LaPorte, Indiana

As an editor and co-founder of Found and Dirty Found, Jason Bitner has made a career of sifting through the ephemera of our daily lives. He’s given us the chance to become voyeurs of the most mundane variety — and boy, do we fascinate in the grocery lists, love letters, and Post-It scrawls that turn up on the pages of his magazines. It was no small find, however, when Bitner stumbled across a forgotten archive of more than 18,000 portrait photographs depicting LaPorte, Indiana’s mid–20th century residents.

Gathered in this book are compellingly familiar photographs of young and old, the comely as well as the curious-looking. Page through and find the self-conscious teenager, the stiff newlyweds, the proud military man. Notice the startled stare of an infant, the bright and hopeful eyes of a young girl, the shaded mystery of a down-turned glance and the tenderness in the gesture of one elderly man adjusting the tie of his friend. Look into the faces of the heartland, into the eyes of the everyman and everywoman, and as Bitner says in the intro, find yourself.

Porno, Podcasts, and heavy metal

As Howard Stern begs listeners to tune into his new satellite radio show, porno podcaster, sex writer, and sex educator extraordinaire Violet Blue is just trying to make time for some welding. Blue has written more than 10 best-selling sex books, reviewed countless pornos, and lectures at universities and health centers nationwide.

After seven years of writing educational information and creating outreach programs for sex shop Good Vibrations, Blue decided to take her arsenal of sex knowledge to the next level. In 2004, she became one of the first women to launch her very own show via podcast, Open Source Sex. “You don’t need to be rich. You don’t need to be famous. Anyone can produce a show anywhere and it can become popular,” Blue says of the podcasting revolution. “I just have a laptop and a $19 microphone that I bought at Radio Shack, and I’ve gotten over a million hits.”

Blue’s show changes weekly yet consistently sticks to the topic of sex. Whether reading erotic stories on-air or giving listeners a lesson about threesomes, she guarantees accurate information and a cast free of gender stereotypes. Her penchant for putting on an unpredictable show each week keeps podcast lovers coming back for more.

Blue’s porno podcast is one of many sex-centered shows available, but she doesn’t feel threatened — she figures the more sex education, the better. “The more that’s out there, the more choices that people have,” Blue says. “There are definitely some podcasts out there where I’m like ‘Oh come on. Do you really have to say men are from Mars and women are from Venus and all that 1950s bullshit?’”

When she’s not writing books, teaching classes, recording a podcast, writing for, and freelancing for countless publications, Blue participates in a machine arts organization called Survival Research Laboratories. She welds together various machinery and takes part in the “most dangerous machine shows on earth” by creating movable and highly lethal machines.

Just the average life of a sex writer? “I have a big fear of getting bored easily,” Blue says.

Guess so.

Mag attack

Like many 13-year-olds, Raedy Ping had lots of freckles but didn’t think it was a problem until she made the mistake of picking up a teen girl’s magazine. “I saw this article about getting rid of your freckles,” she says. “And then I was self-conscious about them.”

Eleven years since Ping read that article, teen mags haven’t changed their tendencies to perpetuate negative self-images, Ping says. So the Chicago-based graduate student, along with a group of counterculture activists in Bloomington, Indiana, has decided to help them out.

What started as an Internet-based discussion in the summer of 2005 eventually became the Magazine Project. The nonprofit organization sends volunteers into bookstores and mass-market retailers like Target or Wal-Mart where they stuff magazines such as  CosmoGirl, Teen People, YM, and Seventeen with girl-positive alternative pamphlets, pictorials, or pages out of zines.

The materials used for stuffing includes a warning titled “Models On Pages May Be Uglier Than They Appear,” which states that computer artists airbrush acne and other flaws from models’ faces. “Most of the stuff we have so far is about body image and advertising,” Ping says, adding that many magazines are basically one huge ad. “We just started, and I’m not sure what we can get away with.”

The first stuffing took place in the Chicago metro area in November 2005 with 30 volunteers, and support has spread to Boston, some smaller U.S. cities, and Melbourne, Australia. Co-founder Ty Hendrickson, a 17-year-old male Chicago-area high school student, says exposure is the project’s primary goal, followed by an expansion of the concept to other titles and to mens’ magazines. He’s also working on a book that will teach boys to view women with respect.

Though Ping hasn’t received many responses from girls affected by the group’s messages, she hopes to increase awareness over the next year, especially in Small Town America. “I grew up in [rural] southern Indiana,” Ping says. “I wouldn’t have known that this counterculture existed if I hadn’t gotten a Bikini Kill record.”