Mar 312012
 

The Venus Observations blog focuses on the history of American newstand porn magazines, particularly the competition between Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler and their various spin-offs and competitors. In the mid 1970s, the major magazines were in a one-step-forward, one-step-back dance between the softcore, soft-focus, lots of pubic hair, arty aesthetic and the harder, sharp-focus, exposed labia aesthetic of later decades. Fear of alienating advertisers and censors kept editors nervous, but fear of losing market share made them experiment. E.g. a nude pictorial with a 22-year-old, very young looking model wearing a tank top with “12” on it.

Two women in fetish gear, one sitting astride the other on all fours

In February 1976, Penthouse ran its first fetish-themed pictorial.

The real barrier breaking pictorial for February, however, was one called My Funny Valentine. Penthouse had had a (comparatively) few girl/girl pictorials before but this month they published their first fetish photographs. Dressed up in leather and vinyl the girls were depicted by photographer Stan Malinowski indulging in light bondage and whipping each other.

[…]

This pictorial, in the days when this sort of fetish was very underground and not displayed as a matter of course by female pop stars, caused some controversy in the press. Letters to the magazine, however, were universally appreciative (and Penthouse did, as we have seen, publish critical letters at this point) and asked for more.

At the time, mainstream magazines were nervous about showing a woman’s anus or labia in interior pictorials or their nipples on the cover, so this must have been a bold experiment for the publishers to show this kind of underground sexuality. Perhaps they discovered, as Irving Klaw and others had discovered in earlier decades, that fetish pictorials could tap a niche market without being sexually explicit.

Mar 062012
 

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m interested in exploring the world of fetishes, even if they don’t have any personal appeal to me. I recently came across OPandER.com, which has a Clips4Sale store.

OP and ER clips are little dramas of jeopardy and salvation. Women get in situations in which they need medical treatment, and there’s a strong emphasis on the medical technologies and on the physical signs of the female’s experience. “Excellent acting with a dramatic breathless scene and seizure, very deep and strong chest compressions, realistic defibrillations, intubation, 12 lead ECG.” “A Nice Surgery Feature film with detailed surgery scene, black rubber mask, CPR, defib, many closeups.” Some of the scenes are apparently shot in a real hospital.

On the most superficial level, this is a way of seeing women naked. Slightly deeper, this is a way of putting women in positions of intense vulnerability and dependence. Digging in even deeper, what’s unique about this fetish scenario is that the “violence” done to the woman (defibbing, intubation, CPR, etc.) is not to hurt or punish her, but to save her. There’s a built-in excuse for getting the fantasizer off the hook for sexual guilt and anxiety.

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Don’t confuse your Sams or your Gargoyles

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Mar 022012
 

Betty Page holding whip in magazine advertisment

Vintage Sleaze has a fun tidbit of kink history. Sam Menning, an actor who also worked as a photographer, took fetish pics, including the great Betty Page.

Menning eventually became the “house” photographer of sorts for Gargoyle, a distributor of 4 x 5 nude photos with a fetish bent. Mind you, they were 1950’s photos of a fetish bent…which meant play-acting with rather dim and confused models being asked to look tough…dramatic to this day, but little more than lingerie ads with the models in black. Not MY cup of tea, but someone’s.

Meanwhile, Senator Estes Kefauver was gunning for porn publisher Samuel Roth, particularly for the fetish/kink pictures Kefauver thought were published by Roth.

It turns out that Kefauver and his puritan goons had confused Sam Menning, photographer for Gargoyle Sales Corp, with Samuel Roth, publisher of Gargoyle Books. This mistake wasn’t revealed until Kefauver had Roth on the stand testifying.

Mar 022012
 

The history of obscenity and censorship is the history of drawing and redrawing very fine lines in the ever-shifting sand, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors.

