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How Pee-wee and his playhouse help us reimagine our relationships to technology

I Know You Are, but What Am I? explores the cultural legacy of Pee-wee Herman, the cult television star of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. This children’s show—that was also for adults—ran on network TV from 1986 to 1990 and starred comedian Paul Reubens as Herman, a queer man-boy whose playhouse, the set for the show, was tricked out with a profusion of animate computational toys and technologies.

Cait McKinney shows how three defining scenes from the show inform, and even foretell and challenge, our present moment: the playhouse as an alternative precursor to networked smart homes that foregrounds caring and ethical relationships between humans and technologies; a reparative retelling of Reubens’s career-wrecking 1991 arrest for indecent exposure inside a Florida adult film theater as part of an AIDS-phobic, antigay sting operation; and worn-out, Talking Pee-wee dolls and their broken afterlives on eBay and YouTube.

McKinney looks at how queer people who were children in the 1980s remember and relate to Pee-wee now, showing that the moral panic about sexuality, gender, and children from the past can help us refute anti-trans and anti-queer political movements organized today.

Table of Contents

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  1. Cover
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  1. Frontmatter
  2. pp. i-vi
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  1. Contents
  2. pp. vii-viii
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  1. Introduction
  2. pp. 1-16
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  1. 1. The Playhouse
  2. pp. 17-38
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  1. 2. The Porn House
  2. pp. 39-54
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  1. 3. The Voice Box
  2. pp. 55-72
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  1. A Refractive Conclusion on Broken, Worn-Out Things
  2. pp. 73-78
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  1. Acknowledgments
  2. p. 79
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  1. Forerunners: Ideas First
  2. pp. 80-82
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  1. Author Biography
  2. p. 83
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