book update

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I’ve written two books and co-edited a third, and I suppose I’d be a damn fool not to promote them here, so:

Just released as of December 2016 is Porno Chic and the Sex Wars: American Sexual Representation in the 1970s, which I co-edited with Carolyn Bronstein. I’m really excited about this because it includes a bunch of essays from some of my favorite scholars, on topics including Desiree West (the first black female porn star), transfeminine and female-impersonator magazines, Peter Berlin and the gay porn archive, the magazine AVN and the adjustment to VHS, Bob Guccione’s failed women’s mag Viva, Shaun Costello’s wild hardcore Dickens adaption The Passions of Carol, the role of BDSM and fisting in the emergence of antiporn feminism, and a lot more! Plus an essay by Joe Rubin of the great Vinegar Syndromeand look at that cover!

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Before that, I wrote these:

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Class War at Newark Penn Station

“If there is going to be class warfare in this country,” Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted earlier this primary season, “it’s about time the working class won that war.”

But what does class warfare look like? When conservative Republicans invoke it, they mean any slightly increased marginal tax rates for the wealthy, which they absurdly present as an assault on freedom and a slippery slope to gulags and guillotines.

Democrats are less likely to mention class war, because as a party, they’ve also been complicit in waging it—against the poor, not the rich. The massive upward redistribution of wealth begun under Ronald Reagan through cuts to taxes and social services in the 1980s was continued under Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and the Obama administration showed more concern for bailing out banks than homeowners.

But these examples are structural. What does class warfare look like? I suggest it looks like a fence in Peter Francisco Park, put up without fanfare this past summer. In one set of spiked posts with a clear message, we can see class war in tangible form.

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This fence needs context. Two years ago, when New Jersey Transit changed its policies to require tickets to sit on the benches in the waiting room of Penn Station, the American Civil Liberties Union objected, rightly arguing that it was a thinly-disguised effort to remove homeless people and that the area fell under the definition of public space. But the policy stood, and NJ Transit insisted that there were still public benches in the back of the waiting room. They reaffirmed that by email in November 2019, claiming there are public benches to the left of the Raymond Plaza West doors.

Yet even after they wrote this, on a recent weekday afternoon, neither a security officer nor a transit police officer could point me to any public benches. I walk through this room regularly, at various times of day, and the benches are never full. They are merely devoid of visible homelessness.  Meanwhile, the waiting room door to Market Street was quietly transformed to exit-only, sacrificing accessibility for the sake of exclusion—or, “to enhance security,” as NJTransit absurdly explained it.

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As Penn Station became less hospitable, Peter Francisco Park outside on the Ironbound side remained a site of refuge for street folk. In mid-2018, a Luso-American Veterans monument was unveiled, with a large statue in tribute to Portuguese immigrants installed shortly thereafter. Both are nice works of art paying homage to critical historical legacies of the Ironbound, but together they also suggest an effort to fill in as much public space as possible in an area where homeless people visibly congregated.

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from before it was walled off, when it still made sense as public art

Then last summer, the fence went up, surrounding the veterans’ monument. It insults the integrity of architect António Saraiva’s thoughtfully interactive design, which unfurls around small water spouts and squares with text facing all directions. One plaque reads “in memory of,” but the names of the soldiers honored are now unreadable without entering the monument.

A small fence in a small park is hardly headline news, but it signifies larger stakes as Newark, and particularly the Ironbound, gentrifies. Few consult homeless people for their political analysis, but they know what a spiked fence in public space means. On a recent chilly Friday afternoon, Shariffe and Tamir were part of a small encampment around the corner, underneath the train tracks on Edison. The fence “gives them an excuse to tell you you have to move out of the place,” Shariffe explained. “It’s blocking your freedom of walking and space,” Tamir added.

Councilman Augusto Amador’s office doesn’t dispute that the fence was intended to ward off the homeless. Some were using the monument as a restroom, I was told. This is a legitimate concern, with a clear solution: more public restrooms, which might even cost less than a fence and would have the benefit of not turning a nice open monument into hostile militarized space.

New Jersey Transit expelled homeless people from public space and can’t give an account that matches the observed facts. Now Newark is making a public park less hospitable, while barely a block away developers who have been given extensive zoning variances exploit legal loopholes to build luxury developments without on-site affordable units.

Then in November 2019, Councilman Amador announced a new plan to kick food providers out of the park—the same week ground was broken for the Ironbound’s first “boutique” hotel. We’ve seen this script before: in downtown Los Angeles when 1980s-90s business development meant “bumproof” bus benches, pointless sprinklers, and the removal of public restrooms; in Jersey City recently when shamefully cruel spikes went up to keep people from sitting around Journal Square; and everywhere from New Brunswick to Las Vegas. This isn’t about Trump’s America, it’s about capitalist America; for Newark councilman Amador, expelling homeless people from his district is a years-long dream.

This is what class warfare looks like: small, incremental changes accumulate until suddenly a qualitative change occurs, as if by nature. Homeless people’s lives are not improved, they simply become less visible. Newark becomes the next Brooklyn, or Hoboken, or Jersey City. It feels like it just happened somehow, but it was orchestrated.

