Russ Meyer in the Archives


A few years ago, I thought it would be fun to post some short archival-encounter quickies, but alas, my enthusiasm sometimes snowballs into verbosity, the ostensible quickies took as much effort as full posts, and I guess it trailed off, after an expose of a night with Fassbinder, the gay-leather mag Star Wars review, antigay jerks with eggs in 1980s Wisconsin, and some unearthed 1970s New Jersey lesbian cat poetry.

So, to flare that old archive fever back up, and tersely at that: Continue reading


Pornography in Newark, Part 3: Hello, Hardcore!

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I had intended to write this a while ago, but then got distracted writing a piece on Utah’s asinine declaration of pornography as a public health crisis last month; that ran on Salon, which has a vastly larger audience than this humble blog, but the truth is, I find writing here more fun. So, back to Newark. Continue reading

Vintage Sleaze, Target Smut, and Temple of Schlock: an internet catch-up

I’m thrilled to have Obscenity Rules featured today on Vintage Sleaze, one of my favorite blogs, and a tremendous archive of images, texts, and stories from the sordid midcentury smut world. I’m not sure exactly what Jim Linderman’s research methods are at VS, but they’re impressive—we’re not talking Google image searches here, we’re talking deep collector knowledge. So it’s an honor to be included in its ranks; for my part, I shared a few images that were previously unpublished, to the best of my knowledge, including mug shots of David Alberts and his wife, Violet Stanard.

Alberts was the Los Angeles smut-merchant whose local case was fused with Samuel Roth’s federal case in Roth v. U.S., so that Justice Brennan’s opinion would apply at all judicial levels. I sent Jim a mugshot of Alberts without glasses, which I found in the records of the smut-busting Kefauver Committee at the National Archives; for variety’s sake, here’s one with glasses:


Speaking of Brennan, I discussed him a bit more in an interview last month—apparently I’ve been doing a somewhat crummy job of updating here, because Obscenity Rules was the December pick of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, which was a delight. Interview here, talking about Roth, Brennan, and the ongoing, if dormant, threat of obscenity laws.

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While I’m getting caught up, one more moment of real personal excitement came last month when I contributed a guest post at Temple of Schlock, the long-running zine-turned-blog. I’ve been a reader for years, so when I came across some archival material related to the lost 1968 Citizens for Decent Literature antiporn film Target Smut, I compiled it into a long-form narrative piece for TOS. I submitted archival images from my years spent chasing CDL’s paper trail around the country for my dissertation, and editor Chris Poggiali (a stone expert in lost films and their paper trails) added some great images, too. I was pretty happy with the piece, “Target Smut: In Search of a Lost Anti-porn Classic.”

It’s one thing to publish a peer-reviewed academic journal article (I actually considered trying to spin Target Smut into one, but then decided to just have fun with it), but a whole different (and frankly, more satisfying) level of squee to write for places like Vintage Sleaze and Temple of Schlock (and their “endangered list,” at that—my favorite posts there!). My thanks to Jim and Chris, and the folks at the ABFFE.



On being reviewed in the Wall Street Journal: My mini media blitz

This week was about as close to a media blitz as I’m likely to get. First, a guest post on the My Book, the Movie blog, where people dream-cast their books. Since I’m fairly confident that hungry producers are not on the brink of a bidding war for the rights to my legal history, I went full-blown 70s-Godard on it. Truly, I would pay to see this version of the Roth v. U.S. story, atrocious as it probably would be. Though Michael Bay, if you’re reading this, we could totally cast Shia LaBeouf and fly a bunch of American flags and play loud hard rock music while blowing a bunch of shit up, too, for the right price. Just sayin’.

remember, Godard also directed this:

It was also my pleasure to do an episode of Sex with Timaree, the (award-winning!) Philly podcast hosted by awesome sex educator Timaree Schmit. As always, I’m pretty certain that I sound like a doofus, but at least it was fun. My natural tendency is to ramble incoherently at a million words a minute, so I fear that any time I speak live and on the record I overcorrect that so self-consciously that I instead sound clipped and verbally constipated, but we did manage to traverse a fair amount of ground, and Timaree is a great host. Someday I will google “how to be interviewed,” and a whole new world of articulation may open before me. 

