Monday, April 8, 2013

Coyote Growls: A Voice for Sex Positive Feminism in the Late 1970s.

Coyote Growls, June/July 1975
After Kitty Desmond's Bush Street Bordello was raided in June 1973, one of the few places you may have been able to read about it was in Coyote Growls: The Newsletter of a Loose Woman's Organization.  In their June/July 1975 edition, Coyote Growls published this brief mention of the case:

Coyote Growls, June/July 1975
Seems the ACLU was enlisted, as well as a Dixie Land themed fund raiser, but further research is required before knowing how the case turned out.

The Desmond case may seem buried under the column inches of other stories, but this is only due to the wide range of relevant news that fell under Coyote Growls' (later re-titled Coyote Howls) watch during its run from 1975 to 1979.  "Dedicated to exposing and eliminating current laws against prostitution and other non crime-crimes," the journal was the
 public face of the still active Coyote sex activism group, which continues to advocate for the rights of sex workers across the United States.

Taking a look at even just a few clips from two of Coyote's issues reveals not just the political and social issues of the late 1970's, but the multifaceted spirit of an international community.

Coyote Growls, June/July 1975

Rallying against the dictates of the Lond's Women's LIberation Workshop (who claim to 'Support prostitutes, not prostitution' in an odd echo of the now familiar 'Love the sinner hat the sin" hypocrisy Coyote issues some dictates of their own, including that,  "All work is Prostitution, whether we work for money or room and board.  All women are prostitutes...Our whole lives are stolen from us by work," and, "Every alternative to prostitution is either another form of prostitution or terrible poverty or both." 
Coyote Howls, Winter 1977

Coyote Howls, Winter 1977
Later, in 1977, and under their new name, Coyote responded to continuing raids by police.  "Sex is supposed to be personal, always a free choice, different from work.  But its not a free choice when we are dependent on men for money...The line between paid and unpaid sex is what we get in return."

Echoing the need met by Kitty Desmond's "sexual therapy", Coyote writes that, "Destroyed by the work they are compelled to do, men come to us for the sexual gratification they need to continue working," reiterating the "all work is prostitution" argument.

Remembering Infantino

Carmine Infantino,

Since he's better equipped to send the man off than I am, having been a fan of his work for fifty some years, here's a few words about Carmine Infantino from my dad:

I have just learned of the passing of my greatest comic book idol, Carmine Infantino.  He, more than any other comic creator, awakened in me an appreciation for comic book art, an appreciation that survives yet today.

Although he had his start in the comics business during the so-called Golden Age, I first became aware of his significant role in the rebirth of "super-hero" books during the Silver Age, with my first exposure t

o his work in a special 25 cent giant annual called Secret Origins.  I had been reading Superman and Batman for several years, and was stunned in that annual by the freshness of the artist drawing the Silver Age Flash story in that book.  I learned later that this artist was Carmine Infantino.  (I pronounced his name as Carmen for years.)  Shortly thereafter, I began to buy all of the Julius Schwartz-edited books, many containing Infantino artwork.  I was a late reader of Mystery in Space, which (for too short a time) featured Adam Strange stories drawn by Mr. Infantino.  The anticipation I felt as I hurried to the drug store on the day a new MIS was to appear was only heightened by the excitement as I opened the pages to a new adventure.  When Jack Schiff took over as editor of Mystery in Space, Carmine Infantino passed his artist duties for Adam Strange to Lee Elias, and the Adam Strange magic (at least for me) was gone forever.

 His attention to anatomical accuracy was  superb, his architectural images always "modern", and his page layouts set the the style that became the standard.  His art felt somehow more "adult" than what I had been reading, and made even a lackluster plot sparkle. His work onThe Space Museum stories, Strange Sports StoriesThe FlashBatman, uncounted sci-fi adventures in the Schwartz anthology books was all unforgettable, and his contributions as publisher at National/DC helped save that company and infuse it with new artistic talent that took it to new heights. I was tempted on several occasions to contact Mr Infantino, to thank him for his wonderful work.  Alas, I didn't do that, and my window of opportunity has passed.
Yes, other great artists have come along, but Carmine Infantino was unique.  He will be sorely missed.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Carmine Infantino: The passing of a giant and the fallacies of geek culture

Yesterday, two men who had both contributed greatly to their respective mediums passed away.  Most have likely heard about the passing of preeminent film critic Roger Ebert, whose eulogizing has been far reaching and at times touching.  The day also saw the passing of legendary comic book artist Carmine Infrantino, whose contributions over the past sixty years of comic book history included the revitalization of the Flash in 1964, the creation of Batgirl and decades of work as an artist and editor.

