Number 10 Night Editor: Stuart Gannes
September 28, 1969
Obscene literature is wanton, depraved,
nauseating, despicable, demoralizing, de-
structive and capable of poisoning any
mind at any age..
Obscenity menaces the whole society,
and all who care about the survival of the
nation, and indeed civilization, should be
concerned about it.
-Chicago Police Department
THEN PAGAN Israelites recently delivered
from wracking bondage in Egypt revelled
and made love around the Golden Calf, their
God-fearing brethren smote them for the sin
Now, in the 20th century, Americans simply
imprison people for it.
Obscenity has aroused the entire nation-
obsessed it even before the "hippy" culture
first started worshipping natural sex in the
early 60's. Mothers for a Moral America' write
Congressmen about. obscenity, and massive
Rallies for Decency inspire the wholesome
young to fight it.
Since last spring a special squad in the Jus-
tice Department has tried to root out obscenity
from the American cultural soil-and local
courts and police prosecute people who sell it.
These anti-obscenity crusaders, like Chi-
cago's police, are out literally to save the
world-from pictures and words of sex that
may poison and corrupt, goading the populace,
especially the young, into perversion and gro-
tesque crimes against humanity.
Whether these crusaders win could deter-
mine the future freedom of speech and the
press from government sanction, and the
mental health or sickness of the entire nation.
But the problem is, while plenty of Ameri-
cans are fighting obscenity, none of them even
know what it is-not the judges, not the law-
yers, not the angry men and women in the
streets, "I can't describe obscenity," says Su-
preme Court Justice Potter Stewart. "But I
know it when I see it."
A PLETHORA of Michigan statutes and local
ordinances prohibit the sale or distribu-
tion of "any obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy
or indecent sadistic or masochistic book, mag-
azine, pamphlet, or newspaper" on penalty of
one year in jail and $1000 fine. Cursing on the
streets gets the same kind of penalty (or, as a
Detroit man found out last spring, so does
penciling "fuck" on a 15 cent kite).
But when the law prosecutes obscenity, it
must be more specific. Is a picture of a naked
girl in a science book obscene? A shot of a
couple making love in a compilation of photo-
graphs? Or a drawing of a man holding a
THROUGHOUT the 250 years of muddled
prosecutions and incarcerations since the
Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans first out-
lawed "any filty, obscene or prophane song"
in 1711, no one stopped and tried to answer
these questions. Not until 1966, in the famous
Fanny Hill case, when the Supreme Court
finally set down the iron test for deciding
whether material is obscene.
Obscenity, said the court, means:
e the dominant theme taken as a whole ap-
peals to a prurient interest in sex:
* the material is patently offensive, "af-
fronting contemporary community standards";
9 the motori, is i'z idt'hiv viti-m, -,
A short discussion of obscenity in society,
or, censorship as a way of anti-life
whose definition the Supreme Court embraces,
material having a tendency to excite lust-
ful thoughts . . . itching; longing; un-
easy w i t h desire or longing; of persons
having itching, morbid, or lascivious long-
ings; of desire, curiosity, or propensity,
So sexual arousal is the first test. But what
arouses one person does not necessarily arouse
"'Pornographic' pictures are most often
arousing to someone who is sexually frustrat-
ed," observes Frithjof Bergmann, University
professor of philosophy, "not to someone who
leads a normal, satisfying sexual life.
"If one judge gets sweaty from r e a d i n g
something ,it shows more that he's frustrated
and unhealthy in human relationships than
that the material is 'obscene.' "
Judging material "prurient," consequently,
is judging no one but yourself. Who decides in
court whether the material has aroused - the
aging judge, or the bachelor lawyer, the di-
vorced juror or the defendant himself?
"W h o is capable of assessing 'community
standards' on such a subject?" asks Justice
Hugo Black. "Could one expect the same appli-
cation of standards by jurors in Mississippi as
in New York City, in Vermont as in Californ-
And even within one small town, the com-
munities are diverse. It is not possible to ex-
tract a single sum of all the differing
and contradicting values and opinions and call
it the community standard .
