This is just a short videoshowing what an influx of spammers on Tiktok looks like. (I swear, I’m not converting this blog into a TikTok support page; really I’m not!)
I still remember the first time I encountered a Chick tract, but I can’t remember if it was the 4th or the 5th grade. I think I might have been hanging around after school for some reason. I do remember quite clearly that it was one of several that had been left scattered about the boy’s bathroom at my school.
This particular pamphlet contained a pretty generic story of a sinner who died and went to Hell. The pamphlet ended, as always, with a message of hope; we didn’t have to end as the character in the story did. Through Jesus we could be saved. In my charitable moments, I like to think that message of hope is the real point of these pamphlets, but frankly I think that might be giving a little too much benefit of the doubt. On that day it was clearly the message of fear that left its biggest impression on me. I remember the feeling of horror coursing up and down my spine as I read about the suffering of sinners damned to a lake of fire. The mere thought that this could be the world I was born into was enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck and keep it there. The suffering itself and the cruelty of the being who would inflict it stuck with me for days, as did the cruelty of anyone who could say of such a thing that the source of it was good and worthy of praise.
It’s more than a little fitting that my first encounter with a Chick Tract was in a bathroom, because my whole world got a little creepier that day and I don’t think it’s recovered since.
I grew up in a household filled with the ideas of Spiritualism and Theosophy, essentially the forerunners of modern day New Age thinking. I’d heard of people who believed in Satan. I’d heard of people who believed in Hell. In retrospect, I must certainly have known many who believed in the things talked about in that pamphlet, but I hadn’t ever really talked to any of them about it. What I heard of God and Jesus was all love and kindness, and so those who literally believed in Hell were (much like Hell itself) a remote possibility to me. To my family, such people were largely a whipping boy, an image of someone who gets it wrong conjured up mostly for the purpose of telling a story about how more enlightened souls get it right.
The Chick tract was the first time such people became real to me. They became real to me in the most caricatured form imaginable. On that day, the worst things said of organized religion by the adults around me had not come close to the pure malice of the story I held in my hands. Someone had left this with the intent that children would find it and read about it. Whoever that person was believed quite firmly in Hell, and they believed in it strongly enough to want to share that message with others.
It didn’t escape me that the chosen mode of delivery was less than honest. Leaving pamphlets in a children’s bathroom is more than a little underhanded, and this fact was the icky icing on a whole cake of ugly. So, there I sat with this pamphlet, trying to wrap my mind around the twin horrors of this vengeful God and the fact that some people actually do believe in Him, and whats more that they love him. Suffice to say those horrors outweighed the significance of any hope the pamphlet might have had to offer. The vision of Jesus might have been the end of the story, but it’s most memorable moment for me (and I suspect others) had clearly been the lake of fire.
Could the world really be so perverse? Could people really be so morbid as to think this way? Those are the questions I kept asking myself after encountering that first Chick Tract. It’s all I could think of for some time afterwards. Eventually, I managed to put the whole thing behind me, but not entirely. It was a bit like some of the dirty stories my friends were beginning to tell at that age, or images of odd porn that somehow crossed my path. I hoped one day to make sense of all these things, but for the time being I found them simply disturbing and I preferred not to think about them much. To me, that pamphlet had always been a kind of pornography.
It still is.
I understand the author of that pamphlet, Jack Chick, has recently passed away, and it reminded me of that day back in school. I don’t wish to celebrate his death, but I’m also quite aware that his passing will stimulate a surge in public interest regarding the man and his work. I take no pleasure in his passing, but I do think his life’s work is worthy of a comment or two, critical as mine most certainly will be.
The next time I had cause to consider Jack Chick’s particular brand of pornography came in the mid 80s when I and my friends took to playing Dungeons and Dragons. “Dark Dungeons” would be Jack Chick’s main contribution to the Satanic panic of the era. I don’t recall when I first became aware of it, but the story-line always struck me as both laughable and deceitful. I didn’t really become fully aware of Jack Chick himself (or of his operation) until I joined a few discussion boards back in the early 2000s. It was odd to me, a bit like learning the name of a creepy caller. This was the man who had written that story from back in my childhood. He was the author of those morbid images, and he was the source of that sick feeling I had upon seeing them.
Good to know.
…but also a little disconcerting.
