Gay Talese is an American journalist and a nonfiction writer. He wrote for The New York Times in the 1960s after working for its copy and obituary sections. In the 1950s, he was one of the first writers to add minute details, use literary flairs, and begin articles in medias res. These techniques became the foundation of the revolutionary “New Journalism.”
He has written many non-fiction books, beginning with 1964’s The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. His 2006 autobiography A Writer’s Life focuses on his trials and failures as a writer, such as having a profile piece rejected by The New Yorker, which ironically reviewed the book positively and said it had a “distinctly moving” quality.
Gay Talese was recently named the winner of a George Polk Award for career achievement. The awards, presented by Long Island University, are considered among the top prizes in U.S. journalism. Born in 1932, Talese graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in journalism.
Question: Has the state of the American libido changed since you published “Thy Neighbor’s Wife?”
Gay Talese: That book dealt with a lot of things – censorship; what was immoral by the standards of that time meaning the 1970s and ‘80s. What is going on today in 2009 – anything goes; you just to have to know to look in a different place for it. When I was researching in the 1970s to do that book that was published in 1980, the aforementioned “Thy Neighbor’s Wife”, things were very visual on the streets. You could see massage parlors. If you walked up Lexington Avenue, Park Avenue even, all over the cities major cities of the United States – for example you would find massage parlor signs right open, and they’re newspapers such as the pornographic newspapers that advertise. Massage parlors were really little more than places of prostitution. I mean you would pay women to perform sexual acts upon yourself. It might be masturbation; it might oral sex; it might be intercourse, but what happened after that AIDS period now the Internet offers everything. If you know how to use the Internet, there’s nothing you can’t get – swingers, mate swapping as I said; the most hardcore pornography’s available.
You see when I started to research that book some quarter century or more ago there was a kind of a moral squad of people who wanted to restrict the right of adults to have access to sexual dalliance. Right now you can’t control it because what’s happened through the technology of the Internet is it brought the merchandising of sex into the home, and people can just sit there on their lap top and order whatever they want. I mean it’s like it’s just as easy as takeout. I mean it’s like going to Kentucky Fried Chicken or having pizza sent in. You can get everything.
Question: Does the mass availability of sex make the act less important in marriage?
Gay Talese: No. You could always go and get sex anyway; that’s nothing new. There’s very little new about sex. It’s just different ways of merchandising it and different ways of obtaining it. If we’re talking about mercenary sexuality, that’s what you are talking about. Now let’s talk about marital sexuality. I said before and I repeat now marriages are not gonna be held together because of sexual performance. You see all these Viagra – God you can barely watch a football game without having 16 Viagra commercial interrupt between every exchange of football. That’s nice I mean it’s great that there is such a thing for impotent men as Viagra and all those other competing products, but again, marriages are not gonna be held together because of sexual performance, it’s not. I mean the beginning as I said the courtship period – okay, that’s a phase, but the sexiest woman alive is not gonna be a marital mate of any consequence if her mate doesn’t respect her or the other way around.
Recorded on September 22, 2009