Thursday, March 05, 2009

Chapter 7 The Rise of Moral Censorship

Great Transformations

Top Photo: Alexander Cockburn Lord Chief Justice
Left Photo caption: (Morality tale of the kept woman: Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience, 1853 (c) TATE LONDON)

As Americans we refer to Martin Luther King as a human rights icon. He stood for equal rights in the 1950’s. As I read chapter seven I found that in early 19th century the United States was ethnically diverse already. This diversity was one major impact on the “Great Transformations.” “American’s great transformation, however, followed a different pattern from Europe’s because of an additional dynamic overlaid upon industrialization and set in motion by a radical increase in ethnic diversity that affected nearly every aspect of American Society, including communications.” (Starr p.233) It wasn’t until the after the 1870’s that we received an increase in immigration. Previously immigration was strongly from Germany and the British isles. This dramatically changed to the greater increase of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. This increase was beneficial because it the new immigrants began to live in urban areas, which was important to our cultural life and voting process. African Americans who lived in the south also began to move to the northern and mid-western cities. The “Great Transformations” affected all industrial societies. With new people and diverse culture affected protest, reform, immigration restriction as well as culture and moral behavior. America and Europe’s media had many similarities, but it went in different directions of development. This was because of the differences in social conditions, key political and legal decision. One difference in development of modern communication was “the expansion of cheap popular newspapers in 1800’s.”(Starr P.234) European Countries had high taxes on press and low literacy rates, which held back this expansion.

The Rise of Moral Censorship

The word “pornography” in society today is usually referring to sex is some aspect. The actual definition is the obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, esp. those having little or no artistic merit. This was a one of the major influences on the “great transformation” in the United States. Obscenity was illegal but there wasn’t very much effort in removing or destroying it, until 1842 tariff law. “A band on the Import of indecent and obscene print, lithographs, engravings and transparencies.” (Starr P.236) It wasn’t until after the Civil War efforts to control obscenity in print increased and Federal as well as State laws became stricter. This influenced American’s private organizations that specialized in preventing obscene publications and other offensive items. This sent many people to prison and congress then approved the Post Office as a device for “censorship and moral regulation.” The United States was not alone; many other countries were having the same issues mainly linked to the rise of cheap print. Starr brings to our attention that the British were actually the ones that established the “cultural forms, organizational prototypes, and legal principles that moral reformers adopted in the United States.” (Starr P.237) It was known as Victorian morality; a distillation of the moral views of people living at the time of Queen Victoria. (reigned 1837 - 1901)* Before Victoria’s became queen in 1837, Brittan wanted greater prudery. In 1787 while King George III was in power he issues a “Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue, and for the Preventing and Punishing of Vice, Profaneness and Immorality.” These placed strict restrictions on obscene works. William Wilberforce approached politics from a position of strict Christian morality. He founded the Proclamation Society which plan was to control and improve public manners through church. But in 1802 The Society for the Suppression of Vice replaced it. The vice society began to prosecute the authors as well as the people that sold obscene publications. Agents were employed mainly by the elite to seek out vendors. This formed a semiofficial means of law enforcement. The groups were known to target the poor while ignoring the rich. It is said that the elite’s influence changed moral and cultural life. As time went on, the worry about obscenity influencing disorder among the lower class shifted toward “ the protection of that increasingly segregated and morally problematic section of the population.” (Starr P.239) In 1857 parliament adopted the Obscene Publications Act to help make the act more effective they authorized judges to issue search warrants on vendors selling obscene items. In 1868 there was a case, Regina v. Hicklin, where Alexander Cockburn who was Lord Chief Justice (the second-highest judge of the Courts of England and Wales.) Cockburn defined the test of obscenity as, “whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.” He also “declared the intention of an author irrelevant: “where a man publishes a work manifestly obscene, he must be taken to have had the intention which is implied from that act.”(Starr P.239) These principles were picked up by the United States. And eventually became a means of enforcing purity and decency in literature. During the antebellum era the people objected free speech grounds, and the federal involvement in censorship of the mail. As John Calhoun expresses the federal government should stay out of the mail and leave it to the states. During and after the Civil War the federal power grew, this led to new authority for the Post Office. In 1865 soldiers were receiving an increasing number of obscene books and pictures. Congress then enforced that the sender of obscene materials would be prosecuted, and could receive up to one year in prison. Americans eventually requested the same solution that Britain used, “privately sponsored law enforcement.” The problem was the founders and directors of similar organizations that wanted to impose moral regulations, were mainly wealthy men that privately controlled the belief that public enforcement was unreliable. Soon became the COMSTOCK ACT in 1873. The act prohibited the dissemination of any "article of an immoral nature, or any drug or medicine, or any article for the prevention of contraception or procuring of abortion" through the U.S. mail or across state lines. The purpose of the act was to delete references of contraceptive devices, forbid the use of the mail to distribute obscene material and anything "which is advertised or described in a manner calculated to lead another to use or apply it for producing abortion...." The act was a major influence in many cases; it pushed the boundaries of the First amendment.


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