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The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York

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Obscene, libidinous, loathsome, lascivious. Those were just some of the ways critics described the nineteenth-century weeklies that covered and publicized New York City’s extensive sexual underworld. Publications like the Flash and the Whip—distinguished by a captivating brew of lowbrow humor and titillating gossip about prostitutes, theater denizens, and sporting events—w Obscene, libidinous, loathsome, lascivious. Those were just some of the ways critics described the nineteenth-century weeklies that covered and publicized New York City’s extensive sexual underworld. Publications like the Flash and the Whip—distinguished by a captivating brew of lowbrow humor and titillating gossip about prostitutes, theater denizens, and sporting events—were not the sort generally bound in leather for future reference, and despite their popularity with an enthusiastic readership, they quickly receded into almost complete obscurity. Recently, though, two sizable collections of these papers have resurfaced, and in The Flash Press three renowned scholars provide a landmark study of their significance as well as a wide selection of their ribald articles and illustrations.   Including short tales of urban life, editorials on prostitution, and moralizing rants against homosexuality, these selections epitomize a distinct form of urban journalism. Here, in addition to providing a thorough overview of this colorful reportage, its editors, and its audience, the authors examine nineteenth-century ideas of sexuality and freedom that mixed Tom Paine’s republicanism with elements of the Marquis de Sade’s sexual ideology. They also trace the evolution of censorship and obscenity law, showing how a string of legal battles ultimately led to the demise of the flash papers: editors were hauled into court, sentenced to jail for criminal obscenity and libel, and eventually pushed out of business. But not before they forever changed the debate over public sexuality and freedom of expression in America’s most important city.


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Obscene, libidinous, loathsome, lascivious. Those were just some of the ways critics described the nineteenth-century weeklies that covered and publicized New York City’s extensive sexual underworld. Publications like the Flash and the Whip—distinguished by a captivating brew of lowbrow humor and titillating gossip about prostitutes, theater denizens, and sporting events—w Obscene, libidinous, loathsome, lascivious. Those were just some of the ways critics described the nineteenth-century weeklies that covered and publicized New York City’s extensive sexual underworld. Publications like the Flash and the Whip—distinguished by a captivating brew of lowbrow humor and titillating gossip about prostitutes, theater denizens, and sporting events—were not the sort generally bound in leather for future reference, and despite their popularity with an enthusiastic readership, they quickly receded into almost complete obscurity. Recently, though, two sizable collections of these papers have resurfaced, and in The Flash Press three renowned scholars provide a landmark study of their significance as well as a wide selection of their ribald articles and illustrations.   Including short tales of urban life, editorials on prostitution, and moralizing rants against homosexuality, these selections epitomize a distinct form of urban journalism. Here, in addition to providing a thorough overview of this colorful reportage, its editors, and its audience, the authors examine nineteenth-century ideas of sexuality and freedom that mixed Tom Paine’s republicanism with elements of the Marquis de Sade’s sexual ideology. They also trace the evolution of censorship and obscenity law, showing how a string of legal battles ultimately led to the demise of the flash papers: editors were hauled into court, sentenced to jail for criminal obscenity and libel, and eventually pushed out of business. But not before they forever changed the debate over public sexuality and freedom of expression in America’s most important city.

30 review for The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Interesting, but too much plain-vanilla narrative and too many questionable judgments. This is a short study of four underground New York papers -- the Flash, the Whip, the Rake, and the Libertine -- that ran in New York City between 1841 and 1843. They were published primarily by William J. Snelling, George Washington Dixon, George Wilkes, George B. Wooldridge, and Thaddeus W. Meighan. The authors never really establish the larger significance of the sexual underground they describe here. They s Interesting, but too much plain-vanilla narrative and too many questionable judgments. This is a short study of four underground New York papers -- the Flash, the Whip, the Rake, and the Libertine -- that ran in New York City between 1841 and 1843. They were published primarily by William J. Snelling, George Washington Dixon, George Wilkes, George B. Wooldridge, and Thaddeus W. Meighan. The authors never really establish the larger significance of the sexual underground they describe here. They see the flash press's obscene-libel trials as precedent for the upholding of later obscenity laws, but they don't show an actual trail between the two. Also, they never really establish that anything was especially "republican" about the "libertine republicanism" they see in these papers, which is a curious and striking flaw.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Delilah Marvelle

    The best part of this book was the actual newspaper snippets themselves. Too many parts of this book were a bit dry for my taste, more like a dissertation from a college paper, but the information in it was priceless and well worth reading for that alone.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    The authors have managed to turn this subject into a dry dissertation. Perhaps too many cooks? Incredibly well-researched, an interesting topic, but the original materials are the best part of the book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Victory Wong

    I read about this in the village voice. It looks hilarious and interesting...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  6. 5 out of 5

    S.A. Collins

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mark Kozak

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Rhodes

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  10. 4 out of 5

    John Roberson

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stefani Koorey

  13. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

  14. 4 out of 5

    Arielle T.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  17. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Dominguez

  18. 5 out of 5

    Will Hickox

  19. 5 out of 5

    Whit

  20. 5 out of 5

    David

  21. 5 out of 5

    Boots

  22. 5 out of 5

    jackie

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  24. 5 out of 5

    Seán

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kristin E.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Earl Adams

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steph, The Academic-Errant

  28. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey Rose

  29. 5 out of 5

    Adam Shprintzen

  30. 4 out of 5

    Neil Meyer

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