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215 × 167 × 27 mm
280 pages
97 illustrations, 81 in colour
12 Oct 2020

The People’s Porn A History of Handmade Pornography in America Lisa Z. Sigel

The People’s Porn is the first history of American handmade and homemade pornography, which offers the back story to the explosion of amateur pornography on the Internet. In doing so, it is a much-needed counterweight to the ahistorical and ideological arguments that dominate most discussions about pornography. Critics focus on mass-produced materials and make claims about pornography as plasticized or commodified. In contrast, this book looks at what people made rather than what they bought, revealing how people thought about sexuality for themselves. Whalers and craftsmen, prisoners and activists, African Americans and feminists, all made their own pornography. The People’s Porn challenges preconceptions as it tells a new and fascinating story about American sexual history.

‘Sigel’s great subject is the way consumerism eradicates the creative libido. Her book, for all its alarming examples, is convincing in its argument that homemade porn is a valuable anthropological indicator of sexuality that speaks to the era and place in which it was made. Her reader will certainly look at rude phalluses scraffitoed on subway seats with softer eyes. Behold, before me! A radical, unquenchable expression of the irrepressibly horny human spirit.’ — New York Review of Books

‘Lisa Z. Sigel’s The People’s Porn attempts the ambitious, unglamorous, but fascinating work of drawing together for the first time an archive of handmade erotic objects made over two centuries of American history. From erotic scrimshaw made by 19th-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 humour and conviviality, showing that pornography was as much about male (and sometimes female) bonding as it was about private fantasy.’ — History Today

‘Perhaps unsurprisingly for a book of this nature, the accompanying photographs are just as compelling as the text itself, if not more so. There are 97 of them, and they are frequently hilarious . . . Sigel is a companionable guide . . . with occasional flashes of wit and bawdy remarks.’ — Los Angeles Review of Books

‘Sigel has opened the drawer for good with her new book, The People’s Porn, where the historian speaks to the prolific creation of pornography and our unique culture that both harbors and represses it.’ — Antiques and the Arts Weekly

‘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.’ — Full Stop.net

‘Lisa 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.’ — Jonathan Rose, William R. Kenan Professor of History, Drew University and author of The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes

‘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.’ — Feona Attwood, author of Sex Media and co-editor of Porn Studies

‘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.’ — Linda Williams, Professor Emerita of Film and Media, and Rhetoric at University of California, Berkeley, author of Screening Sex and Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the "Frenzy of the Visible"

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Lisa Z. Sigel is Professor of History at DePaul University. Her previous books include Governing Pleasures, International Exposure (2002), and Making Modern Love (2012).

Introduction: Alternative Sources for American Sexual History

1 Carving Out a Vernacular Sexuality, 1830–1930
2 Adapting Commercial Culture into Handmade
Objects, 1910–1970
3 Men and Time: Prison Pornography, 1940–1970
4 The Postwar World and the Making of a People’s Pornography, 1940–1970
5 Marketing Authenticity, 1970 Onwards

Bibliography and Sources
Photo Acknowledgments