The very idea of a democratic public sphere necessarily involves contact across lines of class, race, religion, sexuality, nationality, etc. That’s how we humanize one another, and how we build solidarity. Pushing homeless people out of public spaces doesn’t make anyone safer, it just paves the way for gentrification and eventually the displacement of working-class renters, too. That’s class war, it’s ongoing here in Newark, and we should recognize and resist it if we care about justice.

North Jersey DSA will be in Peter Francisco Park on Sunday, January 20, from 3pm to approx. 6pm, offering food and discussion about how to resist the social violence of displacement and reclaim our public spaces for the public good. Please join us there!

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The Cinema of Newark Leisure Culture, Part 1: Headpin Hints (1955)

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Headpin Hints is an eight-minute movie of people bowling in 1950s Newark, and since that about sums it up, let me go straight into the question of the ephemeral internet archive, because nobody’s gonna read this one anyway.

I became aware of Headpin Hints while planning a completely unrelated research trip to the Wisconsin Historical Society, exploring their Newark-related film holdings because hey, why not! This was around 2013, and I finally went in 2014.

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At this point, you could not see the movie anywhere, and the most expansive library database out there, WorldCat, listed it in only two places, Wisconsin and UCLA. So I was pretty psyched for this extremely rare short. They even brought out the old film deck for me!

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Radical Art, Radical Politics, and Community-Based Filmmaking in Newark: Being Gladys (2019)

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of community-based filmmaking than Being Gladys, which premiered at the 2019 Women in Media-Newark film festival. I’m a longtime admirer of WIM-N, whose director, Pamela Morgan, tirelessly throws herself into organizing a diverse, global assortment of feminist shorts and features every year. And through the associated New Jersey Filmmakers Lab, WIM-N facilitates collaborative, supportive projects, from which Being Gladys emerged.

So I was admittedly predisposed to like it, on a procedural level alone. Fortunately, it earned my warmth on its merits. Continue reading

The Death of Nineties Indie Film on the Newark Tarmac: Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool (1997), A Personal Reflection

I saw Henry Fool when it came out on video. I remember watching Hal Hartley then fade from view on the cultural landscape. I misunderstood it at the time, as a matter of my changing personal relationship with his work; as it turned out, that shift was collective, and seemed to include Hartley himself, who also grew tired of his own sensibility.

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I had been drawn in by Trust, which in suitably Hartleyesque fashion, I had shoplifted on VHS from the local grocery store, Carrs, in Wasilla, Alaska, where I lived. Martin Donovan and Adrienne Shelly together resonated so deeply with my thirteen-year old self that they were all I ever wanted from adulthood, or from life. That it ended poorly for them was no deterrent, pubescent fatalist that I was. Everyone in it seemed so smart, so sexy, so dangerous, that was enough to justify the consequences. Simple Men, same: I mean, shortly thereafter, I majored in Philosophy, for god’s sake. I should sue Hal Hartley for that. Continue reading

Newark Stripped Bare: A Cold Wind in August (1961) b/w the Vibrant Mood Swings of Scott Lewis

A Cold Wind in August opens on slightly different notes, depending on whether you read Burton Wohl’s novel or see Alexander Singer’s film. They’re both overzealous, eager to flaunt their imagined merits to better avoid the fundamental trashiness of the whole enterprise, but it’s the trash that ultimately distinguishes this otherwise unremarkable story of an age-inappropriate May/December romance.

For Wohl, it’s the strained cleverness of the Jaded Young Literary Man shtick that provides an alibi—he holds those naked breasts at bay until almost the end of the first page (a full description awaits on the third page, after some morning-after wistfulness), even though that’s what we’re all presumably here for. Still, for all its smarminess, this ain’t half bad—I like the “chafed crotch walk” description, you could see Charles Willeford writing that. Continue reading

Baby It’s Newark: A John Sayles visit, with a little Bruce Springsteen too, even!

I never really thought of John Sayles as a New Jersey filmmaker. I grew up watching his work, and my immediate geographical associations run the gamut: Texas, Alaska, Florida, Harlem, Roan Inish, Matewan. But then there’s Lianna. And the Secaucus 7, though their movie was shot in New Hampshire. As Alvin Klein put it in the New York Times in 1991, “No matter their actual locations, most of the seven films that bear the imprint of Mr. Sayles, who was been acclaimed as ‘the godfather of independent film makers in this country,’ are permeated with the look and feel of New Jersey.”

Somehow I’d just never noticed (full disclosure: until moving to the east coast a decade ago, I’d never really contemplated New Jersey much at all, it was just sort of an abstraction with a turnpike in my mind, and that detail mostly courtesy Paul Simon). But I also haven’t spent a minute thinking about Baby It’s You (1983) since seeing it around early high school. It’s not a great film; it bears the traces of a struggle between an independent director and a studio, but they’re less like an attractive scar than a pothole in a road. It is, however, pure New Jersey maximalism, all diners and shore dates and “Trenton Makes, the World Takes” bridge shots.

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The Backroom at the End of the World: Goodbye, Flash Video (Pornography in Newark, Part 5)

Flash Video left this world as it entered, largely unnoticed. Aside from listings in online directories, I can find no discussion of it whatsoever, not even a Yelp review.

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Which is a shame, because it was a nifty little place, one of the last independent video shops in Newark, and it deserves some celebration, even if, alas, posthumously. {NOTE: some explicit images in the form of video boxes contained here!} Continue reading