I recall only one other Chick tract with any degree of significance to me. It was about Navajo Medicine Men. Chick portrayed them as Skinwalkers, thus conflating healers with monsters, and of course ending the whole matter with a familiar pitch to Jesus. It was no more insightful than the hack job Chick did on D&D.
I’ve encountered a few more of Chick’s pieces over the years, but not many have really stuck in my memory. The formula is simple. Some worldly interest will lead a person down a very dark path toward Satan, death, and Hell itself, but Christians will offer them salvation. In the end, the reader is invited to accept Jesus and be saved. I understand others have been doing the work for sometime now, but the essential formula remains largely unchanged. I always wonder at the choices Chick and his successors make in these stories. Do they really believe the details of their claims? It’s one thing, for example, to believe that Dungeons & Dragons is a bad influence on kids, and quite another to believe that it is literally run by a cult as a means of initiating children into arcane magical rites. This is what fascinates me most about such work today. It isn’t testimony to faith, but rather the myopic interest in sordid stories about actual people real world world institutions. What kind of mind spreads stories like this? And how did they decide to produce them? With or without evidence, I can’t help thinking the bottom line is the same. Someone is getting off on these narratives. Whatever their interest in selling the hope of Jesus, someone is reveling in the vision of sinfulness a little too much.
Don’t get me wrong; I have no particular reason to condemn anyone for pursuing their prurient interests, at least if you can do it without harming anyone. What bothers me in this instance is the bad faith and the lack of self-awareness, the sense that someone could play so happily in the very imagery they seek to condemn in others. Perhaps more to the point, what bothers me about Chick Tracts is the sense that this is a pleasure taken in sordidness of others’ lives, a kind of hope that other people might really be worse than you could possibly know, and of course a hope that they will suffer in the end. This sort of thing is not unique to Chick publications, unfortunately, and one can often find preachers indulging in a kind of proxy porn. I suppose that was Chick’s particular genius. He found a particularly vivid way to present that kind of material. Whether that is to his shame or his credit is of course another question. For me the answer is clear enough.
I wish I could find something better to say about Jack Chick than this. It is of course tempting to follow an age old wisdom and say nothing at all, but Chick’s passing reminds me of that moment all those many years ago in which I first found one of his publications. Don’t get me wrong. Worse things have happened to me than the discovery of that creepy pamphlet. Even still, I can’t help thinking it wasn’t a particularly positive experience. For me, that will always be Jack Chick’s legacy.
It isn’t a good one.
I suppose it really shouldn’t surprise me, but it’s amusing to see just how fascinated some folks are with the mechanics of gay sex. It wasn’t that long ago that Phil Robertson treated us all to a sermon the advantages of sticking your penis in a vagina rather than into an anus. No, I’m not talking about his more recent rape fantasies. I’m referring instead to Phil’s interview with GQ Magazine, the one in which he shared this little gem:
It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.
Countless conservative Christians came to the man’s aid in the dust-up over that interview, most praising him for taking a Biblical stance on the issue. Okay, so the Bible has some interesting passages, I know, but somehow I just don’t think Phil got that comparison from scripture. But of course what counts as a Biblical stance in some circles would seem to mean whatever most holds some folks feet to the fire. Celebrity Christians don’t curry favor with cultural conservatives by talking too much about anything Jesus said or did. (The Prince of Peace bores them to tears.) No, to get in on that market you have to hurt someone in Jesus’ name.
If the American movie industry has taught us anything, it’s that sex and violence go together like bees and pollen, or better than bees and pollen, I guess, cause, well that’s a damned tragedy too. Anyway, the point is that it shouldn’t surprise us that an industry celebrating verbal violence would invariably sex-up the narratives, albeit with an ironic angle on the topic.
So it should come as no surprise that Phil Robertson is not the only one to add a little pornography to his apologetics. Take for example Brian Klawiter, one of the latest folks to put his business on the line against homosexuality. It seems that Brian’s auto repair business won’t be serving those of an homosexual orientation. According to Media Matters, Klawiter has the following to say on the topic:
My company will be run in a way that reflects that. Dishonesty, thievery, immoral behavior, etc. will not be welcomed at MY place of business. (I would not hesitate to refuse service to an openly gay person or persons. Homosexuality is wrong, period. If you want to argue this fact with me then I will put your vehicle together with all bolts and no nuts and you can see how that works.)