Standards among middle class adults, for
example, might condemn material which stu-
dents take in stride - and what the black
neighborhood accepts t h e white community
So, "the guilt or innocence of a defendant
charged with obscenity must depend in the fi-
nal analysis upon the personal judgment and
attitudes of particular individuals and t h e
place where the trial was h e 1 d," concluded
This means, in short, unequal application of
the 1 a w - or a violation of Constitutional
" .. .utterly without social
"If we are to have a free society as contem-
plated by the Bill of Rights," argues Black, it
would be horrifying to leave "the liberty of
American individuals subject to the judgment
of a judge or jury as to whether material that
provokes thought or stimulates desire is 'ut-
terly without social redeeming value.'"
This-test, warns the Justice, "is a dangerous
technique for government to utilize in determ-
ining whether a man stays in or out of the
retribution by the government, as the Con-
stitution promises -- or he cannot.
In the Roth case of 1957, the Supreme Court
ruled one cannot, by limiting just what kinds
of speech Americans are free to make. "All
ideas having even the slightest redeeming so-
cial importance . . . have the full protection
of the (Constitutional) guarantees," declared
Justice Thomas Brennan. Added Brennan:
"obscenity is not within the area of consti-
tutionally protected speech or press."
Question 1: Do Americans wish to make such
a stupendous sacrifice of their rights?
Question 2: What is obscenity?
THE HUMAN BODY has failed historically to
muster much social respect - although it
occupies much of our lives. Men have chained
the body, mutilated it and obliterated it - and
passed laws against it. Procreation in marriage
has been acceptable, but society has seldom
condoned physical pleasure for pleasure's sake.
People just don't believe they should see or
use their own bodies. That's why painters por-
trayed the Son of God wearing a loincloth on
the cross to hide his penis.
The imperative for this self-degradation is
something no one completely understands, but
it has its roots in the established church which
revered the soul and spirit, and decried the
body as a carnal prison which death and sal-
vation would ultimately cast off.
Industrial societies absorbed the same con-
cept, and added more practical reasons f o r
suppressing the body: people who spent their
time enjoying their bodies spent less time pro-
ducing in the factories.
THIS IS WHERE history h a s brought the
United States today: to a society which
makes physical exposure a crime except be-
hind locked doors, a n d which forbids words
and pictures and s p e e c h -- all symbols --
which arouse sexual thought.
And it is a society, say psychiatrists, which
makes many of its citizens sick.
"The sickest patients a psychiatrist sees -
adults and children - are those who h a v e
been stringently conditioned by the society to
suppress from their minds a comfortable
awareness of sex and their bodies," says Dr.
Donald Holmes, one of the nation's foremost
adolescent psychiatrists. "They d e n y them-
selves t h e natural pleasures to which their
biological inheritance entitles them."
American culture, says Holmes, "unteaches
kids there is such a thing as the body." The
job of psychotherapy is precisely to help them
"unburden themselves of the sickening b u t
undeserved sense of guilt and the crippling an-
xieties" they feel about sex.
Can anyone doubt what Holmes is, tallying
about? They remember fearing to ask teachers
and parents questions about sex, giggling when
a girl's slip was showing; they remember'the
tight knot which clenched in their chests at
the words "penis" and "vagina": and the so-
And that, say psychiatrists, is exactly why
the society has "pornography" and "obscen-
ity." Deprived of free physical contact, guilt
ridden about sex, and horribly frustrated sex-
ually, people must seek relief in cheap picture
magazines, graphic verbal descriptions a n d
grubby peep-show joints - all merely paper
symbols of the real thing.
Here the society makes another crucial mis-
take, argues Holmes: rather than permit peo-
ple the secondary relief of reading about sex
after suppressing sex itself, the government
T HE TRAGIC irony is, all the usual justifi-
cations for suppressing "pornography" -
corruption of the mind, sexual perversion, in-
citement to sexual crimes - have no scientific
basis whatsoever. No tests anywhere have ev-
er proven them.
But there are overwhelming refutations:
* Eighty-four per cent of mental health pro-
fessionals in a recent national poll said per-
sons exposed to "pornography" are no more
likely to commit violence, rape or other anti-
social behavior than persons not exposed.
