A couple years back, I wrote this review of the Erotic Heritage Museum here in Las Vegas. I’ve since learned that they have undertaken some renovation at the center and so I decided to go back and have another look. I was curious to see what might be different. It has always seemed to me that the people behind the museum haven’t made up their minds what they are trying to accomplish. Is this a museum or is it promotional device for commercial pornography, and more specifically for those involved with Larry Flynt of Hustler magazine? As I indicated previously, I don’t think they’ve done a good job of settling their priorities at this place. It could be a lot sexier. It could also be a lot more informative.
What bothered me most in my last review of the museum was the lack of context in regards to ethnographic materials. Surrounded by images of mainstream porn, for example, a deflowering device from Africa looks a lot like a simple dildo, and I can’t help thinking the message it sends here is something like ‘Africans are kinky’. Now multiply this by countless similar artifacts deserving of real explanation, at least in any place that pretends to be a museum. The Erotic Heritage Museum really does possess quite a collection of erotic artifacts. It could provide the basis for a Hell of a museum, if only its managers would take their own mission seriously.
The most striking thing about its current incarnation is the increased presence of scandal themes in its present displays. The Museum still has its ‘Wall of Shame’ devoted to political scandals, and it still has some references to Hustler Magazine’s work in exposing a number of those scandals and Defending the First Amendment.
I can certainly understand Hustler magazine’s interest in exposing the hypocrisy of their enemies, but this does raise questions about the role of such depictions in the museum itself. Is this really erotica? Does it really have a significant role to play in the history of erotic representation? And if so, does this museum help us to understand that role?
If anything, the museum has increased the space it devotes to scandals. The opening lobby, for example, now features an article discussing its owner’s decision to offer Monica Lewinsky a job. Harry Money (an associate of Larry Flynt) offered Lewinsky a job at the museum along with a substantial salary back in 2014. Apparently, he did not hear back from her. As I remember it, this sort of thing wouldn’t be unusual in the pages of Hustler Magazine, but it’s worth asking what role it plays in the history of erotic representations? Is this actually erotic? Does it further our understanding of sex? …or of sexual representation?
I can’t help thinking that there might be a way to answer ‘yes’ to these questions, but the path to that affirmative answer probably gives new meaning to the concept of voyeurism. Don’t get me wrong. I’m un-phased at the thought of watching someone perform sexually explicit acts. It’s the thought that someone may be getting off on simply knowing the activities of political parties that squicks me here, just a little. Lewinsky’s affair is either un-erotic, a political side-show unworthy of a museum devoted to sex and sexual representations, or she represents an odd kink we might just as well call ‘politics’. Added to this, I can’t help thinking such material incorporates a certain delight in the discomfort of its subjects. If there is a pleasure here it is to had at her expense.
…all of which brings me back to the purpose of the museum itself. I can’t help thinking there is a world of difference between the historical vibrators or the old nudie magazines, Erotic paintings, sculptures, etc. to be found in the museum collections and a celebration of political scandal at the expense of the scandalized. If such scandals play a role in the history of erotic arts, it would occupy a chapter with problems of its own. Most importantly, it’s a chapter this museum does NOT help us to understand. I doubt its curators have much of a handle on its role in their own lives and in their own approaches to the subject. The museum is too interested in such scandals to provide any sense of perspective on why they might be of interest to anyone, much less what role they play in shaping our thoughts about sex and sexuality.
The museum has further expanded its interest in such things with a whole new section devoted to the sex scandals of teachers on the upper floor. A hallway circling around one of the museum’s small movie theaters has been filled with portraits of women caught having sex with their own students, each receiving an informative plaque to explain just what the woman did and how the courts dealt with her. (Significantly, I found no reference whatsoever to the scandals of men engaged in such behavior.) To one side of the wall, one can watch a streaming video detailing the stories of many of these women. Each of them ends with a rhetoric question delivered in a snarky voice; “nasty or nice?”
If this is sexy, is it the kind of sexy that belongs in a middle school locker room, or rather in the mouth of a confused young boy trying to impress his buddies in a middle school locker room.
If this is informative… nevermind. It simply isn’t.
I’m not entirely prepared that the scandalous materials have no place in the museum whatsoever. I am convinced the quantity of space devoted to scandals tells us something unfortunate about the priories of the administration at the museum. It seems to suggest these people are less interested in erotica and education than simple gossip.
It’s a shame, because this museum could be interesting. Their staff are pleasant and helpful. Their collections impressive. Again, they have a lot to work with. But it says something that the curators of this establishment would rather tell us about the sexual scandals of attractive teachers and sundry politicians than provide context for the many ethnographic pieces in their collections.
This is the politics and the sexuality of commercial pornography. It is morbid, childlike, and Unfulfilling both as a source of erotic entertainment, and as a source of information.