Book: Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsley and Chester the Molester
Author: Bob Levin
Type of Book: Non-fiction, biography, pornography, constitutional issues
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It may not be full-bore odd in the way that many of the books I discuss here often are, but it’s unsettling and at the end of the book I had more questions than I did at the beginning. This book also dovetailed neatly with some of the work I am doing preparing for upcoming Jim Goad/”Rape Me” discussion, so discussing this is a warm up for what is to come. So the book may not be odd, per se, but it’s worth discussing here because I say so.
Availability: Published by 2008 by Fantagraphics Books, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Pornography as a whole doesn’t bother me. I’ve read every argument for and against it and ,all in all, the Red in me says all work is exploitation. Some of us get exploited more than others. Pornography is an ugly business, uglier than most, but it serves a purpose and I can’t look at anyone who makes or performs in pornography as being a victim. At least not in every circumstance. I sure know a few hundred dollars a scene or for a set of photographs, on the victim-scale, sure beats the hell out of working for minimum wage in retail or scrubbing toilets. People may say the latter work permits workers to have more pride but sentimental ideals like that are worth very little when you cannot pay your bills.
Whether or not opponents of pornography like it, pornography that involves consenting adults (within the legal limits of federal and state law) is protected under the First Amendment. Pornographic depictions in the form of drawings are far more lenient, as in the USA it is still legal to draw children in pornographic situations. Even if we loathe it, we have to tolerate it if we want to live in a free society. But it’s important to note that a free society is not always a healthy society. That’s where Dwaine Tinsley comes in.
If you aren’t familiar with the “Chester the Molester” cartoons that used to appear in Hustler, I tend to think you are a lucky person. I admit that my truly negative opinion of the cartoons are probably coloring this discussion, but I also am struggling to approach this with an even hand. That struggle is helped greatly by Levin’s book, because though I knew of “Chester the Molester,” I knew nothing of the man who had created the cartoons.
Dwaine Tinsley was born poor white trash and had an upbringing that was less Dickensian than straight out of an Erskine Caldwell novel. Throughout his life, he had an affection for plump women, marrying a couple of them, and eventually he made a decent life for himself as a cartoonist. His daughter from one of his earlier relationships moved to live with him and his new family when she began to have problems at home with her mother and, from all accounts, Dwaine and his wife did their best to give his daughter, called “Veronica” in the book, a nice life with some basic household rules.
But when “Veronica” began dating a man whom her father and stepmother disliked, a man who apparently got her hooked on cocaine, she began to make allegations that Tinsley had molested her. Her accusations came during the time when incestuous abuse of children was becoming a very big topic in mainstream society, from movies like Something About Amelia to talk shows with an array of people who had increasingly unbelievable stories about abuse. Tinsley went to trial for molesting his daughter and was convicted, supposedly, on the merits of some taped phone calls he had with “Veronica.” The transcription of those phone calls, when read dispassionately, are devastating to Tinsley’s denial that he did not molest his daughter. Those calls can also be open to interpretation, as a man who knows his daughter is troubled and is refusing to enter into another tiresome, interminable discussion about something that never happened.
But it’s also very much a possibility that Dwaine Tinsley went to prison because his daughter was urged by a boyfriend to blackmail her father. But mostly he went to prison because he was the creator of “Chester the Molester.”
Seriously, if you found out that the artist behind a cartoon wherein disgusting old men stalk and sexually interfere with children, mostly little girls, was accused of raping his daughter, would you even be surprised? Would you shrug and think, “Stands to reason that a man who would draw such cartoons might actually harbor salacious feelings toward children?” Is it even possible that a man who drew such a cartoon could get a fair trial if his work was invoked as proof of his overall degeneracy?
That’s why I am discussing this book here, even though it’s not so odd. It’s because it’s a hard book. Tinsley comes across as a sympathetic man. Levin does an excellent job of showing Tinsley as a man with a good work ethic, a sort of working class hero who made good after a crappy childhood, overcoming the limitations that are often part and parcel of being a “son of the soil.” But he’s also a man who drew some of the most vile cartoons, cartoons that in most cases were utterly devoid of irony (and often humor) because he claimed he was satirizing and lampooning the behaviors of pedophiles. That made me uneasy. And that sucks on my part because a man’s crappy attempts to create valid social satire is not proof positive that he has the urge to rape a child.
To make matters worse is the picture that Levin chose to lead off the book. In this picture, a pretty young woman is sitting on a low wall of some sort. She has her legs spread and Tinsley is leaning back against her, his ass level with her crotch. He is smoking a cigarette and she has her arms wrapped around his neck. I assumed it was a picture of Tinsley with one of his wives or a girlfriend. Of course, later I learned that the “Veronica” in the picture was Tinsley’s daughter. Without any signifiers of who the girl was when I first looked at the picture, I would never have thought the picture was of a father and his daughter. It was creepy and unsettling when I realized the relationship between the two people in the picture.
And that’s dangerous, isn’t it? Lots of families express themselves in ways that I may find odd but are not engaging in incestuous or even unhealthy behaviors. What can one really tell from one photograph? What can one tell from a photograph when the father inks “Chester the Molester?” And why would any man want to ink a cartoon like “Chester the Molester?”