Monday, September 14, 2009

Censorship in America



From Wikipedia:
"[Anthony Comstock) was born in New Canaan, Connecticut. As a young man, he enlisted and fought for the Union in the American Civil War from 1863 to 1865 in Company H, 17th Connecticut Infantry. He served without incident, but objected to the profanity used by his fellow soldiers. Afterward he became an active worker in the Young Men's Christian Association in New York City.

In 1873 Comstock created the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an institution dedicated to supervising the morality of the public. Later that year, Comstock successfully influenced the United States Congress to pass the Comstock Law, which made illegal the delivery or transportation of both "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" material as well as any methods of, or information pertaining to, birth control."

This was the NYSSV's logo:

Make a note of what the guy on the right is doing.

"Comstock's ideas of what might be "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" were quite broad. During his time of greatest power, even some anatomy textbooks were prohibited from being sent to medical students by the United States Postal Service.

"Comstock is also known for his opposition to Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, and those associated with them. The men's journal The Days' Doings had popularized lewd images of the sisters for three years and was instructed by its editor (while Comstock was present) to stop producing images of "lewd character". Comstock also took legal action against the paper for advertising contraceptives. When the sisters published an expose of an adulterous affair between Reverend Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton, he had the sisters arrested under laws forbidding the use of the postal service to distribute 'obscene material'—specifically (and ironically) citing a mangled Biblical quote Comstock found obscene—though they were later acquitted of the charges.

Less fortunate was Ida Craddock, who committed suicide on the eve of reporting to Federal prison for distributing via the U.S. Mail various sexually explicit marriage manuals she had authored. Her final work was a lengthy public suicide note specifically condemning Comstock."

This ass-hole drove this woman to suicide. And you know what? He was proud of it!

"Through his various campaigns he destroyed 15 tons of books, 284,000 pounds of plates for printing 'objectionable' books, and nearly 4,000,000 pictures. Comstock boasted that he was responsible for 4,000 arrests and 15 suicides."

This isn't even the worst case of over-zealous censorship in America. The Hays Code pretty much neutered American film from the early 30s to the late 60s. The provision that couples had to sleep in separate beds wasn't a part of it, but the studios were so scared of repercussions that you hardly ever see a single bed in a mainstream film during this time, even when it doesn't make sense. Here's what the code did entail (From Wikipedia):

"The Production Code enumerated three "General Principles" as follows:

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.
2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

Specific restrictions were spelled out as "Particular Applications" of these principles:

* Nakedness and suggestive dances were prohibited.
* The ridicule of religion was forbidden, and ministers of religion were not to be represented as comic characters or villains.
* The depiction of illegal drug use was forbidden, as well as the use of liquor, "when not required by the plot or for proper characterization."
* Methods of crime (e.g. safe-cracking, arson, smuggling) were not to be explicitly presented.
* References to alleged sex perversion (such as homosexuality) and venereal disease were forbidden, as were depictions of childbirth.
* The language section banned various words and phrases that were considered to be offensive.
* Murder scenes had to be filmed in a way that would discourage imitations in real life, and brutal killings could not be shown in detail. "Revenge in modern times" was not to be justified.
* The sanctity of marriage and the home had to be upheld. "Pictures shall not imply that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing." Adultery and illicit sex, although recognized as sometimes necessary to the plot, could not be explicit or justified and were not supposed to be presented as an attractive option.
* Portrayals of miscegenation were forbidden.
* "Scenes of Passion" were not to be introduced when not essential to the plot. "Excessive and lustful kissing" was to be avoided, along with any other treatment that might "stimulate the lower and baser element."
* The flag of the United States was to be treated respectfully, and the people and history of other nations were to be presented "fairly."
* The treatment of "Vulgarity," defined as "low, disgusting, unpleasant, though not necessarily evil, subjects" must be "subject to the dictates of good taste." Capital punishment, "third-degree methods," cruelty to children and animals, prostitution and surgical operations were to be handled with similar sensitivity."

You have to keep in mind too, this wasn't government mandated. Pressured by religious groups and local censorship boards, the film industry put this thing in place and put people in charge to enforce it. The people in charge could change scripts they deemed "innapropriate" or "immoral" or pretty much whatever they didn't think was decent. I really can't wrap my brain around why this thing lasted so damn long. It couldn't have been popular with filmmakers. Was a rating system that hard to think up? Why did it take until almost the 1970s to create?

Then there's the horrible things that happened to the comic book industry in the 1950s that almost destroyed it completely.

And believe it or not, it's happening right now. Video games are a frequent target of moralists that hide behind the "it's bad for the children" excuse thats been used to gain popular opinion for censorship since the damn printing press was created. If we ever really want to be a free country and a free world, we need to speak out against bullshit like this.
Censorship is about control. If they can control what you read and hear, they can control what you think. People who don't think are not only easier to control, they're easier to sell to.
Coca-cola had to stop selling baby bottles with their logo because mothers were feeding their babies soda. That's a power that's almost scary.

Fuck censorship. Fuck it up it's uptight moralistic finger pointing asshole. And fuck the idiots that support it.
Free speech and free thinking are what make this country one of the greatest in the world. At least it could, if we could all get behind it.

3 comments:

dogimo said...

I'd say Hays was much less egregious than Comstock, because of exactly what you cite: they done it to themselves. Sure, the picture industry adopted to forestall their fear of imminent government regulation, but I'll take self-imposed over government imposed every day. The government has no business enforcing private codes of morality, and for me that makes Comstock a thousandfold more troubling.

Justin said...

This makes me so mad I can't even begin to tell you.

John-Michael Morgan said...

Anthony Comstock...more like Suckscock, amirite?

Or maybe "Cum-Sock" would've been better.