An award-winning science fiction writer, esteemed professor of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and celebrated essayist and memoirist, Samuel Delany is one of America's keenest observers. He was also a longtime habitué of many of the sex theaters in New York City's Times Square, spending, by his own estimate, "thousands and thousands of hours" at the Capri, Variety Photoplays, the Eros, and the Venus. In the 1990s all of these theaters were shut down through new restrictive zoning laws, part of a combined effort by the Walt Disney Corporation and the administration of Mayor Rudy Giuliani to gentrify the area, replacing these seedily memorable institutions with antiseptic, innocuous architectural and cultural creations in the name of health safety. But as Delany reveals in his new book, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue
, the decision to clean up Times Square had little to do with public health, and everything to do with corporate greed.
In the two essays that comprise this eloquent, provocative book, Delany grieves for the loss of this strip of sexual release. Though he is careful not to romanticize or sentimentalize the peep shows and porn theaters, he does illuminate the way in which these venues crossed class, racial, and sexual orientation lines, providing a delightfully subversive utopia--and a microcosm of New York life. In the first essay, "Times Square Blue," Delany details his shared erotic and conversational encounters with working-class and homeless men in the theaters (which primarily showed straight porn films) and the genuine friendships that resulted; these immensely personal reminiscences also provide a social history of late-20th-century Times Square. Drawing on historical and theoretical resources in the second essay, "Three, Two, One, Contact: Times Square Red," Delany next builds a thoughtful and passionate argument against the gentrification of the area and the classist, characterless direction in which he sees New York heading. Read together, the essays of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue are both heartfelt homage to a beloved city and lament for a quirky vitality increasingly phased out by encroaching capitalism. --Kera Bolonik
From Publishers Weekly
In a provocative and persuasively argued cri de coeur against New York City's gentrification and the redevelopment of Times Square in the name of "family values and safety," acclaimed science fiction writer Delany (Dhalgren, etc.) proves himself a dazzlingly eloquent and original social commentator. In the first of two radically distinct but related essays, Delany, an Amherst college professor and native of Manhattan, writes frankly about his gay sexual adventures in the peep shows, porno movie houses and bars of Times Square. This personal history is juxtaposed with a detailed record of how the city's red light zones have changed over the past 40 years. The companion essay movingly details Delany's sociological and anthropological observations of the men who live, work and socialize in the area, and extols the virtues of a society that not only tolerates but values a public sexual culture. Drawing upon a wide range of historical and theoretical materialsAthe history of the pornographic film, Jane Jacobs's Death and Life of Great American Cities and Supreme Court discussions about homosexual activityADelany makes the case that because urban areas like Times Square promote relationships across class boundaries, they are not a blight but foster an environment of safety, empathy and social coherence. In his most dramatic argument, Delany charges that, despite City Hall rhetoric, Times Square's "Disneyfication" is not about public morality, safety or health but simply serves corporate and private economic interests. This bracing and well-calibrated blend of journalism, personal history and cultural criticism will challenge readers of every persuasion. (July)
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