“Al Goldstein Dies at 77; Made Pornography Dirtier”

That’s not my headline. It’s the hed on the New York Times’ hilarious obituary of the founder of Screw magazine.

Long before the internet brought newspapers to their knees, the industry suffered plenty of self-inflicted damage. Among the unnecessary wounds I would place the decision by big newspaper chains to turn obituaries into paid advertisements. The result has been a stream of unctuous prose authored by funeral directors and family members rendered inarticulate by grief.

One of the glories of the New York Times is the standard it continues to uphold in this magnificent genre. Witness today’s delicious piece on Goldstein:

Mr. Goldstein did not invent the dirty magazine, but he was the first to present it to a wide audience without the slightest pretense of classiness or subtlety… The manifesto in Screw’s debut issue in 1968 was succinct. “We promise never to ink out a pubic hair or chalk out an organ,” it read. “We will apologize for nothing. We will uncover the entire world of sex. We will be the Consumer Reports of sex.”

…Apart from Screw, Mr. Goldstein’s most notorious creation was Al Goldstein himself, a cartoonishly vituperative amalgam of borscht belt comic, free-range social critic, and sex-obsessed loser who seemed to embody a moment in New York City’s cultural history: the sleaze and decay of Times Square in the 1960s and ‘70s.

…With renown came obscenity arrests and lawsuits, which Mr. Goldstein in turn milked for maximum publicity. (He also wrote numerous scathing editorials accusing his accusers of hypocrisy, often accompanied by crude photo collages showing them engaged in humiliating sex acts.) Mr. Goldstein, claiming First Amendment protection, beat most of the charges, occasionally paying nominal fines.

…His lawyers argued that the anticensorship diatribes in Screw made the magazine sufficiently political, though Mr. Goldstein himself ridiculed this defense, insisting that a reader’s erection “is its own redeeming value.”

As a reward for reading to the end of the Goldstein obit, the on-line version features one of the all-time great corrections.