Thy Neighbor’s Wife by Gay Talese is a well-known classic book written by an author still active in the publishing field. There is very little I can add to the plethora of reviews that have been written about this well-known work, so why have I bothered? The Voyeur’s Motel, also by Gay Talese, is listed as a July 2016 release on Kindle. It presents interesting ethical journalistic questions as well as moral questions on the responsibility of a person receiving information that may indicate criminal intent. A recent publication, the price of the book at Kindle is higher than I am willing to pay. So, while I am waiting for the price to come down or the possibility of someone giving me a free copy, I decided to read this earlier work; later I’ll write what I consider a comparison of author styles.
This book was written in 1981. I don’t know when the Kindle edition was created but I am confident the original print edition didn’t have as many typographical errors. Most are harmless. When Talese is referencing a well-known writer, the reader would look a long time to find the reference to Joyce Carol Gates (try Oates?).
Read today, this is a nostalgic look at the changing US mores relating to the publication of written and film work containing explicit language. Some would call such publication as art, literature, or pornography. The initial chapters look at history before WWII to include British history which provided the basis for US legal history relating to censorship. While interesting, the majority of the work looks at US history relating to censorship post-WWII. As a baby boomer, I lived through most of this and remember the effects of the various actors, from Hugh Hefner to the US Supreme Court. With an ever increasing amount of disposable income, my choice as a teenager was whether a good choice was spending money on those naughty magazines, such as Playboy, which were more and more appearing at local magazine outlets, or giving the money to Big Al, a local mechanic known to buy beer for minors. Teenage angst.
On the one hand, this is a serious work devoted to case histories of the growth and suppression of censorship in the US. On the other hand, it will appeal to the “prurient interest” of anyone interested in the availability of various types of pornography available in the US. This expression in quotes will be discussed throughout the work. Although this edition was updated with author comments in 2008, there are two areas of weakness I believe were not addressed, ones that a reader might keep in mind. One, definitely not the author’s fault, is the present day pervasiveness of the internet. I like alliteration. Even with an update in 2008, the author could not account for what we have in 2016. The second area also might not be the author’s fault. Talese hints at a backlash that we can observe today against pornography. It is not so much a legal backlash; that horse has left the barn. I have observed a backlash on a more personal level, an individual revulsion at how “far” things have gone, at things available on the “darknet.” Maybe this backlash was only hinted at as late as 2008. This backlash is something I have observed in universities and high schools as students (and others) I have met avoid applications on their electronic devices that seem to promote pornography for company financial growth.
At any rate, follow the nostalgic path. Hugh Hefner has fallen out of prominent public attention although there is an “everybody knows” type of knowledge that he is the publisher and creator of Playboy. He also created an exuberant lifestyle envied by many. In August 2016 he managed to get a CNN mention about the sale of his Playboy Mansion. Bought for under 500 000 USD, it was sold for 10 000 000 USD. This should warm the heart of real estate salespeople. Talese provides a lengthy look at the history of Hugh Hefner. In his 2008 update, he mentions daughter Christie Hefner. This mention is one of the indications of the backlash mentioned above.
Talese selects individuals and institutions and examines their histories in a case history examination method. I found the case of one married couple as they progressed from a standard, widely accepted model of post-WWII relationships, to one of communal living in a very open lifestyle, and a return to a fairly standard lifestyle. This is where the 2008 update is valuable. Again, it hints at the backlash I see present today.
Along the way, Talese mentions several well-known authors and works that would not be available today without the actions of a liberal, some would say enlightened, judiciary. So, we get the good with the bad.
In the end, I apply my well-used standard of acceptability to this book. Would I let my 14-year-old son read it? That is a tough one. Get back with me in two more years.