He later offered that he would repair a vehicle, apparently even for gay customers, providing they didn’t make a display in his shop. …which is almost reasonable, or at least it would be were it not for the rather irrational fear that his business may soon become a hot-spot for make-out sessions among the homosexual community. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is; look at that man’s poetry!
Putting a car together with nothing but bolts?
Nailed it, bro!
But seriously, does anyone else get the idea that some people are just a little overly concerned with the mechanics of other people’s sex lives? I’m not just talking about the moral question about what other people oughtta do. That’s old hat. What I’m talking about is a rather insipid interest in just how the act gets done.
As if we all know what act we’re talking about to begin with!
It does seem a common assumption amongst straight people that gay sex means butt-sex. If you remind straight folks that gay sex could also mean lesbian sex, well that just throws a wrench in the whole works, and then some guys start to pine for their late-night cable sessions. That standard bit of hypocrisy aside, what the fuck would any of us straight guys know about it anyway? There are lots of ways to get down, even among the square crowd, so why is anal penetration the heart of this issue?
…perhaps we could even ask why love isn’t the heart of the issue, at least for gay marriage, but that would just be way too mature. People would yawn and wander off to talk about something else. So, it won’t be the way folks talk about gay rights three beers into a Friday night, and it won’t be the way they fill the seats of a straight-shootin’ church on a Sunday.
Pat Robertson will get us right back on track with a little bit of porno-preaching here (compliments of the Huffington Post). According to Pat, the gay rights crowd won’t stop at acceptance or equal rights, they want us to do it too, and by ‘it’ I mean whatever icky it your mind can iterate! …or his anyway. You can give the whole rant a listen on the Huff Post link. It’s a “weird world” we live in, Pat assures us, and I almost agree. It certainly is a weird world that he lives in.
You’re gonna say that you like anal sex, you like oral sex, you like bestiality,” he added. “Sooner or later, you’re going to have to conform your religious beliefs to the group of some abhorrent thing. It won’t stop at homosexuality.
Yep, there you have it, gay rights means anal sex for every-one, and that’s just the start.
No doubt the whole thing leads to dancing!
Not to worry though Pat, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association assures us that God and humanity are both naturally disgusted by the very act of gay sex. Check out his speech, quoted here on Towleroad. According to Fisher (and I’m using Towleroad’s transcription), God himself can hardly stand the site of gay sex:
When God sees it, it causes him to recoil. And when we think about the actual act of homosexuality, we have exactly the same reaction. Most people think about that, they don’t want to think about that, they don’t want to visualize it because it is disgusting. And if people aren’t politically conditioned to accept it, their natural reaction is that’s just not normal, that’s just not natural, that’s not what human beings were designed for, that’s not what they were made for.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve certainly heard enough of this argument from other sources to get the impression these guys are hardly working a novel line of reasoning here. And I’m continually amazed that so much free-form sex-fantasy counts as Biblical reasoning. Some of these guys really are dancing to the beat of a different drum here; they just don’t seem to know it.
My point is that there is actually something a bit perverse about all this, not the gay sex of course, but the narratives these guys tell about it. Long before these crusaders get to the politics, read the scriptures, or try and address the psychology of the issue, a good number of them have already defined the entire thing in terms of the sheer physical act of anal sex. If that is what the issue means to them, it certainly isn’t because gay rights advocates have been framing the issue in those terms. Quite the contrary! It’s almost as if some folks might be using their attacks on the gay community to explore a few creepy themes of their own. And no. I’m not suggesting that this is latent homosexuality. That would be a tired old cliché. Homophobia is it’s own kink. It’s one that some folks seem determined to share in the most public of places.
My friend Sarah, from “A Knitty Society” has finished her own critique of the Erotic Heritage Museum. Her thoughts on the subject can be found in this post.
Ok!! I finally stole some free time to finish up my review of the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas. Thank you readers for being so patient! 😀 Oh and, before I begin, let me just say that as a person who studies sex and gender is multicultural contexts, I am very sensitive to human sexuality and to the controversy of sex work and its hotly debated legitimacy. My intention with this post is the critical analysis of the Erotic Heritage Museum and its themes -which deserves it- not about the legitimacy of sex work or the porn industry.
Recently, I went with my husband and a friend (Northy) to the Erotic Heritage Museum here in Las Vegas (check out his article here!!). Yeah, I know…the last place you may expect to find a museum about sex, right? Well, that’s one part of the joke; it was actually located…
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There is a certain kind of pornography that presents itself as a documentary film. It’s been awhile since I’ve watched one of these mondo films, but let’s just say that I learned things about lesbians from that flick that would, …well, probably surprise a lot of lesbians.
