Cable TV came to Manhattan in 1975, if memory serves me correctly, when I was 11 years old, and I’m not entirely sure any of us have ever fully recovered. Most of the boys in my class–I went to a single-sex school on the Upper West Side–didn’t get wired right away, but a few of the fifth-graders, thanks mostly to divorced parents submitting to ritual emotional blackmail, had the coveted black box installed in their bedrooms. One of those kids was my friend Billy, who lived with his mom on East 75th Street and got to have anything he wanted. This is where, during my early adolescence, we spent our Friday evenings, watching the likes of Ugly George, who walked around midtown Manhattan, dressed in a silver jumpsuit, luring women into alleyways to take off their clothes. Why some women acceded to this remains one of the mysteries of male-female sexuality that eludes me well into my 30s. There was also a “nude talk show” in which a really fat Jewish guy nicknamed “the Rabbi”–who seemed to be running some sort of middle-aged swinger’s club on the Upper East Side–would interview other really boring unattractive naked people as they lounged about, pale and pimply, on tatami mats. At some predetermined point in the proceedings, everybody on set would stand up and moon the camera. If this was the punishment, what was the crime?
       There was one man–also, as it happens, a really fat Jewish guy–who redeemed public-access cable: Al Goldstein. I went with a friend tonight to see the last showing at Cinema Village of Screwed, a documentary about Goldstein that serves as a healthy antidote to the Frank Rich-approved myth-making of The People vs. Larry Flynt. Unlike Larry Flynt and its rather convoluted embrace of the Hustler publisher, Screwed fixates on the emotional barrenness of both sides of the porn transaction. It shows Goldstein as a bitter misogynist with an ongoing need to play out his adolescent fantasies well into retirement years. This seems about right. But I think the movie also misses some of Goldstein’s anarchic, wheezing brilliance. Goldstein’s show, Midnight Blue, which still runs on New York cable, is not really about pornography at all. It’s more a kind of extended performance art piece in which Goldstein berates a random array of enemies for real and perceived slights (his trademark sign off “Fuck you” has become a New Yorkers’ secret handshake), interviews porn stars about their oral-sex techniques, and parodies current TV ads (the joke usually involves a rubber phallus).
       Goldstein, in the documentary, pinpoints his show’s singular excellence. “This is not about entertainment,” he says. “It is about revenge.”
       What the show is also about is energy and passion, elements notably absent in most mainstream television and magazines and newspapers. I’m struck by how few genuinely compelling, complicated, perverse figures there are out there now in media land. People who, as they say, think outside the box, whom you couldn’t see easily sidling up to the hostess on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. Think about how interesting the New York Times’ op-ed page would be if Al Goldstein had a regular column instead of, say, Frank Rich. Hey, Bill Bennett! Fuck you!