Cops Raid Ring Selling Lewd Male Photos, January 30, 1959, Courtesy of Vintage Male Physique
Recently on Tumblr, I came across a January 1959 newspaper article about a police raid on a “pornography ring that peddled photos and lewd sketches of nude men”. The article is a fascinating artifact of (gay) history and indicates how a mere 50 years ago the state sought to control homosexuality in part by sanctioning and criminalizing its images of desire. In the article seven suspects were “booked on pornography charges.” I wonder whatever happened to these unjustly prosecuted men: John P. Palatinus, Leonard Dunn, Walter Lowenthal, Frank Lowell, Gerard Finberg, Harry Krebs and Sidney Corn. Through an internet search, I was able to find out information about only John P. Palatinus who produced some wonderful photographs such as this depiction of Jimmy Hale.
Jimmy Hale by John Palatinus, Courtesy of Vintage Male Physique
The illegal status of photographs of nude men as well as their producers and distributors in 1959 stands in marked contrast to today. With the advent of the internet there has been an infinite explosion of both amateur and professional pictures of naked men alone and engaged in sexual acts with other men. This astounding proliferation demonstrates how pornography which is as old as picture making itself adapts with great ease to the rise of a new technology. Even with the development of photography in the early 19th century pornographic images quickly appeared along side more staid subjects from the very beginning.
But, has this ubiquity of pictures of naked men on the internet and elsewhere done anything to disrupt the dominant fiction and its representational system? Turning men into sexual objects for the visual pleasure of other men and women has, I believe, done virtually nothing to change or challenge the prevailing ideology. We all still live under a system in which there is a rigid binary opposition of male and female which ensures a compulsory heterosexuality. This binary and its concomitant sexuality is enacted in part through the representational system of the dominant ideology, its phallic images and sounds within which a traditional male subject can find himself and assert his authority. The presence and nature of these images of naked men alone and together represent a symmetrical discourse in image making that upholds the laws of gender and its heterosexual norm. So while these depictions are now completely legal, the prevailing ideology still seeks to contain and domesticate them by adhering them to the rule of male (hetero)sexuality.
In my last blog post, “Same-sex Desire in the New Millennium: Identity, Assimilation and Subversion, I argued against gay assimilation as the only or most productive strategy for the Gay Rights Movement because in the end it does nothing to subvert the dominant fiction and works as a symmetrical dynamic much like the images of nude men on the internet. (There are of course photographs and pictures that challenge the dominant fiction. See my post on this photograph by Ben Bale.) I had hoped that this recent post on integration and subversion would foster some greater discussion. I think such a consideration is lacking today in the gay community- a community often fractured by gender, race, class and sometimes sexual practice. I do believe in marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, but what troubles me is the presentation of the gay community and its goals as monolithic. And often this presentation is carried out by rich white men. We all need to ask ourselves what does assimilation mean? What are its ramifications? Who benefits from it? Who does it leave out? How does it work to continue the boundaries and rules of the dominant culture?
Unfortunately, my recent post on these questions did not cause an increase in my blog traffic which is disappointing not only to my vanity (I want more people to read my blog), but also because I wanted to spark some debate. Furthermore, although I already knew this fact, I was disheartened that often images of naked men alone and together (and women and women as well as men and women) is the prevailing currency of the internet. Sites such as www.seancody.com and www.corbinfisher.com are just 2 examples of a particular type, the hot college boy, of the myriad of sites available to the spectator no matter your taste. If I wanted a ton of blog hits quickly and easily, my blog at the start could have been a spectacular display of pornographic and semi-pornographic images of hot men.
But as with all pornographic depictions, interest in them (especially for me) lasts until the cumshot and then it is discarded and forgotten or if you are lucky it survives, is hot, for another round or two. Hence, in part, the continual need for ever more, ever newer images that are in the end more of the same. This guy is hot, has a big cock, a tight, round ass and a nice smile, but so does the next guy and so on and so on. (This photograph is different. It is erotic. It endures beyond ejaculation.) This almost desperate and infinite need to depict the body, male or otherwise (for example amateur sites like www.guyswithiphones.com) is on some level an attempt to concretize the body, to demonstrate its “realness” despite its continual effacement by the technology which proliferates it. It is a strange dynamic, an endless stream of electronic phantoms.
Moreover, sites like www.queerty.com and www.kennethinthe212.com while provide interesting and necessary gay news, issues and commentary always include a regular feature of “pin-up” images of men. On Queerty there is a section called “Morning Goods” and on Kenneth in the 212 there is “Morning Wood”. Even on www.towleroad.com, a site which I admire for its persistent and strong coverage of stories important to gays and lesbians as well as its other eclectic posts, has its “Male Model Fix”, “Sportrait”, and other beefcake shots. News and commentary are offered on these sites, but there is always a side of hot meat.
I, of course, enjoy looking at pictures of naked men alone as well as men having sex with one another. I had pornographic magazines in ages past and even porn on that ancient image artifact VHS. I don’t think pornography should be limited or sanctioned, but simultaneously for me most porn is ultimately boring and is simply a means to an end.
What does annoy me is how pornographic, semi-pornographic and beefcake images as well as sexual objectification are at times the lowest common denominator on the internet, driving it, making it spin, even on such sites like Queerty and Towleroad which I like and read daily. So when my recent post, Same-sex Desire in the New Millennium... did not get more than average traffic I was honestly irritated. My pride suffered a bit. I wanted to encourage discussion about assimilation, subversion and same-sex identity in the 21st century and perhaps that will occur in the future. (The post will exist forever.) In the meantime, I will not be adding an all male live nude revue to The Great Within anytime soon.