‘Being Charlie’

The summer of 1998, Philip Roth began his novel The Human Stain, “was the summer when a president’s penis was on everyone’s mind”; 1998 was also the year when Pfizer signed up Bob Dole, who had run for president against Bill Clinton two years earlier, to promote its new drug, Viagra. The barriers to talking explicitly and publicly about sex had been falling for several years. In the early 1990s, the rap group 2 Live Crew had been acquitted of obscenity charges for performing their album As Nasty as They Wanna Be. The Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati and its director won a similar victory when they were tried for exhibiting photographs from Robert Mapplethorpe’s X Portfolio. By 1999, over two thirds of evening TV shows contained sexual content, an increase of 12 percent over the previous year. If sex had a defining feature in the 1990s, it was ubiquity.

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