Aesthetic histories of the stag film tend to place it in a straightforward lineage of pornographic imagery such that the film genre emerges more or less fully formed. Discursive histories, however, have noted that the term does not concretize in relation to the film form until approximately 1930. Yet this marks only the beginning of generic stability and thus overlooks the mechanisms of genrification that played out in America in the previous decades and that propelled the terminological transformation of “films for smoking concerts,” “club films,” and “blue” movies into “stags.” Approaching the films as new media in their historical moment and focusing specifically on exhibition contexts, this article places stag films in a multifaceted rather than a singular ancestry of visual culture, broadens the intertextual field of cinema beyond explicit representations of sex to trace the broader composition of male-dominated viewing traditions, and finally, argues that the genre becomes ultimately concentrated into the familiar gendered, alternative viewing spaces of stags as a function of both the increasing moral restrictions and the industrial reorganization of Hollywood cinema. Studying the films and genres on the margins, such as stags, helps us more precisely assess the shape of the center and the forces responsible for determining the boundaries between the two. Finally, this investigation of stags demonstrates the importance of the dispositive, or reception context, as a critical piece of generic development, one that is given little attention in the study of most other film genres.

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