The Erotic Heritage Museum reminds me a bit of such movies. Oh, I didn’t notice any outright disinformation, but it has that same odd fusion of license and libido, the same sense that an excuse no longer necessary has been turned into its own kink. It’s not just sex, it’s education.
…only it isn’t.
It’s is a damned shame, because a serious effort would have been interesting.
Let’s just take a tour, shall we?
I first noticed the museum in my quest for street art, and I must say that I like a number of the murals on the buildings exterior. Here, at least I have to give the place props for creativity. It is interesting that they had to cover the nipples on a couple of these pieces, as if that would really reduce the funkination passers by will witness upon even the most casual viewing. But of course the letter of the law can be as dull as it is senseless, and the girls had to be covered. …a little.
(Embiggen, …if you dare!)
Once inside, things get a little more interesting, or perhaps a little less, depending on your sense of perspective. One enters into a gift shop, which itself contains two private library collections and an Erotic Wedding chapel. They haven’t quite worked out access to the libraries, so that’s an interesting though currently unfulfilling part of the experience. One might even call it tantalizing! The staff is friendly and helpful, and they seem prepared to emphasize either the educational or the titillating aspects of the museum, perhaps shifting their approach according to the tastes of the customers.
The museum is curated by the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, an unaccredited institution based in San Francisco, California.
According to the Museum’s “About us” page, it is the creation of the Rev. Ted McIlvenna and Harry Mohney, founder of Déjà Vu, a highly successful chain of strip clubs. Money is also a longtime friend and associate of Larry Flynt, of Hustler Magazine fame. His role in creating the museum helps to explain the degree to which ‘erotic heritage’ seems to mean ‘mainstream pornography’ in much of the museum’s presentation. In and of itself, this needn’t be a problem. Located as it is on Industrial Ave., the museum would be a fine fit with much of the adult businesses in the area. And why shouldn’t it be? The problem as I see it is the pretense to commenting on larger issues, only to deliver a sort of ode to the adult entertainment industry. Take for example the following quote from the Museum’s website:
The EHM houses more than 17,000 square feet of permanent and featured exhibits designed to preserve wonders of the erotic imagination as depicted through the artistic expression of acts of sex and love. It is dedicated to the belief that sexual pleasure and fun are natural aspects of the human experience, that such pleasure must be made available to all, and that our individual sexuality belongs to each of us.
The Museum is dedicated to the preservation of great erotic heritage that is typically undervalued, yet is of tremendous importance. The EHM is owned and managed by the Exodus Trust, a non-profit California Trust that has as its sole purpose to perform educational, scientific and literary functions relating to sexual, emotional, mental and physical health. Historical and contemporary erotic materials donated to the Exodus Trust are tax deductible as charitable donations in accordance with federal law. For more information regarding charitable donations, please visit our DONATE page.
What fascinates me about this text is tension between a vision of sexuality as a natural part of life and one which must be shared. …the latter part strikes me as a bit of a euphemism, because I don’t think they are talking about the kind of sharing between a man and a woman in their own bedroom, or even of a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or two men with 4 women in front of twenty others for that matter. No, the point of the sharing is in this instance the creation of some medium by which this sexuality can be exchanged, and somewhere in here that in itself gives way to the commodification of sexuality. Hence, the broad beautiful mandate for sharing of sexual freedom becomes a function of market values, and the themes explored in that sexuality quickly become a function of ownership and corporate capital.
Of course such commodification happens all around, and I’m not particularly shocked to find it happening with sexuality. But let’s just say that a little self-awareness helps, and when folks promise a museum dedicated to sexuality at large, it is little irritating to find that they have little to say about sex occurring outside of a men’s magazine or a xxx movie theater.
That said, let’s have a look at the Gift Shop (Click to embiggen):
After paying a very reasonable $10.00 entrance fee, one moves through a simulated red light district on the way to the main gallery. The red light district falls completely flat for me. Simply put, a red light district is not a red light district without people. All the store fronts and simulated sex businesses in the world will never convey the sense of such a place, and so this part of the museum more than any other simply fails on all levels.
