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Mickey & the Peep Show | The Nation

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Mickey & the Peep Show

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In Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, Delany brings his sexual politics together with his class-based analysis of Times Square's recent past. The first half of the book is a somewhat fractured narrative written in October 1996, recounting his experiences in Times Square--particularly his sexual encounters in the adult theaters--over the past quarter-century. (He also talks to street hustlers, bartenders, a shoeshine man, a taxi dispatcher and a shish-kebab salesman about the changes they've seen in the neighborhood.) The second half, a mosaic of brief observations and metaphors, critiques the recent changes, particularly for threatening the interclass contact that the old Times Square long provided.

About the Author

Wayne Hoffman
Wayne Hoffman is co-editor of Policing Public Sex: Queer Politics and the Future of AIDS Activism (South End).

It all adds up to a powerful story about people (especially gay men) who don't see the changes as revitalization--people who are no longer welcome in Toon Town.

The ultimate mission of the New Times Square, Delany asserts, is not supporting theater, fighting crime or even improving the city's economic situation. It is primarily about developers--who stand to reap huge windfalls even if their buildings sit empty, as he explains in detail--"doing as much demolition and renovation as possible in the neighborhood, and as much construction work as they possibly can."

Rather than an honest moral or health crusade, the crackdown on sex is simply the means the city needs to clear land for development. But the process of creating the New Times Square, Delany explains, has destroyed more than buildings:

Because it has involved the major restructuring of the legal code relating to sex, and because it has been a first step not just toward the moving, but toward the obliteration of certain businesses and social practices, it has functioned as a massive and destructive intervention in the social fabric of a noncriminal group in the city--an intervention I for one deeply resent.

Delany started frequenting the theaters in Times Square in 1975, a time when the neighborhood's sex scene was already under attack. "Each new burst of interest in the area's renovation would be accompanied by a new wave of do-gooder rhetoric, and a theater or two would go," he remembers.

Indeed, adult businesses were being driven out long before Giuliani came to town. Although exact numbers and precise neighborhood boundaries differ from source to source, everyone agrees that Times Square's adult industry was in free fall for two decades. According to the New York Times, by the time Koch took office in 1978, the number of businesseshad already plunged to 115 from a high of 147 in 1975. Numbers continued to decline through the eighties. There were forty-seven in 1993--Giuliani took office in 1994--and by the end of 1996, before his zoning law even went into effect--the number had dropped to thirteen.

Part of this decline was the result of social conditions. Delany recalls "the 'Great Winnowing'" in the mid-eighties due to AIDS and crack. Delany's fellow travelers were increasingly addicted and homeless, and crime ran amok; many other customers stayed away out of fear. Most notably, he remembers, people were dying in droves. "One would have to be a moral imbecile to be in any way nostalgic for this situation," he writes.

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