Currently reading : EROS Magazine – the birth of sophisticated erotic publishing
In a time where we are all becoming increasingly de-sensitized to more extreme images of sexuality through the platforms of online porn and the flippancy of sharing a spectrum of startling images through tumblr, it can be easy to forget how both alluring or shocking an image or statement of sex once had the possibility to have.
The creation and physical making of an erotic magazine was one of the only ways to experience sexual content outside of the physical act for the vast majority of the first half of the 20th century. Media such as pornography or fetish specialized magazines would mainly be available to buy through subscription or visiting an adult shop; which now seems like a strenuous act in comparison to the immediate and endless nature to satisfy our instant sexual needs.
However the vast majority of sexual printed matter fell into two polar categories; sophisticated erotic literature or the more blatant photographic publications.
It wasn’t until the early 1960s that Eros, a quarterly magazine by taboo busting editor Ralph Ginzburg exploring all things to do with sexuality and love came about that publishing’s view on sex drastically changed. Utterly progressive for its time the hardback magazine cost a huge $19.99 which was then considered one of the most expensive magazines in existence. Playboy was of course in its hay day but the Hugh Hefner personality still oozed a kind of sleaziness which couldn’t arouse the more intellectual of minds and essentially exclusively only attracted the heterosexual males libido. In comparison to this Eros created the opportunity for both men and women to be able to interact with discussions of erotica and sexuality which was previously unheard of.
During the radical 1960s the magazine was received with both appraisal and disgust resulting in Ginsburg eventually being indicted under federal obscenity laws for the publication of the fourth issue. A mixture of the high cost to create the hard back magazine and legal fees resulted in the magazine closing down only after its fourth issue.
The magazine now exists as a prized collectors item for both its influence in terms of publishing history and its legal issues. Its stance of sexuality was thoroughly intelligent delving into issues previously unusual to consume through media by studying history, politics, art and literature in context to sex.
Examples of its content included, the mustard coloured cover which had an embossed playing card of Bluebeard and one of his maids, the teaser to a five-page feature inside. Ray Bradbury contributed a lovely short fiction, a sort of “Gift of the Magi,” in bed. Sixteen pages were devoted to a Guy de Maupassant story, Madame Tellier’s Brothel, in “a new uncensored translation” and illustrated with 12 monograph sketches by Degas.
The feature which was assumed to have thrown Ginsburg into court was a photo essay by Ralph Hattersley Jr. called Black and White of an interracial couple both nude, holding hands, in the throws of a kiss in silhouette and in the last shot pressed against one another. No genitals are shown and the images conjure up notions of romance and intimacy rather than sexual desire but it is interesting to point out that possibly the real objection over these photographs was to do with its presentation of an inter-racial romance which for the year of 1962 could sadly upset so much. Simultaneously this issue was published at the exact same time as the Civil Rights demonstrations, and racist violence, in the South. However this controversy was channeled through questioning whether Ginzberg was a pornographer or not rather than directly mentioning the material of the editorial.
Eros not only shook up taboo’s in regards to sex but also that of race which was a hugely admiral and progressive stance to have at a time in the early 60s which hadn’t yet got into the throws of its drug and sex fuelled decadence and violence.
In June 1963, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (from whose jurisdiction the magazine had been mailed) heard the government’s case that, though the material in Eros may not have been obscene, its promotion tended to “pander to prurient interests.” Here are some of the lines from the brochure that the judges viewed as pandering:
“Eros is a child of its times. . . . [It] is the result of recent court decisions that have realistically interpreted America’s obscenity laws and that have given to this country a new breadth of freedom of expression. . . . Eros takes full advantage of this new freedom of expression. It is the magazine of sexual candor. … The publication of this magazine ”” which is frankly and avowedly concerned with erotica ”” has been enabled by recent court decisions ruling that a literary piece or painting, though explicitly sexual in content, has a right to be published if it is a genuine work of art. Eros is a genuine work of art.”
Despite protests by First Amendment advocates, he served eight months in a federal prison in 1972 after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of his sentence. His book “Castrated: My Eight Months in Prison” (a short version of which was published in The New York Times Magazine) was dedicated to his wife and collaborator. As to why Eros was considered obscene, Mr. Ginzburg wrote in the book, it was a mystery to him. ” ‘Obscenity’ or ‘pornography’ is a crime without definition or victim,” he said. “It is a bag of smoke used to conceal one’s own dislikes with regard to aspects of sex.”
After Eros’s premature discontinuation Ginzburg went on to publish both AVANT GARDE and FACT magazine, two super important and beautiful magazines which documented then contemporary American life. Still focussing on aspects of sex, both magazines were critical of the American government stirring up further controversy.
Through the publication of Eros it has been argued that Ginzburg helped kick start the sexual revolution, through the sole publishing of a magazine he was able to progressively open up peoples eyes to the reality of women’s enjoyment of sex and an acceptance of inter-racial relationships.