book update

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I’m excited about the fact that my second book is coming out this fall, and my first is coming out in paperback. I suppose I’d be a damn fool not to promote them here, so:

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Perversion for Profit is based on my dissertation, and details the ways the modern Right has mobilized around a reactionary sexual politics, using pornography to help carve out its position beginning in the mid-1960s. To my mind, it’s equally about the failures of modern liberalism to provide a meaningful space for a progressive sexual politics, which helped cede phrases like “family values” to the Right and its monolithic vision. But liberalism doesn’t really sell–just ask Michael Dukakis–so “New Right” gets the subtitle’s spotlight. The book covers the Cold War, the pioneering antiporn group Citizens for Decent Literature, politicians from Nixon to Reagan to a Barack Obama cameo, the rise of “porno chic” in the early 1970s, the feminist antiporn movement, and more.

Obscenity Rules, on the other hand, uses legal obscenity doctrine, particularly the landmark 1957 Roth v. United States case, as a window into modern sexual politics. The focus is both broader and more specific than Perversion–the book charts the course of censorship and law from the colonial era, but its centerpiece is an extended analysis of the Supreme Court’s ambivalent handling of the case and the complicated questions it inspired regarding censorship, sexual expression, and the place of social mores in constitutional law. It’s not all dry doctrinal exegesis though, I swear–there’s also an extensive examination of the fascinating smut publisher Samuel Roth’s thirty-year struggle against obscenity law, in publications ranging from pirated versions of James Joyce’s Ulysses to an illustrated comic novella called Memoirs of an Hotel Man. Digging through the Roth Papers at Columbia University might be the single most exhilarating archival experience I’ve ever had–they contain everything from early-1920s handwritten notes from T.S. Eliot to an unpublished Claude McKay novel!

In any case, I don’t want to bloviate here, but just say “hey, here are some things I wrote!” I’ve linked to the publishers above, but I’d be honored if people checked them out from their local libraries. And since I sadly can’t kill capitalism with a blog, they’re on Amazon too, here and here.

A Paul Mazursky Newark Cameo/Visions of an Airport: Harry and Tonto (1974)

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This is Newark Liberty International Airport, as seen in Paul Mazursky’s Harry and Tonto (1974). It doesn’t add much to our cinematic archive of Newark, but since Mazursky just passed away, it seemed a fitting way to pay tribute.

To be honest, I’ve never loved Mazursky as a filmmaker. He made one great film, his first: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), easily my favorite Hollywood movie to grapple with the sexual revolution, and a smart, funny, sexy, genuinely humane take on the complexity of relationships, with one of the all-time great closing scenes in mainstream American cinema, IMHO (not sure how it plays out of narrative context, though).

Then a decade later Jill Clayburgh singlehandedly elevated An Unmarried Woman to near-greatness—and helped make partial amends for the infuriating Blume in Love (1973), with its ugly apologetics for George Segal’s protagonist despite his committing an aggressive onscreen marital rape. I can’t stomach Blume (except for the presence of Kris Kristofferson, who is watchable in every role he’s ever played, even at his most phoned-in), and I also mostly hated Mazursky’s second film, Alex in Wonderland, a horrid, Fellini-aping bit of navel-gazing-into-the-filmic-abyss. People I respect dig Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976), but I find it trite and sitcomish, and then after that the rest of his films were uniformly bad except Down and Out in Beverly Hills (and I never saw his final film, the 2006 documentary Yippie {very much NOT about Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin}, though its sole IMDB reviewer liked it).

So that leaves Harry and Tonto—Mazursky’s third-best film. It’s basically John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, except with a cat subbing in for the dog, which is of course an enormous improvement. Art Carney’s Harry, displaced from his longtime New York apartment thanks to urban renewal, and single aside from cat Tonto after his wife’s death, road-trips across America, seeing his scattered children en route to Los Angeles. I’m a sucker for the cinema of wanderlust, and it’s got great location shooting in Chicago, L.A., Las Vegas, and Manhattan.

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While marred by some overly broad and sentimental scenes, especially early on, it’s mostly a sweet, low-key look at aging, family, and loneliness; a scene in the middle, with Carney seeking out a long-ago lover in Illinois and finding her in a nursing home with a fading memory, is probably the single best scene Mazursky ever shot after 1969. I wouldn’t have given Carney the Oscar for this, but I can see why I was outvoted by the members of the Academy.

