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January 19, 2003

The Persecution of Pee-wee Herman.

Daniel Radosh

The Persecution of Pee-wee Herman. In this must-read article, Richard Goldstein makes a persuasive case that the child pornography arrest of Paul Reubens is not just another celebrity scandal, or another case of an overzealous prosecutor spinning nonsense into headlines (though it's that as well). Reubens, see, is a serious collector of vintage physique magazines — which infrequently contained photos of teenagers that were legal at the time, but no longer.

Why should this matter to anyone other than Reubens? Goldstein writes: "Vintage gay erotica, some of it going back a century, is taken very seriously by scholars who regard such pieces as artifacts of homosexual history. These images show the continuity of queer desire, and that's important to a community whose past is a story long suppressed. Dozens of gay archives have opened in the past decade, and the thought that they might be subject to police surveillance raises a fearsome specter. Several archivists, speaking off the record because they were terrified of drawing attention from the police, admitted that they had never examined each image in their files. Cleansing a historic collection by destroying images that are now provocative is repugnant to these scholars."

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