Hindsight through pop filters makes '60s and '70s sexual decadence seem like mere reductive nostalgia to a godless, TV-weaned generation--especially if one ignores the bra smoke of feminist politics and the embryonic gay-rights movement. The power of mass media dictates that recent history gets defined by way of pop-culture icons and romantic sentimentality, and not from within the academy. A mental image of Greg Brady instantly conjures up the full deceitful suburban existence--the dress, dialect and tone of the time. But the thought of Linda Lovelace and Deep Throat has a rather gray-toned hue--because smut has been so subjected to overanalysis by academics and culture vultures.
Now, finally, a saucy new book by San Francisco Weekly columnist Jack Boulware liberates smut from the clutches of the academics. Sex American Style: An Illustrated Romp Through the Golden Age of Heterosexuality is a dense pastiche of glorious '70s pop smut, mixing images with words in concise, easy-to-digest chapters, paper-backed in colorful, coffee-table form. Armed with truckloads of research and a wistful, too-young-to-have-been-there take, author Boulware subtly mocks the era's media-generated biases while offering up witty and informative snippets and anecdotes that go to lengths to uphold his empathetic theories on the sexual revolution, and specifically, the Golden Age of Heterosexuality. And it's all managed without relying on romantic or maudlin devices while cleverly sidestepping religious dogma. It's a blast to read and even works well as party or toilet leaf-through fodder.
Any porn-vid fan will get kicks from the educational history of porn films--from Linda Lovelace's infamous gun-to-the-head humps to the Mitchell brothers' famed burlesque and John Holmes' stretchy rubber wonder. Other chapters span the era's well-storied gamut of censorship, from the rock 'n' roll star-as-messiah aesthetic and its requisite groupie excesses (Pamela Des Barres, of course!) to wife-swapping, hot tubs and macho-hetero advertising themes. (Does anyone recall the ass-happy jean attack of Jordache and Madison Ave.?) The birth of swing culture and death of its nudist-colony predecessor are well-documented, as are the airline stewardess as pedestalized sex doll and leftover hippie drug folklore and on and on.
Sensible sidebars add to the frolic, and this purported romp would certainly be remiss without such quick spins as its Lenny Bruce homage, a Stones Sticky Fingers pant-bulge Warholism, a Xaviera Hollander dig, scenes from the Kama Sutra and The Joy of Sex and even an excerpt from the Joe Namath autobio in which the Broadway one explains his hip-swagger promiscuity.
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And what '60s male didn't disguise his hard-on and ensuing whack over the butt of Daisy Duke and other TV harlots? There are gobs and gobs of other lusty factoids which cleanly display sexual cause and effect and its often misinterpreted social and personal impact.
In the final chapter, "The Return to the Flesh District," the author points out that the commercial potential for sex that was explored in the sexonomic '60s and '70s formed the blueprints for the current sex industry's billion-dollar self-satisfaction business. Millionaires were made and TV ratings ascended. Mansions were built; real estate, luxury cars and private jets were purchased. The arts and political campaigns were funded. Internet firms and cable channels have blossomed. Boulware suggests, though, that now, beneath the gaudy trappings and superfluous surface of contemporary smut, there lies a humorless plain on which fun and inner discovery have been replaced with a sterile and commerce-driven industry adrift in mall mentality and a constant fear of AIDS.
In the end, he notes, the renowned Times Square ambiance of depravity, fringe-dwelling pervs and colorful whores--basic requirements for cultural balance--are but memories. Fitting, then, that it was mainly Disney and a corporation called Virgin that whitewashed that notable Manhattan scene.
And nostalgia marches on.