The Sporadic Beaver

Pornography and Capitalism

January 8, 2014

Tags: The Ethics and Politics of Pornography, David Edward Rose, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Carl Ruderman, High Society

I've always believed that the pornography industry is a microcosm of the capitalist system, and that looking at capitalism through a pornographic lens is a legitimate way to gain insight into that system. One purpose of my book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is to offer such insights in an entertaining and humorous manner. And with the exception of one critic, a former pornographer who dismissed the book as "smut," most readers and critics "got it," as the pull quotes on this page and my home page attest.

In November, I wrote about a college textbook, published by Palgrave Macmillan, titled The Ethics and Politics of Pornography, by David Edward Rose. The book had come to my attention because it references Beaver Street in a chapter called "'I Can’t Do It by Myself!': Social Ethics and Pornography." But I didn't know exactly what the book said; I only knew that I was listed in the index atop French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

I’ve since received a copy of the book, which I plan to write about at length in a future posting, along with another textbook, also published by Palgrave Macmillan, titled Pornographic Art and the Aesthetics of Pornography, edited by Hans Maes. But for now I’d like to share with you what The Ethics and Politics of Pornography says about Beaver Street.

The reference is on page 214, in a section about capitalism called “The real enemy,” and it comes from my chapter about working at High Society magazine in the early 1980s.

“The aim of capitalism is not to make good art,” Rose writes. “Nor good products. It is not interested in the product per se, but only in the product as a means to satisfy other desires, as capital in motion. As one insider in the industry astutely observed, ‘The product, as well as my job, was anything but transgressive; it was corporate moneymaking at its most cynical, conservative, and tightly controlled. It wasn’t even about sex; it was about using sex to separate people from their money.’”

And that is indeed a spot-on description of what it was like to work in Carl Ruderman’s smut factory, a place where the most exploitative face of modern capitalism was on display daily.

Penetrating Academia

November 23, 2013

Tags: The Ethics and Politics of Pornography, David Edward Rose, H-Net, Beaver Street, Whitney Strub, Perversion for Profit, Patrick Glen, Peter Kenneth Alilunas, The Pornologist

I've always felt confident that sooner or later academia would embrace Beaver Street and the book would find its way onto required reading lists for any number of sociology, history, and gender studies courses. My confidence was not misplaced.

Soon after its publication in the U.K., in 2011, a glowing review of Beaver Street, titled "Free Speech and Competitively Priced Smut: Pornography in the United States," appeared on H-Net, a site devoted to the humanities and social sciences. Written by Patrick Glen, a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, it compared Beaver Street to Perversion for Profit, by Rutgers professor Whitney Strub, who essentially covered the same material I did, though from an academic perspective.

“Shocking… evocative… entertaining… A rich account that adds considerable depth and texture to any understanding of how the pornography industry worked,” was the blurb I took from Glen’s critique.

Then, a few months ago, I became aware of The Pornologist, the website of Peter Kenneth Alilunas, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan. On his “Essential Reading” list, Alilunas had placed Beaver Street #1, and as it turned out, his PhD dissertation, Smutty Little Movies: The Creation and Regulation of Adult Video, 1976-1986, contained numerous references to the book.

Now, to complete the academic hat trick, a book recently published by Palgrave Macmillan, The Ethics and Politics of Pornography, by David Edward Rose, references Beaver Street in chapter six, “‘I Can’t Do It by Myself!’: Social Ethics and Pornography.”

I don’t know what it says, exactly, as I’m not about to buy a textbook that lists for $105, even if I am in it. But Rose, a lecturer in philosophy at Newcastle University, in the U.K., who, according to his bio, specializes in “Hegelian ethics and counter-enlightenment thought and their application to contemporary moral and political issues,” sounds like a serious fellow. And like The Ethics and Politics of Pornography, Beaver Street also raises “a host of moral and political concerns” about “coercion, exploitation, harm, freedom of expression and the promulgation of sexist attitudes.” Which, apparently, is why it continues to make academic inroads.

And it’s always nice to see my name in an index, atop French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I’m sure he, too, had a few things to say about smut.