A peep show or peepshow is an exhibition of pictures, objects or people viewed through a small hole or magnifying glass. Though historically a peep show was a form of entertainment provided by wandering showmen, nowadays it more commonly refers a presentation of a sex show or pornographic film which is viewed through a viewing slot.
Peep shows, also known as peep box or raree show ("rarity show") can be traced back to early modern times (15th century in Europe, by Leon Battista Alberti) and are known in various cultures. A peep show could be a wooden box with a hole or several holes, containing a set of pictures which the show-man could set into a viewing position by pulling a corresponding string. The boxes were often decorated inside to resemble theatrical scenes. The show was accompanied by spoken recitation that explained or dramatized what was happening inside.
19th-century Chinese peep shows were known by many names including la yang p'ien ("pulling foreign picture cards"). Sometimes the showman would perform for a crowd with puppets or pictures outside the box and then charge people extra to look through the holes. In Ottoman Syria a form of peep show called sanduk al-ajayib ("wonder box") existed, which the storyteller carried on his back. The box had six holes through which people could see scenes backlit by a central candle. Sanduk al-ajayib stories were about contemporary figures and events, or showed scenes of heaven and hell. Other common subjects in peep shows throughout the world have been exotic views and animals, scenes of classical drama or masques, court ceremonies, surprise transformations (e.g., of an angel into a devil) and of course, lewd pictures.
Raree shows were precursors of toy theatres, with movable scenes and paper figurines, popular in the 19th century.
Peep shows have been used for erotic and pornographic pictures, such as What the Butler Saw, since before the turn of the twentieth century.
In contemporary use, a peep show is a piecewise presentation of pornographic films or a live sex show which is viewed through a viewing slot, which shuts after the time paid for has expired. The viewing slots can be operated by a money box device, or paid for at a counter.
For live peep shows, booths can surround a stage upon which usually a female performer performs a striptease and sexually-explicit poses. In Barcelona female performers at times also perform sexual intercourse with male performers on stage. In some cases, booths include paper towel dispensers, for customers who engage in masturbation. A customer and performer can mutually agree on a fee for a "private dance", which can take place in a peep show booth with a clear window and seating space for only one spectator.
Research on peep show establishments in California examined the hypothesis that neighborhoods surrounding sex businesses such as peep show establishments and X-rated movie stores have higher rates of crime. The researchers compared 911 calls in peep show and control neighborhoods in San Diego. Although peep show neighborhoods had approximately 16 percent more calls, the researchers concluded that the difference was not statistically significant. Other researchers reanalyzed the data and concluded that the difference was significant.
The Lusty Lady peep show in San Francisco, CA entered the news in 1997, when it became the first U.S. sex business to be unionized. In 2003 it was bought by the employees and became a worker cooperative.
- Thomas Weynants, "From the Rarekiek, 17th. & 18th. Century optical entertainment, to the birth of Television"
- * Mair, Victor H. Painting and Performance: Chines Picture Recitation and its Indian Genesis. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988.
- Jon Griffin Donlon, "Peep Shows," St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. According to Dr. Elliot Chiu, "At first, small booths with a seat, a lock, and a roll of paper towels were made available for individual viewing of 8 or 16 mm stag loops or for access to a usually circular 'stage' with living performers."
- Daniel Linz, Bryant Paul, and Mike Z. Yao, "Peep show establishments, police activity, public place, and time: A study of secondary effects in San Diego, California", The Journal of Sex Research, May 1, 2006.
- Richard McCleary and James W. Meeker, "Do peep shows 'cause' crime?", The Journal of Sex Research, May 1, 2006.
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- The Peep Show and Toy Theatre (many museum pieces)
- The Sunday Times Article about a sex workers co-op at Soho UK peep show, July 14, 1985