I would add that the big poster on First Amendment issues is simply too high to be read in the dark, at least by people without superior cat-eye magic-vision. So, that too is lost on the customer. It’s place in the museum is also at least a little odd. Of course the connection comes from the tension between erotic expression and censorship. This is not entirely limited to the porn industry, though they have played a key role in defending such expression. The bottom line here is that there is certainly a place for this content in a discussion of erotic expression, but one has to wonder if the context for it has been well framed, especially when posters like this one are just dropped into a collection that is otherwise on the surface at least a-political. One has to wonder if the rhetoric of free speech hasn’t become an essential part of sexuality for the museum’s curators and staff. …as opposed to a historically situated feature of sexuality as filtered through the conflict between the particular powers of the industrialized West.
In any event, this is the red light district:
The main room actually comes in two floors, both essentially arranged into one large round presentation floor. The top floor is a private collection, and I don’t have any pictures of its content. The bottom floor has an amazing quantity of interesting materials. Unfortunately, the arrangement leaves a lot to be desired. Many of the more exotic items are left almost entirely without explanation, while images associated with the mainstream porn industry and its political battles dominate the outer walls.
For example, we get very little information about sundry deflowering devices scattered throughout display cases, but the sections describing developments in pornography get much fuller treatment, as do numerous celebrity sex scandals. So, a practice that the average customer will not understand without some presentation to put it in context gets nothing in the way of an explanation while stories many of us have seen before get plenty of coverage. This works fine if the point of museum is to promote the pornography industry; it does not work at all when the declared point of the museum is something much broader and more enlightening.
And here, we have an interesting question, what does all the exotic cultural material mean to the average customer as opposed to those for whom these items were originally developed? Indeed, just how sexual is all this sexual memorabilia in its original context? How does a customer interpret an African deflowering device, for example, in the absence of any reason to believe it isn’t just another sex toy? I can’t help but think that – presented as it is, with so little explanation – the sole lesson that many customers will take away from the ethnographic materials will be that other peoples are damned kinky. There just isn’t enough context to compete with the sexual background of the museum itself and the likely skewing off all things by an emergent narrative emphasizing sex and strangeness.
…it’s a bit like looking through old copies of national Geographic just to see pictures of the naked natives.
Some of more the playful aspects of the exhibit are quite wonderful. The million penny penis is pure gold! …or, copper, really, but the point is, I approve! The bathroom with all its graffiti (pens are provided) is at least a little interesting, but honestly it looks like it’s time to paint it over and let people start again. Other amusing displays certainly can be found, but they are jammed together in such a haphazard fashion, and with so little explanation, that is can be really difficult to make heads or tails of what one is looking at.
Strangely, a number of displays are given to various sexual scandals, and the treatment is (ironically) quite punitive. It makes sense of course for those interested in free sexual expression to feel a little vindicated when various anti-porn crusaders or seemingly repressed right wing cultural warriors get caught with their pants down (sometimes quite literally), but some of the folks appearing on the wall of shame just don’t fit that most. More importantly, at least some level, one ought to appreciate that this is to be expected. Rather than ‘haha’ might one say “welcome back to humanity?”
In any event, the museum never does give us any context in which to elevate the “Wall of Shame” beyond the level of pointing and laughing. That doesn’t strike me as worthy of a museum, and if I am going to laugh, I would rather laugh at a penny penis than people proving themselves all-to-human, …even those who may have wished otherwise.
So, once again the museum presents an odd blending of politics and sexuality, one if which the curators seem to have let the one skew their sense of the other a bit too much in my estimation. In any event, here is the bulk of the first floor stuff (if you click on the pictures, they get bigger, …really!)
Before signing off, I want to say thank you to Sarah from the blog, A Knitty Society. She and her husband accompanied me through the museum. I very much enjoyed discussing the materials with them, and I look forward to reading her own post on the museum. Y’all should definitely check out her blog.
And let’s finish with a bit of zoological interest:
I suppose I should add that I actually think there is a lot of potential in this museum, which is what makes its present state all that much more disappointing. The staff certainly have a diverse range of talents, and they have a fantastic collection of interesting materials on display. What no-one seems to have done at the Erotic Heritage Museum is thought through the kind of effect the want to produce and just how much the museum is intended to promote education as opposed to titillation. Frankly, I think they could manage both a lot better than they presently have. One has only to get past the point where a momentary glimpse of things-sexual is enough to satisfy the mind and the libido all by itself. All of this stuff has context; the folks at this museum really ought to provide that.