That’s right. Parental discretion advised. It’s hard to write about 20th-century culture in terms suitable for innocent ears.

The other evening, some of us were sitting around the living room watching Blaze, the movie in which Paul Newman portrays Governor Earl Long of Louisiana. (If you haven’t seen this good-humored adaptation of stripper Blaze Starr’s account of her love affair with the governor, you might want to hotfoot it down to your video rental store and check it out. It has a lot to offer, including some new uses for watermelon.) I was surprised to discover that some of the younger folks in the room assumed we were watching fiction. Sic transit gloria Earl. Actually, the movie stays pretty close to the historical facts, although in a few instances it conflates Earl with his brother Huey, and it borrows at least one good line from the stump speeches of Georgia’s Gene Talmadge. (The original went, approximately: “You’ve got three friends in this world, and don’t you forget it. You’ve got the Good Lord. You’ve got Sears and Roebuck. And you’ve got Eugene Herman Tallmadge from Sugar Greek, Georgia.”)

Anyway, the movie’s mostly true, even when not accurate, if you take that distinction. My principal reservation is that the star is too good-looking. Earl wasn’t a toad, exactly, but he was no Paul Newman. On the other hand, I remember Blaze Starr from my misspent college youth, and she really was a knockout. It turns out she’s still practicing her art thirty years later: she even appears briefly in a dressing-room scene in this film.

Earl’s downfall wasn’t entirely due to his having taken up with a stripper. This was Louisiana, after all, where a majority of white folks just voted for a tax-evading sex-manual author who has been known to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. But, at the margin. Earl’s love life probably didn’t help his career. We may have here another instance of the law first formulated by my buddy Parmley. Paraphrased for a family magazine, Parmley’s Law states that bimbos corrupt. (Absolute bimbos, of course, corrupt absolutely—and don’t give me any grief about “sexism,” OK? Surely this observation reflects less credit on the male of the species than the female. So just can it.)

Parmley’s Law applies outside the South, too. Ask Gary Hart (although, come to think of it. Miss Rice was an honors graduate of the University of South Carolina). But Southerners may do this kind of thing more flamboyantly, perhaps because we still believe in sin. As well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, or something like that. Anyway, about the time I’m ready to conclude that they don’t make ’em like Earl Long any more, something amusing happens.

Take last year in Virginia, for instance. The new governor, Douglas Wilder, got a lot of good press in the spring, even being touted as Vice-Presidential material after only a few weeks in office. Some of our Democrats down here are getting desperate, it seems, and they want to portray Wilder as an old-timey Southern Democrat—that is, a patriot and fiscal conservative—who just happens to be black. And perhaps there’s something to that. The governor does voice some home truths rather well, as when he observed that “It’s more apparent than ever before that our two-party system is becoming a competition between the party inside Washington and that new party, the vast majority of Americans who live outside.” And it was Wilder’s campaign that first turned abortion rights into a winning issue by casting it, cleverly, as a government-interference fight. (Harvey Gantt took the same tack when he ran against Jesse Helms, and a North Carolina newspaperman suggested this television ad: “This is Willie Horton. If he raped your daughter and she became pregnant, my opponent wouldn’t let her get an abortion.”)

Anyway, just a few months after he was elected. Wilder got in trouble for using a state plane to go see his new girlfriend. Since the lady in question is the ex-wife of America’s richest man, the governor may have just been hustling for campaign contributions—and there are worse ways to do it. On the other hand, the lady is also (are you ready for this?) a former nude dancer. Some Virginians joked that Old Dominion did indeed have a “Wilder administration,” but those who had been promoting Wilder as a traditional sort hadn’t exactly had nostalgic references to Uncle Earl in mind.

Meanwhile, as you may have heard, about the same time in Nashville it came to light that the mayor, the allegedly Honorable Bill Boner, had become engaged to a fetching young lady named Traci Peel. It would be wonderful if I could report that Miss Peel, ah, does; alas, however, she’s not a stripper but an aspiring country music singer. Give her a few points, though, for a first name that ends in “i.” (Joe Bob Briggs used to evaluate the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders by that criterion: the zenith, as I recall, was something like a seven-i year.) And that really is the mayor’s name.

Now, I wouldn’t be making fun of this happy couple if it weren’t for the fact that Mayor Boner was still living with his wife. True, this was wife number three, and third wives, as a rule, ought to have figured out that their husbands are men who are not afraid of commitment. Still, it must be awkward to be married to someone who has given another woman a 2.2 carat engagement ring and who sometimes appears on stage to accompany her on his harmonica. It must be even more awkward when your husband’s fiancee tells a reporter that he can—well, that he can “sustain his passion” for seven hours. (Miss Peel is supposed to have said that in the course of a telephone interview, adding, “Not bad for a 47-year-old man”—whereupon a male voice came on the line to say: “46.”) When asked what she thought of her daughter’s boyfriend, Miss Peel’s mother. Junior (that’s right: her father’s name is Fred), said: “Why, he’s a wild and crazy guy—just like us!”

This being Nashville, the Boner affair gave rise to a number of songs. First off the mark was a WLAC disk jockey, whose “Ballad of Bill Boner” includes such lines as, “ hours of heaven, will he go straight to hell?” Someone else, inevitably, came up with something called “420 Minute Man.” Most Nashvillians seemed to be having almost as good a time with the story as Bill and Traci, until it was picked up by People magazine, USA Today, and the TV tabloid A Current Affair, at which point respectable Nashvilleans got concerned about their city’s image. (So trite, folks. Come on: if you’ve got it, flaunt it.) One concerned citizen wrote another song called “Bill Boner, Won’t You Please Resign?” and even my friend Mona snarled that the former congressman “should have stayed in Washington where he belongs.”

What’s more, Traci and Bill finally got embarrassed. The mayor said that things had been drawn “out of proportion,” and Miss Peel phoned a radio call-in show to denounce the press for making the mayor “look like an idiot” and Nashville “look like Hee Haw.” “It’s a sad, sad day,” she said, “when they have to mock our leaders.” She also accused the media of damaging her career (although I’m told that she subsequently performed daily at the Tennessee State Fair). At last report, in late September, Phil Donahue was trying to get the beleaguered couple to tell their story on his program, but they had split to Hawaii to wait for the mayor’s divorce to become final, which shows how things have changed in the last thirty years, by the way. When Earl Long needed-a rest, they put him in a mental hospital.