Not in Front of the Children

Not in Front of the Children: 'Indecency,' Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth

MARJORIE HEINS
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 2
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 442
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj1m3
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    Not in Front of the Children
    Book Description:

    FromHuckleberry FinntoHarry Potter, from Internet filters to the v-chip, censorship exercised on behalf of children and adolescents is often based on the assumption that they must be protected from "indecent" information that might harm their development-whether in art, in literature, or on a Web site. But where does this assumption come from, and is it true?InNot in Front of the Children, Marjorie Heins explores the fascinating history of "indecency" laws and other restrictions aimed at protecting youth. From Plato's argument for rigid censorship, through Victorian laws aimed at repressing libidinous thoughts, to contemporary battles over sex education in public schools and violence in the media, Heins guides us through what became, and remains, an ideological minefield. With fascinating examples drawn from around the globe, she suggests that the "harm to minors" argument rests on shaky foundations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4388-8
    Subjects: Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION TO THE 2007 EDITION
    (pp. xv-2)

    March 2007: A Connecticut high school principal has just cancelled the performance of a student-composed theater piece about the war in Iraq. The students had already rewritten the script in response to administration concerns, removing graphic violence and “some things that reflect poorly on the Bush administration.”¹ But the principal still disapproved.

    Barely a week before this story broke, the Supreme Court heard argument in a case involving a different sort of youthful expression. Alaska student Joseph Frederick had unfurled a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” on a public sidewalk across from his school one snowy day in 2002...

  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-14)

    In 1998, citing this famous passage from Plato’sRepublic, judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the legal claims of a high school drama teacher who had been punished for choosing a controversial play calledIndependencefor her advanced acting class. (The play addressed themes of divorce, homosexuality, and unwed pregnancy.) The judges ruled that school officials in North Carolina did not violate Margaret Boring’s right to academic freedom when they revoked her advanced acting assignment and exiled her to a middle school in response to complaints about the play.

    This reliance, by judges sworn to uphold the First...

  6. One “TO DEPRAVE AND CORRUPT”
    (pp. 15-36)

    The judges who quoted Plato’sRepublicin their 1998 ruling against the drama teacher Margaret Boring reflected a familiar and obviously ancient child-rearing philosophy. As one scholar observed not long ago, “the greatest part of contemporary criticism of television depends on a moral disapproval which is identical to Plato’s attack on epic and tragic poetry in the fourth century b.c.”¹

    The notion that young people need special protection from improper ideas was not a moral tenet of the ancient world, and in this sense Plato was a rebel. The ancient Greeks associated children with grossness and lewdness, not innocence.² Youngsters...

  7. Two MORE EMETIC THAN APHRODISIAC
    (pp. 37-59)

    The same year Judge Learned Hand wrote inUnited States v. Kennerleythat “the understanding and morality of the present time” rejected Victorian-era sexual repression, Dr. Sigmund Freud published an article describing the influence of his psychoanalytic theories of dream interpretation, childhood sexuality, and neurosis on virtually every facet of modern culture. Eight years earlier, Freud’s soon to be famousThree Essays on the Theory of Sexualityhad detailed “the universality and normality of infantile and childhood sexuality.” Another essay, “The Sexual Enlightenment of Children,” had labeled society’s usual reasons for keeping youngsters sexually ignorant “absurd.”¹ Freud’s “unblinking candor about...

  8. Three THE GREAT AND MYSTERIOUS MOTIVE FORCE IN HUMAN LIFE
    (pp. 60-88)

    Samuel Roth’s case was now headed for the Supreme Court, but two months before it was argued, the Court briefly and elegantly interred the century-old “deprave and corrupt” obscenity test ofRegina v. Hicklin. It was a bit of an anticlimax.

    The case ofButler v. Michiganinvolved a typical state obscenity law that criminalized any publication with a tendency “to incite minors to violent or depraved or immoral acts, manifestly tending to the corruption of the morals of youth.”¹ Alfred Butler was convicted in state court for selling “an admittedly serious” novel,²The Devil Rides Outside, to a police...

  9. Four POLICING THE AIRWAVES
    (pp. 89-108)

    On February 21, 1973, the host of the popularFemme Forumtalk show on radio station WGLD-FM in Illinois began a conversation with a caller:

    Q: OK, Jennifer. How do you keep your sex life alive?

    A: Well actually, I think it’s pretty important to keep yourself mentally stimulated … you think about how much fun you’re going to be having…. [I]f that doesn’t work there are different little things you can do.

    Q: Like?