Consider the recent case of Michael Peacock in the UK, charged under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 for distributing allegedly obscene DVDs. (Peacock sold DVDS via Craig’s List and his own website and magazine ads, which seems like an oddly old-school way to do a porn business these days.) The Crown Prosecutor presented two lists, one of things that would probably be prosecuted (“sadomasochistic material which goes beyond trifling and transient infliction of injury”, “fisting”, “torture with instruments”) and those that usually would not (“mild bondage”, “fetishes which do not encourage physical abuse”)

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Roman sex tokens

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Jan 082012
 

UK newspaper the Guardian has a piece on the recent discovery of a bronze token specifically made for spending in Roman brothels in Britain.

While the Putney token has been hailed as a rare discovery from Roman Britain, such artefacts showing similar scenes were actually well known in Renaissance Italy. Scholars in the 16th century didn’t know what they were – maybe something to do with the reputed excesses of the emperor Tiberius? – but they did leap on evidence of ancient Roman erotic art. Anything from antiquity was considered noble in the Renaissance, so these “coins” (as they were misnamed) licensed saucy 16th-century art, including Giulio Romano’s famous series of pornographic illustrations I Modi.

Again, this ties into Howard Bloom’s “strong misreading” idea I talked about earlier, that this misunderstanding of a given text (the token) fertilizes more creativity.

Guest post on BDSM Book Reviews: The Archaeology of Erotica

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Jan 072012
 

My brief history of erotica has been posted on BDSM Book Reviews:

I would argue that the bulk of what is categorized as erotica today can be traced back to two highly influential books, one from the early twentieth century, the other from the middle, both by women, both with women protagonists being initiated into exotic realms of pleasure, both widely dismissed as sensational, pornographic, misogynistic trash.

Nov 242011
 

Davis, Tracy C. “The Actress in Victorian Pornography” in Garrigan, Kristine Ottesen. Victorian Scandals: Representations of Gender and Class Ohio University Press, 1992

It was a widespread assumption in the 19th century that actresses were whores. The actress was the most common female occupational type in pornography of the period, and some pornographic works explicitly referred to actual actresses. Actresses in turn danced on the edge of decency in see-through white dresses, body stockings and “breeches roles,” i.e. cross-dressing as men.

In the weekly serial magazines, available for as little as one penny and with circulations of hundreds of thousands, actresses were depicted in knee-length skirts, exotic Oriental harem trousers, men’s fencing costumes or breeches, intermixed with nude or semi-nude pictorials included spanking and lesbianism. The sexualization or fetishization of the costume itself is what’s at work here.

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Mighty Lewd Books, by Julie Peakman

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Nov 072011
 

Peakman, Julie Mighty lewd books: the development of pornography in eighteenth-century England Palgrave Macmillan, 2003 Gbooks

As in just about any discussion of pornography, this book addresses the problem of definition. Peakman “place[s] pornography as one genre within a superfluity of other types of erotica, erotica being used as an overarching description for all books on sex… either overtly or in a ‘hidden’ form; for example, through metaphor, innuendo or implication.” (pg. 7) She defines pornography based on carrying the intention to sexually stimulate. I don’t consider that an adequate definition, as texts that are not pornographic or even erotic (in Peakman’s usage) can be read pornographically. This is particularly relevant in discussing anti-Catholic propaganda/”Convent Tale” pornography. Peakman introduced me to the useful term of metalepsis, “layer upon layer of figurative terms (particularly metaphors) distancing the real subject (sex) under discussion…. It also reveals the multiplicity of images and understandings of men’s and women’s bodies which were current, many of them conflicting, some of them constant.” (Pg.9)

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Sexual Perversions, 1670-1890. Julie Peakman, ed.

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Nov 052011
 

Peakman, Julie (ed.) Sexual Perversions, 1670-1890 Palgrave Macmillan, 2009 Gbooks

Julie Peakman starts off with an interesting question: whether you accept Foucault’s theory about power and discourse or not, how to we explain one person’s choice of sexual acts and object over all the other possibilities?

It is the question of why a person might decide on any particular act which fascinates the historian. Why did some of these activities diminish over time (bestiality diminished when rural activities shifted to urban living), or expand (auto asphyxiation has become more widespread today as the word passed around of its link to sexual stimulation) – this is what really broadens our understanding about sex.

Pg. 8

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