Anyway, Newark: it’s where Harry initially tries to fly out, before settling for the road after refusing to put Tonto through the baggage scanner. Because I am one of those lazy internet people who pays less attention online, I accidentally called in the book rather than the DVD at the public library, and it’s actually LaGuardia there. But rest assured, the Newark location is confirmed by Mazursky’s DVD commentary track (which, alas, offers little insight into mid-70s Newark, his comment on this scene, in its entirety, being, “Newark Airport [lengthy pause]”)

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compare and contrast! my last time in the Newark airport (actually in search of an in-airport movie screening that didn’t exist…)

What can one say, analytically, about this in regard to cinematic depictions of the Brick City?  Well, primarily it’s a reminder of how many New Yorkers see Newark, I suppose: that place to catch a flight. Which is, to be sure, arguably better than other cultural narratives of the city (Riotville! That Place with Ever-Tweeting Neoliberal Superman Mayor!), but still, I’m gonna count this as a pretty underwhelming addition to the films of Newark.

It is, however, something of a masterpiece in the films of catdom. RIP, Mr. Mazursky, and RIP Tonto, too.

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Queer Newark updates

A few quick updates related to the Queer Newark Oral History Project, with which I am involved at Rutgers:

We’re planning an October historical panel on queer club spaces in Newark, through the lens of “Sanctuary.” It’ll happen in conjunction with a remarkable monthlong series of events throughout the city, ranging from art exhibits to a resurrection of the HIV/AIDS fundraiser FIREBall. So, building toward this, I’ve updated the Queer Newark bibliography that I maintain, with a new section on clubs and ballrooms.

As well, we’ve created a new document: a working timeline of queer clubs in Newark, from the 1940s through the early 21st century. It’s a rough, preliminary sketch, but we’re hoping it will be generative in drawing feedback, additions, corrections, oral history leads, and–most pressingly, at the moment–visual material for the panel. Queer Newark has been woefully under-archived, very much a function of the overlapping and intersecting axes of social marginalization that mark its history; bars, clubs, and ballrooms provide a local counterpoint to the homophile, gay liberation, and queer activist groups that played a central role in other cities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia–but of course, the spaces of Queer Newark left less of a paper trail (that’s the great thing about formal bureaucracies, to any historian). As a result, whatever documentary trail is out there remains privately held–diaries, letters, photos, memorabilia, etc. We are very much hoping community members will be inspired by this project to share some of their holdings–and thereby contribute to the collaborative history we hope to facilitate through this project. (If anyone has leads, by all means, please let me know!).

Meanwhile, I’m also delighted that an article I had a hand in writing just appeared in a great upstart journal–QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, which just began publishing last year and has already delivered powerful theme issues on “the end of bullying” and Chelsea Manning. The new issue is about queer pasts and presents, and features this:

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Right now, a free pdf of the article is available at the QED site; if that disappears and anyone wants to read it, just let me know.

I’d never written a collaborative scholarly article before, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better set of collaborators: Darnell Moore is an astonishingly productive writer, scholar, and activist (I could get carried away describing his work, but examples: inaugural chair of the pathbreaking Newark mayoral LGBT advisory commission; author of a fantastic Advocate cover story, “Black, LGBT, American,” last year; editor at The Feminist Wire; a very long “and etc.”); Beryl Satter is an historian whose important book Family Properties has been foundational to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ongoing series on race, real estate, and reparations at The Atlantic (as he just again acknowledged, this very day!); and Tim Stewart-Winter, having written superb pieces on everything from the Castro to WWII conscientious objectors, has a book in progress about gay politics and race in Chicago, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I am truly privileged to count all three as friends and colleagues.

So, that’s what’s in progress. On a lighter note, I couldn’t resist this: the debut appearance of this very blog in a scholarly journal! I probably should have taken five extra minutes last year and come up with something less ridiculous than “Strublog,” but so it goes:

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bringin’ the sexxy back, with Tristan Taormino!

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Very excited that tonight–in just four hours, which means I gotta figure out how to Skype ASAP!–I’ll be the guest on the awesome Tristan Taormino’s Sex Out Loud

It’s a little daunting in that a) it’s live, which really opens the door for me to flub fabulously, and b) Sex Out Loud is awash in sexiness from Madison Young to Belle Knox to, of course, the host herself, and then I’m the dude who used a picture of his cat with his book. Also, I bit my tongue this week and think I might be even more lispy than usual.

But hey, I’m still super psyched to be invited (though now I rue more than ever not having pitched anything to what became the fantastic Taormino-co-edited The Feminist Porn Book–I remember the call for papers, thinking about it, being engulfed in teaching, and then watching it pass me by, alas). Perhaps we can get maudlin and talk about regrets, it’ll prove that emo can be feminist after all!

Anyway, tune in, pose easy questions, or just make fun of me on Twitter (which I’m still not on so my feelings won’t be hurt)!

 

edit: looks the best way to hear this is at the VoiceAmerica site, where Sex Out Loud is archived. I was nervous, but it was a lot of fun, and it made my whole night when a caller brought up the amazing Samuel Delany!