    A: Well—like oral sex when you’re driving is a lot of fun—it takes the monotony out of things.

    Q: I can imagine.

    A:...

  10. Five THE REIGN OF DECENCY
    (pp. 109-136)

    The FCC had insisted that thePacificacase was narrow, involving only George Carlin’s provocatively repetitious riffs on the seven naughty words. And the agency was as good as its word, initially. In the first eight years after the Supreme Court’s decision, it focused its indecency rule on the taboo terms and little else.

    Barely two months afterPacifica, the Commission dismissed complaints against Boston’s public television station for airing segments fromMonty Python’s Flying Circusthat allegedly included “scatology, immodesty, vulgarity, nudity, profanity and sacrilege.” A ruling five years later exonerated a Pacifica announcer who had used several of...

  11. Six THE IDEOLOGICAL MINEFIELD: SEXUALITY EDUCATION
    (pp. 137-156)

    In 1999, a recent college graduate named Wendy Shalit publishedA Return to Modesty, a book lamenting her generation’s sexual freedom. Shalit argued that too many youngsters “know far too much too soon” about sex, and “as a result they end up, in some fundamental way,notknowing.”¹ Her variation on harm-to-minors ideology—the notion that sexual knowledge in itself is damaging—had received a more scholarly exposition in Rochelle Gurstein’sThe Repeal of Reticenceseveral years before. These authors contended that it somehow destroyed the mystery of sex for young people to learn explicit facts about contraception, reproduction, or...

  12. Seven INDECENCY LAW ON TRIAL: RENO V. ACLU
    (pp. 157-179)

    The same year that Congress made “abstinence unless married” official government policy, it also passed its biggest, most sweeping anti-indecency law. Among the many ironies of this 1996 Communications Decency Act, or CDA, was that the youngsters it was ostensibly passed to protect generally knew more about the Internet and how to explore its wonders than the politicians, mostly middle-aged or beyond, who had enacted it.

    The CDA applied the broad indecency standard that the Supreme Court had upheld for broadcasting inPacificato the new realm of cyberspace, with its vast archives of literature, information, video, music, and art;...

  13. Eight FILTERING FEVER
    (pp. 180-200)

    The Supreme Court’s stirring words inReno v. ACLUabout the expressive potential of the Internet were exhilarating to First Amendment aficionados but did little to alter the politics of child protection. Just days after the Court struck down the 1996 Communications Decency Act, the White House began to float alternative proposals for controlling cyberspace. The new emphasis was on Internet rating and filtering—software programs of the type the Court had referenced inRenoto suggest that “less burdensome alternatives” to the CDA were available to protect minors. Within the month, the White House convened a “summit” meeting to...

  14. Nine CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
    (pp. 201-227)

    In 1998, the Indian fundamentalist group Shiv Sena organized violent protests against the filmFire, the tale of a love affair between two women trapped in oppressive marriages. The film’s lesbian theme, ridicule of religious dogma, and portrayal of males as simultaneously tyrannical and ridiculous all contributed to the controversy. By December, Shiv Sena had succeeded in shutting down the film in Bombay, New Delhi, and other major cities, and the government’s Censor Board had agreed to reconsider its earlier certificate of approval. “Is it fair to show such things which are not part of Indian culture?” a Shiv Sena...

  15. Ten MEDIA EFFECTS
    (pp. 228-253)

    While European Union officials exude skepticism about the actual harm to minors from controversial expression, in the United States by the 1990s it was politically almost untenable to question the claim that media violence has been proven to have dire effects on youth. Yet from Dr. Tissot’sL’Onanismein the 18th century to campaigns against comic books in the 1950s and TV violence studies a generation later, those favoring censorship have invoked science to bolster their claims. Have the more quantitative studies of recent decades actually added any new knowledge to this endless debate?

    Part of the problem has been...

  16. CONCLUSION: “THE ETHICAL AND MORAL DEVELOPMENT OF YOUTH”
    (pp. 254-264)

    In September 1999, New York City’s mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, tried to close down an art exhibit entitledSensationat the Brooklyn Museum, a venerable institution supported largely with city funds. Among the works on display that the mayor considered “sick” and “disgusting” was the British artist Chris Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary,” a glittering African madonna with an exposed breast of dried elephant dung (a standard ingredient in Ofili paintings) and small photos of unattached female bottoms fluttering cherub-like in the background. As one of his reasons for withholding city funds and filing an eviction action against the museum after it...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 265-372)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 373-402)
  19. Illustrations
    (pp. None)