Al Goldstein Is Dead — and Our Culture Is a Little Poorer

Porn King Exalted in Stereotype of the Dirty Old Jew

getty images

By Joshua Furst

Published December 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

So Al Goldstein is dead. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about him, but I have to believe that our culture will be poorer without him.

Al, if you recall, was the publisher and chief protagonist of the notorious porn magazine Screw. Obscenity isn’t just a description of Screw, it was also the magazine’s primary subject.

The sex depicted in its photos were unsexy. He didn’t airbursh or tart up his models. He didn’t provocatively pose them. This was documentation, not titillation.

An assertion that sex in all its unctuous, stinking variety could always be uglier than you imagined. The articles were screeds, free-ranging attempts to shock and offend.

He turned smut into an art form.

I remember him best from Midnight Blue, his late night public access television show. There he’d be, naked, hairy and obese, propped on a couch or wedged into an armchair.

The show was an extension of his ego, and often, his id. He paid for the right to have it shown in the wee hours of the night in rotation with the Robin Byrd show, that other great purveyer of public-access outsider art.

Sometimes while watching him free associate on Midnight Blue one felt as though one were being subjected to a particularly noxious psychiatric session with a sociopathic narcissist. It was riveting.

He’d attack anyone and anything, poking his bloated finger at the camera, spitting out his rage in ropey blobs of saliva. His every utterance was a belch of scorn, for his family, for the government, for the people to whom he owed money, even you, the sop stupid enough to be watching him rant.

Here was a truly nihilistic person, far more so than many of the fashion-obsessed punk rockers rubbing their shit in the face of the world and destroying themselves for fun and profit. And somehow, instead of gawking like I would at a reality TV star displaying his or her trashiest self for the camera, whenever I watched Midnight Blue, I felt like I’d learned things about what my deterministic culture can do to a person, for better or much, much worse.

Al Goldstein took the old stereotype of the dirty Jew, and embraced it, exalted it, reveled in it. For a while. Because eventually, even our smut became genteel.

There was no room in our new sex positive world for a sex negative guy like Al. He paid a heavy price for his refusal to put a happy face on his worldview: penury, abandonment, homelessness.

All the elements of New York that the collective sanitizing forces of Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg worked so hard to scrub out of the city were embodied in Al Goldstein. Here was a man who saw not only sex, but existence itself as a debased commodity to be alternately leered at and scorned.

He made everything he encountered uglier than it had been before it fell into his grubby hands, and in doing so, he forced us to confront and live with the ugliness in our own existence. Better this than the soporifics and platitudes that have been wallpapered over our culture.

Joshua Furst is the author of ‘The Sabotage Café’ (Knopf, 2007). He is a contributing editor of the Forward.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.