 

Pop-Culture Newark Exodus: The Karate Kid (1984)

If you had asked me to recall the first visual image of The Karate Kid after the Columbia logo, never in a million years would I have remembered this:

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It doesn’t last long; by the two-minute mark, Ralph Macchio and his mom have reached the sunny California palm trees that provide the setting for the rest of the film. Enter Pat Morita, wax on, wax off, etc. I watched The Karate Kid a bunch as an 80s kid, but I don’t have particularly significant sentimental investments in it (unlike, say, Stand By Me, the Greatest Film of All Time according to my twelve-year-old self), and I didn’t bother to revisit the whole thing once Newark was in the diegetic rearview.

The metanarrative here is pretty obvious: Newark as a place to leave (unless you’re me, since I Karate-Kidded in reverse, going from Los Angeles to Newark. But I also never managed to kick any bullies’s asses, alas). Heard that one before–ahem, Philip Roth…

Or maybe it’s a place to barely begin at—witness the shot sequence of the opening scene:

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Okay, Avildsen’s director credit looks like True Newark (PSEG headquarters and the Ironbound, I think), but the residential neighborhood . . . hmm. According to a correspondent for the self-declared “#1 Site for the Karate Kid movies” (check the “locations” link), that’s probably Kearney. False Cinematic Newark is as prevalent as false metal, it seems–which is a shame, because ungodly boring filmmaker that he is, Avildsen did capture Philly nicely in Rocky, and even Newark-approximate Jersey locations in his early, somewhat overlooked 1972 Jackie Mason flick The Stoolie.

Anyway, I got nothin’ much to add here, but look, the 1980s are pretty slim picking for Newark films—IMDB doesn’t even list this, but apparently if I’m gonna go full-completist for this project, I may have to suffer through Crocodile Dundee, a film I deeply despise (no exaggeration here: as a kid, that film left me utterly depressed and depleted; it may even be the first time I recognized the machinations of mass culture and felt hollow and used by the cheap tricks. That, or Paul Hogan is just an insufferable prick; maybe both). Such are the burdens I have chosen to carry, I guess.

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almost definitely not Newark

Hat-tip to the great Mark Krasovic here, Newark-scholar extraordinaire, who led me to this, uh, goldmine of cultural representation. I’ll be watching Mark MC at an event sponsored by the Newark Historical Society (“To End Poverty and Racial Injustice: The Great Society in Newark”) on Monday, with a panel featuring former mayor Kenneth Gibson and the great Becky Doggett, who was also on the panel for The New-Ark and fantastic. Probably there will be more pressing and exciting questions to ask than about the locations of the opening scene for The Karate Kid, but who knows, maybe people have strong opinions on the matter…  

screening The New-Ark

Just a quick postscript here:

Our screening of The New-Ark at Rutgers-Newark this week was really one of the more exhilarating things I’ve been involved with in any university capacity, ever. There was an amazing, really diverse crowd that included students, faculty, community members (many of whom remembered the film from 1968, or personally knew Amiri Baraka!), and activists, and the screening was followed by a great panel discussion with historian Komozi Woodard and longtime local activists Becky Doggett and Larry Hamm. Truly, it was an honor to be a part of.

Looks like The New-Ark might make the rounds–it’s coming up at the Anthology Film Archives as part of a very cool Baraka series, and things look good for a Philly screening in the fall. That’s great–the film deserves an audience (and played better with an audience than I expected it to, honestly–though we did have a home-field advantage showing it in Newark, with several great moments of audible recognition from the crowd of people and places).

Brief link-dump, too: I was interviewed by the Star-Ledger about the screening, and also by WBGO, Newark public radio. I was also able to contribute a more substantive piece to Bright Lights Film Journal, which was a lot of fun to write. Finally, Liz Coffey at Harvard Film Archive (without whom we never could have pulled off the screening) wrote a really interesting and generous piece about The New-Ark and archival film recovery just this very morning.

Anyway, it was wonderful to use my blogging about Newark on film as a springboard to an actual event, and to see such a sizable and engaged turnout for the film. I suppose it’s back into utter blog-obscurity for me now, but here’s my best effort to capture the feel of the screening:

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Oh, and a big ummmmm/LOLwut:

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premiere of the lost Amiri Baraka film The New-Ark (1968) at Rutgers-Newark, Tuesday, April 22!

Here is something I’m very excited about: next Tuesday, April 22, we’ll be premiering the restored version of Amiri Baraka’s The New-Ark (which he wrote and directed as LeRoi Jones), at Rutgers-Newark:

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The New-Ark had been almost entirely forgotten until Lars Lierow discussed it in his recent Black Camera article about lost Black Arts filmmaking (even Baraka himself, so far as I can tell, made but a passing parenthetical reference to it in his autobiography). The only known print in existence is at Harvard Film Archive, in the collection of cinematographer James Hinton.