" In Denmark, where pornography has been
legalized, sexual crimes have not increased -
they have dropped markedly.
England may follow Denmark's lead, if
Parliament listens to a top level committee of
judges, lawyers, psychiatrists and artists who
urged this summer that obscenity 1 a w s be
"The so-called permissive society may have
its casualties," reported the committee, "the
repressed society almost certainly has a
great deal more.
"Repressed sexuality can be toxic both to the
individual and to society.
"'Repressionp(of obscenity) ,"'the panel con-
cluded, "can deprave and corrupt."
In the ideal society which does not foster
sexual guilt but promotes a healthy, natural
respect for the body and all its functions, the
need for pornography would probably dissap-
But until then, psychiatrists 1 i k e Holmes
urge that exposure to what we call pornog-
raphy not only doesn't harm us, but is actual-
ly educational and even essential for mental
"Reading pornography increases the infor-
mation one can draw from in actual decision-
making," Holmes argues. "The person who has
the fullest and most accurate fund of infor-
mation at his disposal is in the best of posi-
tions to determine his own behavior most ra-
SINCE THE Fanny Hill decision, most higher
courts have, in a de facto way at least, rec-
ognized t h a t the government cannot easily
stop adults from reading "obscene material'-
simply because the three-point test is so vag-
ue thnt it's almnt imnossible to nrnve anv-
applied with children especially in mind. So:
does the material appeal to the prurient inter-
est of minors? Is it utterly without social re-
deeming value for minors? And is it patently
offensive to contemporary adult community
standards for minors?
Chances are good that the answer for min-
ors will be 'yes' in the eyes of most courts.
The philosophy behind this law is, while a
mature adult can consider a "pornographic"
magazine rationally, a child does not have the
armor of experience or knowledge necessary
to protect himself from corruption. Defense-
less, the child will become obsessed early with
sexual fantasies and end up raping women.
If innocence means not knowing about sex
and the body, then most kids start losing it
"the minute they walk out their front door,"
says an adolescent psychiatrist at University
Hospital. And if they don't, children become
obsessed with the same ignorance and guilt
the psychiatrists say make us sick.
MANY ADULTS would be surprised if they
knew how much children already know in
elementary school -- and without being per-
Peter and his friend Danny, who are in sixth
grade both read the White Panther and Argus
papers -- currently being prosecuted u n d e r
state obscenity laws - but not too often.
"They're boring," complains Danny, who un-
derstands sexual intercourse and uses words
like "penis" without hesitating.
Peter and Danny both see gross inconsisten-
cies in what the society teaches t h e m and
what it lets them do. "Our teachers keep talk-
ing about free speech," says Danny, "but we
don't have free speech - we can't say any-
thing we want.
"If you curse in front of a teacher you'll get
kicked out of school," he complains - or con-
Some educators and child specialists argue
that exposing children to so-called obscene
materials has no ill effect, but indeed helps
them-just as it may help adults.
"The best way to develop judgment in child-
ren is by exposing them to different views of
the world," says David Aberdeen, principal of
the Thurston elementary school. And world
views include the views expressed in "obscene"
Why not wait to expose the child until he is
at least a teenager? Answers Holmes: "Even
primary school is a little late to reverse our
widespread social policy of telling lies to child-
ren, and of teaching them how to pretend, fal-
sify and wear masks."
MERICAN SOCIETY is still telling lies to its
children and imposing masks on everyone.
Why does the government crack down on
some forms of sexual arousal - and yet en-
courage a multi-billion dollar industry on
Madison Avenue which uses sex to peddle ev-
erything from cigarettes to automobiles?
It is the denials of life which people like
Bergmann and Holmes find obscene: the de-
ceptions of mass advertising, the obscenities
of disease, poverty and warfare.
WHAT IS ALSO obscene, others argue, is the
obscenity laws themselves: for they are a
vicious patchwork of vague definitions, de-
nials of constitutional freedoms, and false psy-
chnlopien enncents which fail tn imnrnv the