Saturday, January 06, 2024

It Remains To Be Obscene...

 —Poetry by Michael Ceraolo, South Euclid, OH
—Books Courtesy of Public Domain 


Another war
Another attempt at censorship
Four days after the declaration of war
for the War of 1812,
Alexander Contee Hanson,
a member of the Maryland House of
and publisher of the Federal Republican
criticized the Madison administration,
the wrath of the mob,
ransacked the newspaper office
Hanson and allies defended the office
against mob censorship,
"a daring and desperate attempt
to intimidate and overawe
the minority,
                   to destroy
the freedom of speech and of press";
one mob member was killed in said defense

Hanson and his cohorts
surrendered the next day,
the mob stormed the jail:
one man was killed,
Hanson and ten others
were seriously wounded
Hanson recovered sufficiently
to take the seat in the U.S. House
to which he had been elected)

A mob member
(speaking for his time and all times):

"The laws of the land must sleep,
the laws of nature and reason must prevail"


The specter of federal censorship
had reared its ugly head once again,
after four years where they disregarded
their own rules of self-regulation,
the movie moguls made a bargain
with the Catholics of America,
as personified by Joseph Breen,
someone who would actually enforce
the Production Code:
"self-regulation", not censorship
"If Breen tells you to change a picture,
you do what he tells you"

"There is no room on the screen at any time
for pictures which offend
against common decency"
There are far too many examples
to list individually,
one which bears mentioning
was the refusal to countenance,
any attempt to depict
Hitler or Mussolini unfavorably,
preventing censorship abroad
(and protecting foreign markets)
by practicing censorship at home

"If the Production Code were law,
it would be plainly unconstitutional"


It could have been Sullivan
a century-and-a-half earlier:
a man named Clap or Clapp
(first name unavailable)
was convicted of criminal libel
for saying an auctioneer was
"a liar,
           a scoundrel,
                              a cheat,
and a swindler"
The Massachusetts court seemed ready
to overthrow the common law of libel:
"when any man shall consent to be
a candidate for a public office
conferred by the election of the people,
he must be considered as
putting his character in issue,
so far as it may respect his fitness
and qualifications for office"
"publications of the truth on this subject,
with the honest intention of informing the
are not a libel"
                       But they weaseled out:
the auctioneer had been appointed, not
and so was not a public official;
"the defendant cannot justify himself
for publishing a libel,
by proving the truth of the publication",
and the conviction was upheld


Once there was a Supreme Court Justice
whose idea of ethics was not
akin to the rules in a knife fight:
the just was acquainted with the author
and had discussed the work in question
with him,
so he recused himself

The justice was Felix Frankfurter

The author was Edmund Wilson

The work was Memoirs of Hecate County,
and it had been found obscene,
removed from bookstores and libraries,
and the publisher fined a thousand dollars

The Supreme Court vote on the case
was four-to-four,
in the Supreme game of justice
ties go to the lower-court ruling;
the book wasn't published in the U.S.
for another decade


Today’s LittleNip:

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

—George Orwell


—Medusa, with thanks to Michael Ceraolo for some more poems in his Free Speech Cantos series.
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