Here are some glimpses from it (courtesy the James E. Hinton Collection, Harvard Film Archive, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University):

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I’ve been doing some archival digging on the film, because I’ll be introducing it with some brief comments about Baraka’s film work—much of which has gone nearly as overlooked as The New-Ark. The 1967 adaptation of Dutchman (which you can watch on YouTube!) is probably the best-known, but other films, such as the 1971 adaptation of his play Slave, which went under the titles A Fable and Goin’ Down Slow, have completely disappeared (it’s on Temple of Schlock’s well-documented Endangered List, nearly the only source of information on it that I can find).

Until now, The New-Ark has joined that film in utter obscurity, but we’re hoping to help revive its visibility—however untrained as a filmmaker Baraka was, he was one of the very few to film Newark right as Black Power entered city politics (this film depicts the early organizational work of the Committee for a Unified Newark and United Brothers, which would ultimately bear fruit in the 1970 election of Kenneth Gibson, Newark’s first black mayor). As such, any aesthetic shortcomings it may have pale in comparison to its sheer historical value as a rare cinematic documentation of this critical moment in Newark–and African American–history. It also contains valuable footage of Spirit House, the Black Arts headquarters (featured a few years later in Godard’s Pennebaker-edited 1 PM.)

The New-Ark was shot for $19,000, according to the contract Baraka signed with the Public Broadcast Laboratory of National Public Television in October 1968:

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It ultimately ran in December 1968 (in a series that also featured a Jonas Mekas short!), before playing some film festivals in 1969, such as the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, June 1969.

The New-Ark received limited critcal commentary; Variety called it “strangely moving,” though Stephanie Harrington in the Village Voice called it “a fraud.” In an odd Life review, Richard Schickel termed it “not very artful,” but “frightening and fascinating” (he was also rather unduly harsh on Jules Dassin’s flawed but potent American comeback Uptight, if I do say so myself!).

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Then it promptly faded from sight; here’s a March 1970 ad from Baraka’s Jihad Productions in Negro Digest, advertising the film along with Dutchman and Baraka’s directorial debut Black Spring, which to the best of my knowledge remains a lost film.

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Another Baraka film project around this time failed to get off the ground—an animated project bearing the provocative title Super Coon. Here’s a snippet of his proposed treatment:

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It was going to be a collaboration with Ben Caldwell, a central figure in the L.A. Rebellion film group spearheaded by Charles Burnett; UCLA has been restoring some of Caldwell’s work, and you can see his short Medea (bearing some of the pro-natalist gender politics of that moment in Black Power politics, to be sure) here, with poetic narration by Baraka. After that, Baraka’s interests largely turned away from film—indeed, the harsh realities of Newark city politics were about to facilitate his conversion to Marxist-Leninist beliefs.

I’ll have more to say about his films at the screening, and we’ll also be hosting a post-film panel with commentary from two very important intellectuals: Larry Hamm, of the People’s Organization for Progress, and Komozoi Woodard, historian and author of A Nation within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics, one of the—if not perhaps the single most– important studies of Newark history, from which I’ve learned a ton.

It should be an incredible evening, and it’s free and open to the public, so anyone reading this between, oh, say, Boston to the north, DC to the south, and Pittsburgh to the west, please come and join us next Tuesday!

I wrote a thing for Salon!

I have not exactly reached a mass audience with my scholarly work (I actually thought maybe my first book would, given the presence of the word “pornography” in the title, but perhaps I just failed at self-promotion, I’m not sure), but when Charles Keating died the other week, it seemed an opportune moment to weigh in.

Keating is remembered primarily for his central role in the Savings & Loan debacles of the 1980s, where he and other unscrupulous financial schemers took advantage of deregulation to defraud tens of thousands of investors (and ultimately, the American public) of billions of dollars. Keating was rightly convicted for his fraudulent activities, though his (reduced, of course) time served was drastically less than it should have been, IMHO.

But I spent a good chunk of my twenties investigating Keating’s earlier career, as the most prominent anti-smut activist in the United States. As founder and leader of Citizens for Decent Literature, he presided over a moral empire from the late 1950s through around the mid-70s, when his interests really shifted toward junk bonds and other shady investment rackets. I’ve written about Keating before, pretty extensively–in Perversion for Profit (named after CDL’s most famous film), in the guest post I did at Temple of Schlock about their lost 1968 anti-Supreme Court film Target Smut, etc.

So this weekend I wrote a piece for Salon about Keating’s moral activism, and how it played a central role in modernizing conservative sexual politics. As a wonky academic, I think I work best in 10,000-word increments, so looking back at it, I can see several places where I’d happily expound further. But altogether, it’s a neat opportunity to reach a wider audience–I’ve even begun receiving my very own troll email, informing me that my piece is a “hatchet job” and helpfully telling me about very relevant things like reapportionment in the 1920s. And for a glorious moment yesterday, there I was, almost right next to Thomas Frank…

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