Censoring Sex: A Historical Journey Through American Media

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9780742551312: Censoring Sex: A Historical Journey Through American Media

In this gracefully written, accessible and entertaining volume, John Semonche surveys censorship for reasons of sex from the nineteenth century up to the present. He covers the various forms of American media―books and periodicals, pictorial art, motion pictures, music and dance, and radio, television, and the Internet. The tale is varied and interesting, replete with a stock of colorful characters such as Anthony Comstock, Mae West, Theodore Dreiser, Marcel Duchamp, Opie and Anthony, Judy Blume, Jerry Falwell, Alfred Kinsey, Hugh Hefner, and the Guerilla Girls. Covering the history of censorship of sexual ideas and images is one way of telling the story of modern America, and Semonche tells that tale with insight and flair. Despite the varieties of censorship, running from self-censorship to government bans, a common story is told. Censorship, whether undertaken to ward off government regulation, to help preserve the social order, or to protect the weak and vulnerable, proceeds on the assumption that the censor knows best and that limiting the choices of media consumers is justified. At various times all of the following groups were perceived as needing protection from sexually explicit materials: children, women, the lower classes, and foreigners. As social and political conditions changed, however, the simple fact that someone was a woman or a day laborer did not support stereotyping that person as weak or impressionable. What would remain as the only acceptable rationale for censorship of sexual materials was the protection of children and unconsenting adults. For each mode of media, Semonche explains via abundant examples how and why censorship took place in America. Censoring Sex also traces the story of how the cultural territory contested by those advocating and opposing censorship has diminished over the course of the last two centuries. Yet, Semonche argues, the censorship of sexual materials that continues in the United States poses a challenge to the free speech that is part of the foundation upon which the nation is built. Indeed, in an era in which sexual images are pervasive and the need for reliable information about sex and sexuality is growing, he questions the remaining rationales for censorship and the justification for placing obscenity outside the protection of the U. S. Constitution.

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About the Author:

John E. Semonche is professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. An authority on American constitutional and legal history, he is the author of numerous articles and books, including Keeping the Faith: A Cultural History of the U.S. Supreme Court and Religion and Constitutional Government in the United States.

Review:

[A]n engaging scholarly study as well as something of a witty rejoinder to those who would seek to impose their own personal values on the creativity of others. The combination of accessible writing and solid research make it equally useful for intellectual pursuits and weekend reading. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. (Library Journal)

Fascinating and eminently readable, Censoring Sex traces the paradoxical history of America's simultaneous obsession with, and fear of, that 'great and mysterious motive force in human life'―human sexuality. (Marjorie Heins, author of Not in Front of the Children: Indecency, Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth)

By revisiting large and small instances of censorship, Semonche's history finds new levels of detail in cases that are usually glossed over. Moral concerns over representations of sexuality and gender shaped the evolution of American media, and Censoring Sex traces them with both care and flair. (Joseph W. Slade, Director of Graduate Studies University of Ohio-Athens, and author of Pornography in America: A Reference Handbook)

Semonche's book, with its many stories and succinct discussion of court cases, besides being an important and highly readable history of sex and censorship, is a must for anyone interested in free speech and the First Amendment. (Durham Sun-Herald)

Historian Semonche takes readers on a fascinating trip....Recommended. (CHOICE, May 2008)

Censoring Sex is a wide-ranging survey of the struggle between contrary needs of human expression. While we must talk about sex we also are compelled to condemn sex as dirty, harmful to children, and unworthy of representation in art, literature, or film. The specific controversies presented in this book, deftly integrated in the overarching story of changing First Amendment law, are as informative as they are entertaining. The lines of permissibility we draw today are undoubtedly more liberal than in the 19th century and new technologies have made small town community values a thing of the past. However, as Semonche so clearly shows, the terms of the debate over sexual representation persist almost unchanged. For readers who think that it is perhaps time for a fresh view, Censoring Sex will be an informative read. (Svetlana Mintcheva, Director of the Arts Program at the National Coalition Against Censorship and editor of Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threa)

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Book Description ROWMAN LITTLEFIELD, United States, 2007. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In this gracefully written, accessible and entertaining volume, John Semonche surveys censorship for reasons of sex from the nineteenth century up until the present. He covers the various forms of American media-books and periodicals, pictorial art, motion pictures, music and dance, and radio, television, and the Internet. Despite the varieties of censorship, running from self-censorship to government bans, a common story is told. In each of the areas, Semonche explains via abundant examples how and why censorship took place. He also details how the cultural territory contested by those advocating and opposing censorship diminished over the course of the last two centuries. Bookseller Inventory # ANB9780742551312

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