The People’s Porn

A History of Handmade Pornography in America

Lisa Z. Sigel

The People’s Porn

Lisa Z. Sigel

Distributed for Reaktion Books

256 pages | 70 color plates, 29 halftones | 6 1/4 x 8 1/4
Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9781789142266 Published December 2020 For sale in North and South America only
The first history of American handmade and homemade pornography, The People’s Porn offers the backstory to the explosion of amateur pornography on the web. In doing so, it provides a much-needed counterweight to ahistorical and ideological arguments that dominate most discussions of pornography.
 
Critics tend to focus on mass-produced materials and make claims about pornography as plasticized or commodified. In contrast, eminent historian Lisa Z. Sigel looks at what people made, rather than what they bought, revealing how people thought about sexuality for themselves. She also explores periods when these sexual artifacts were pilloried, ransacked, and destroyed, providing a unique document of rare nineteenth- and twentieth-century objects. Whalers and craftsmen, prisoners and activists, African Americans and feminists—all made their own pornography. Ranging across the full sweep of this output, The People’s Porn challenges preconceptions as it tells a new and fascinating story about American sexual history.
Review Quotes
History Today
"Sigel’s The People’s Porn attempts the ambitious, unglamorous, but fascinating work of drawing together for the firs time an archive of handmade erotic objects made over two centuries of American history. From erotic scrimshaw made by nineteenth-century sailors to amateur polaroids, it charts a course through the ways in which apparently ‘ordinary’ men and women represented sex in all its variety—cis and trans, straight and queer, in couples or groups, with people or animals and somewhere in between—via prison pornography, pop-up erections, masturbating Santas, and feminist embroidery. In doing so, it tells a story of hidden desire that has often been overlooked . . . The People’s Porn is at its most illuminating when exploring the place of sex in shared cultures of humor and conviviality, showing that pornography was as much about male (and sometimes female) bonding as it was about private fantasy."
Full Stop
"Sigel’s research glimpses into the history of sexuality in America through handmade pornographic objects, asking what handmade 'trashy' sex objects reveal about our culture and its historical expressions of sexuality. The People’s Porn provides timelines and contexts showing that, no matter what obscenity laws our nation puts in place, individuals have always expressed their sexuality through art and crafts."
Chicago Magazine
"In The People's Porn, Sigel explores the history of handmade smut. . . . Is that a doctored coin in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"
Jonathan Rose, William R. Kenan Professor of History, Drew University, and author of “The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes”
“Sigel fearlessly explores popular erotica, an unknown country where few scholars dare to venture. Her latest book is a fascinating feat of historical archaeology, uncovering rare sexual artefacts and perceptively revealing their significance. She proves that pornography is not always ‘commercialized’: it can often be a lively folk art produced by ordinary men and, yes, women.”
Feona Attwood, author of “Sex Media” and coeditor of “Porn Studies”
“A magnificent and highly original book that convincingly argues homemade and handmade ‘porn’ objects can tell us important things about history and about sexuality. The People's Porn will be indispensable to anyone with an interest in the continuing debates about the relations between sex, media, and culture.”
Linda Williams, Professor Emerita of Film, Media, and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “Screening Sex and Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible’”
“From the delicately obscene anonymous scrimshaw carvings of the early nineteenth century to the primitively obscene imaginings of the prolific Henry Darger in the twentieth century, to the contemporary obscene repurposing of the anatomy of Barbie Dolls, The People’s Porn refutes the overblown truism that commercial pornography has been the only game in town.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit https://press.uchicago.edu
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