But what really blew my mind was waking up Monday morning and learning that Obscenity Rules had been reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. Not sure if this link allows access; I went out and bought a copy, surely the one and only time in my life that I will purchase this particular paper.


Robert Nagel, who reviewed my book, is an accomplished legal scholar, though it’s fair to say we have some serious ideological differences. He wrote a legal brief against marriage equality earlier this year, which rests on some very questionable arguments (“At this time, no established or emerging national consensus in favor of same-sex marriage can be discerned”: um, oops!). In fact, he’s written a great deal on the topic of same-sex marriage, including this rather surrealist analysis of gay rights activists in Colorado in the 1990s, from his book Judicial Power and American Character, where the John Birch Society comparison is not to the bizarre, feverish fantasies of the antigay movement, which at the time was busy distributing videos like The Gay Agenda, which lingered rather obsessively on the myth that gay men were a bunch of child-molesting leather-daddy coprophiles, but rather to the progressive activists objecting to such tactics:

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So, it’s no surprise that Nagel takes me to task a bit, for privileging the “sophisticated liberal mind” over the “closed and moralistic” conservative one, which he considers a “simplistic left-right framework.”

Now, I’d object to that a bit—I think both of my books have been very critical of liberalism (Roth v. U.S. itself is in many ways an embodiment of failed liberal sexual politics), and I am not sure that the phrase “New Dealer Felix Frankfurter,” used by Nagel, makes Justice Frankfurter a liberal (he began his career as a bit of a radical, but by his Court days the old labor activist was little to be seen). In fact, I agree with Nagel that Senator Estes Kefauver was “demagogic” in his 1950s comics and porn media panics—and Kefauver was a textbook example of Cold War liberalism! The fact that I do think conservatism is repressive and moralistic does not equate, in my mind, to holding a very high opinion of liberalism (or, for that matter, the sexist and homophobic Left of most of the 20th century).

But chafe as I might against some of that (I can just hear my neurotic superego nagging at me during future writing efforts: “simplistic! simplistic!”), I should be clear: I am incredibly grateful for a thoughtful, substantive review in a major newspaper, by someone who took the book seriously enough to critique it. It’s the largest exposure I’ve ever had for my work, and it was really exciting to walk to South Street, buy a WSJ, bring it home and flip through it, and shout “OMG THERE’S MY BOOK COVER IN THE OPINION SECTION!!1!!1!!!!”

(Plus, it’s a hell of a lot more balanced than the idiotic Red-baiting op-ed next to it about Chile, which chronicles such communistic horrors as maternity leave and “a new preschool entitlement for all” {even those lesser humans born to the working class? egads! what next, an entitlement to a personal sense of dignity? universal literacy?!}, while somehow managing to work in a hilarious reference to Michael Bloomberg’s “excessive tolerance” toward Occupy Wall Street. Oh, WSJ…)

new essays: Supreme Court obscenity doctrine and physique magazine politics

Just in case anyone is keeping score, or is for any reason interested, I have a few new things out and thought I’d announce them here. Hot off the presses is the new issue of the Journal of Supreme Court History, in which I have an article called “Slouching towards Roth: Obscenity and the Supreme Court, 1945-1957.” It’s something of a preview to the upcoming book, charting the various ways the Court failed to deliver doctrine in the years (decades, really) leading up to Roth v. U.S. in 1957, but it also has material distinct from the book, including examination of a few really minor cases that I contend are nonetheless significant as windows into the Court’s protracted deadlock.

The other recent thing I have out is an essay in this great collection, Modern Print Activism in the United States:

Schreiber case

Rachel Schreiber edited it, and she brought together a great set of essays, dealing with everything from the Ku Klux Klan to Ladies Home Journal to lesbian separatist periodicals of the 1970s. My piece, “Challenging the Anti-Pleasure League: Physique Pictorial and the Cultivation of Gay Politics,” tries to take a new approach to the pioneering physique magazine; the magazine has usually been studied for its visual content, and understandably so–

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–but my focus is on the editorial voice of Bob Mizer, which interacted with and supported the homophile movement in ways that were not always reciprocated.

So, hope anyone who checks them out enjoys them! The article is behind a paywall, and the book is priced for (I assume) libraries. But I’d be happy to help anyone without access find copies.

book update


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!


Before that, I wrote these:

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Continue reading