 Just to put things into perspective, he helped moved mainstream comic art from this:

to this:

In addition to the above linked article by Comic Book Resources, Inantino's death has been reported by IGN, Den of Geek, Comics Alliance, Bleeding Cool and entertainment blog Mania.  

And yet nothing on Comics Worth Reading.  Nothing on I09, Topless Robot, The Mary Sue, Comic Vine, and many other sites.  Huge sections of the supposed geek blogosphere continue to pump out hourly articles on everything from clips of the upcoming iteration of the Iron Man product line to, perhaps ironically, memorials for Roger Ebert, but don't deem the death of a major creator to be post worthy.  Comics Worth Reading even published an article featuring one of Infantino's most iconic illustrations on the day of the man's death.  No mention was made of him, however, as the images use was to promote an upcoming book on the Sliver Age of DC Comics, an explosion of popular creativity that would have been impossible without Infantino.

Roger Ebert was a massively looming figure in the field of film criticism.  He represented a hugely recognizable, almost institutional presence, serving as a public ambassador for film in a way that would be hard to find parallels for in other mediums.  Comic books certainly have their share of ambassadors, but popular voices like Stan Lee and Kevin Smith are more hucksters and entertainers than critics.  It would, therefore, be unrealistic to expect that the passing of a figure like Infantino would attract similar levels of attention.

But ignoring of Infantino's death by the very blogs and websites who owe their existence to artists like him illuminates the illusions that these supposed "fan" communities have about themselves.  If your websites decides to post a publicity puff piece for the next Wolverine movie, and yet omits to mention the passing of a major figure, that tells you something about priorities.  Perhaps Infantino wasn't link baity enough.  Perhaps his recent absence from the field left him too far away from the spotlight to be noticed.  But any community that routinely prioritizes product shilling over the movements of its own history is one that need to be examined.  Then again, anyone who has been to a comic book convention can attest to the tiny sliver of booths known as artist's alley, the obscure engine room of the industry where greying creators sit half forgotten in the shadow of whatever new video game or major motion picture is being advertised this year.  The coverage of Infantiono's death is just one more example of how "geekdom" isn't a culture.  Its a shopping mall.        


Monday, April 1, 2013

Inherent Vice: Former Brothels of San Francisco

Former Brothel on 20th Ave.

Located between Stern Grove park and Stonestown Galleria, just a half mile from San Francisco State and a few hundred feet from a church, this unassuming building on 20th Ave gives no indication of its history as a high class brothel.  

Former Brothel on 20th Ave.

On February 13th, 1964, San Francisco police raided what the San Francisco Chronicle described as "a luxurious brothel catering to VIP officials, professional men and business executives."   This Parkside home had been operating for six months under the leadership of madam Jean Martin, serving customers, "by appointment only" until the time of the raid.

Even more amazing is the story behind this Victorian Mansion on Bush Street between Webster and Buchanan, raided by police on May 10, 1975.  

Bush Street Bordello

The woman working in the house identified themselves as members of the Golden Gate Foundation, and had been running thier business out of the house since October 15, 1973.  The Bush Street Bordello provided what the women called "therapeutic and sex counseling service," a distinction made semi official by the city having granted the site a business licence to operate as an "emotional therapy research foundation." 

Bush Street Bordello
The head of the site was Kitty Desmond.  29 years old, Desmond had only a month before spoken at Stanford University, lecturing a few hundred students on the topic of sex therapy.  Desmond's plans for the site included achieving a non profit status and even acquiring government grants for sexual therapy.  

One of the women arrested, Randa Newby, was senior in Psychology at San Francisco State.  "We were keeping clinical records of our clients," she reported.  "We hoped to give them to the sexuality program at the UC Medical Center."  Every man, the women reported, was filed using a methodical intake system.  Their psychological profiles were based on nine models male sexuality: opportunist, patronizer, promoter, juvenile  guardian, lover, adventurer, friend and slave. 

"I started to work there because I could get money," one of the women reported.  "But then I started to get into the whole trip of therapy.  They felt peaceful with us.  Its a way of meditating for them.  Its their release."

For two years, every client was profiled and categorized this way.  Which begs the question of what happened to those forms?  What story would they tell if they were uncovered?  What became of the house and the therapists inside, and what became of Kitty Desmond?