Tie Me Up! Tone Me Down!
Can't seem to stop your cross-dressing husband from wearing skirts to the movie theater? In search of a forum to describe how you were stripped, bound, and pleasurably tormented by four naked aerobics instructors? Seek, and ye shall find in the heart of Coral Gables, bastion of strictly regulated lawns, rigorously enforced quietude, and creative body-part piercing. In a suite of offices on Douglas Road, Dugent Publishing Corp. is churning out three adult magazines, in which the word "Biltmore" becomes a double entendre. The publications are filled with personal ads that will pair a "total panty slave" in Utah with "a strong mistress" anywhere; with tell-all tales of foot fetishism and no-holds-barred nude boxing; and with models boasting sex organs so large they mock the precision of the Gables's zoning ordinances.
For nineteen years, the City Beautiful has been home to Dugent, since the early Fifties the purveyor of pioneering men's magazines that set the pace for Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione. "Those magazines existed before Playboy, but they were always schlocky," says Al Goldstein, publisher of New York-based Screw magazine and a scholar of adult entertainment. "I don't think the whole operation strove to be the Columbia Journalism Review. It's masturbatory in content and intent." While Dugent magazines have never been highbrow, several successful writers, including Stephen King, got their start on the pages of Cavalier, Nugget, and Dude (a fourth magazine, Gent, has replaced the now-defunct Dude). Even Goldstein's professional writing career was launched in Nugget, which paid him $150 for a short story that took second prize in the magazine's 1959 college fiction-writing contest.
Until recently the company managed to print its magazines in relative obscurity, playing matchmaker for the kinky, and solving sexual problems that would shut Dr. Ruth's mouth. But last month the publicly funded Dade County Commission on the Status of Women launched a salvo at the publishing company, urging Coral Gables officials to scour their intricate zoning laws to protect Dade County's right-thinking citizens.
In June relentless civic activist Roxcy Bolton introduced the women's group to excerpts from a recent copy of Nugget, including a photo of a nude woman bound, gagged, and blindfolded. Its caption read: "We're not sure what's more exciting to this slave - being tied up and rendered completely helpless or not having any idea what her merciless master will next do with her." The photocopied samples also included readers' letters that detailed, among other phenomena, the aphrodisiac potential of naked fistfights, the lucrative dividends of prostituting someone else's wife, and the sexual allure of a Rubensesque double amputee.
On August 19 the group dispatched a letter to Coral Gables Mayor George Corrigan, requesting that the matter be placed on the City Commission's agenda. "Having reviewed its content with pain, and while remaining an advocate of First Amendment of Freedom of Expression, I and the Commission [on the Status of Women] feel that this publication represents a clear case of explicit sex, dehumanization of women, and lacks any redeeming social value," wrote Executive Director Conchy Bretos. "Most of the articles in the magazine encourage the enslavement and exploitation of women." After three weeks, the group still has not received a reply but they plan to step up their fight for an appearance before the City Commission. Dugent executives refused to comment for this story.
"We really want to tone down the thrust of the articles," explains Bretos. "We feel it incites violence against women." The officers for the women's commission say that despite the strident tone of their missive, their intention is not to run Dugent out of town. They want to protect the company's right to publish, as long as the material it publishes is less risque. "It's not a matter of freedom of the press; it's a matter of reflecting a more accurate perspective of women," seconds Yvonne Burkholz, chairwoman of the group's executive committee. "We think there is a difference between First Amendment rights and material which is clearly beyond that which is socially acceptable and socially redeeming."
Not surprisingly, the Commission on the Status of Women has company at the doors of City Hall, in the person of easily offended Coral Gables attorney Jack Thompson. The challenge against Dugent has gradually evolved during the past year, in part because of Thompson's tireless efforts to bring official action against the company. In September 1990, Thompson passed along a copy of Nugget to the Coral Gables Police Department.
The Dade State Attorney's Office also received excerpts from an issue of the magazine, says Assistant State Attorney Pam Thomas, who reviews the pornography that arrives in the office to determine whether it might violate obscenity laws. But Thomas says she filed the case away after Coral Gables police failed to find the same issue of Nugget on a newsstand, because she could not pursue an investigation of the company on the basis of the photocopies.
Undeterred, Thompson continued his moral barrage. In March he accused Mayor Corrigan of "actively covering up the scandal by preventing this matter from being placed on the City Commission's agenda." According to Commissioner Chip Withers, the commission's hands were tied by the state attorney's decision to shelve the matter. "I don't like seeing a magazine like that being associated with Coral Gables," he says. "But the only way we can get Dugent out of the city would be to revoke their occupational license and to remove them, but we would have to prove criminal wrongdoing." Withers adds that the decision to place the Dugent controversy on the City Commission's agenda rests with City Manager Jack Eads, who managed not to return phone calls from New Times.
More recently, Pam Thomas has been perusing a current, intact copy of Nugget, supplied to her office by the Coral Gables Police Department this past week. So far, the assistant state attorney is nonplussed. "It's not like Penthouse, it's not that mild, but it's not much more than Hustler," she says with the nonchalance of a person well-acquainted with the top rack in a magazine store. "I didn't see any bondage, no violence, very little actual contact. It's not the Ladies' Home Journal, it's really raunchy stuff, but it's not the worst magazine that I've ever seen."
Then what does trip the state attorney's smut detector? "Material that involves child pornography - which is a felony, - anything involving animals, anything that looks particularly violent - sado-masochism and things like that," says Thomas. As for the concerns of the Commission on the Status of Women, whose objections tend toward the quasi-literary content of the magazines, Thomas says so far she's only checked out the photos, adding that it's substantially more difficult to prove obscenity of words than obscenity in pictures.
So while the women's commission and like-minded Coral Gables residents plan to maintain their pressure on the publishing firm and City Hall, Dugent will continue to inform its readers where to buy a $38.99 "slave collar with attached tit clamps," and to concern itself with zoning issues that are erogenous in nature only.
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