Wide Web superceded Flynt by showing pictures of absolutely everything else, from bestiality to fisting. On this tawdry basis we affirmed serious intellectual liberties to write anything and depict anything with impunity, so long as it doesn’t involve children. Generally, I think this is a good thing.
When porn first appeared on the Web, I felt sure that federal legislators would find a way to shut it down. But the Communications Decency Act was deemed unconstitutional, and crusaders for clean living never figured out a way to get around that. So here we are now, in a world where acts of unspeaking depravity are a mere mouse-click away. Like most print publishers, Guccione never adapted to it, and he had to sell his mansion and his art long before he died.