Jul 212009

(image via SIU School of Law)

Given the promises made within the bold red circle on the cover, you can imagine our delight when we stumbled upon our parents’ copy of the unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, tucked way, way up high on the top shelf of their bookcase. And, if you happened to read the same tome as an eager youth, you can also appreciate our growing disappointment as we realized the book was a bit more, well, literary than some other titles found in their 1970s-era library.

All of that was possible thanks to a court decision made 50 years ago today–resulting from the efforts of Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset, who sued the US Postal Service for confiscating copies of the uncensored version of the novel, which had long been banned for its explicit descriptions of sex and liberal use of the f-word. As recounted in the New York Times, an attorney hired by Rosset, Charles Rembar, spotted a loophole in an earlier Supreme Court ruling and argued that while a work might be found obscene, it could at the same time present ideas of “redeeming social importance” – and qualify for First Amendment protections afterall.

Though obscenity battles continue on today, a ruling on July 21, 1959 in favor of Grove Press took away the Post Office’s absolute authority to impound and restrict such works. And paved the way for Lady Chatterley’s Lover to find its way to bookshelves throughout America, to be joined later by such subsequent Grove Press gems as the first US edition of The Story of O and “My Secret Life,” the purported erotic memoir of a Victorian gentleman, along with many less prurient offerings over the years.

Barney Rosset’s heroic skirmishes against censorship and the ups and downs of Grove Press are detailed in the recent documentary Obscene:

Apr 032008

>The fifteenth and final New York Underground Film Festival kicked off last night and continues through April 8th at Anthology Film Archives.

In a comprehensive profile on indieWire about the changing landscape of underground festivals in the US, organizers point to new distribution technologies that make many of the works they showcase more readily accessible – a consideration also looming for kinky film festivals, no doubt. But they also question the nebulous definition of the genre itself:

“What is ‘underground’ film anyway?” wondered Ed Halter, the former director of NYUFF and one of this year’s special curators. “The term ‘underground’ is problematic because most people are under the misconception that ‘underground, is synonymous with ‘shock’ cinema.”

In the comments to the article, filmmaker Ralph Ackerman puts the query in to some historical perspective:

I started making experimental films in 1963 and at that time we called it underground cinema because if we showed our films in the public we were always arrested for being obscene etc… Things are so mild now. Kenneth Anger with his trangressive films faced the coops (sic) often.”

With that, our best wishes to NYUFF organizers in their new venture, Migrating Forms – and just one of the NYUFF ’08 trailers, a retro-flavored, hair-pulling rendition commissioned from Peggy Ahwesh.

Mar 262008


Fox Television is standing firm (sorry) in the face of a $91,000 fine thrust (yep!) upon it by the Federal Communications Commission for a single episode of its reality series, Married by America.

Despite Fox’s argument that the material in question was not statutorily indecent, an FCC analyst maintained:
Even with Fox’s editing, the episode includes scenes in which partygoers lick whipped cream from strippers’ bodies in a sexually suggestive manner. Another scene features a man on all fours in his underwear as two female strippers playfully spank him. Although the episode electronically obscures any nudity, the sexual nature of the scenes is inescapable, as the strippers attempt to lure partygoers into sexually compromising situations.
(taken from Variety via Defamer)

While that might sound like the plot-line of your typical mid-season replacement sitcom – “the guys run amuck!” – the amount of the fine was originally $1.2 million, levied to include all 169 stations, at $7,000 each, airing the 2003 episode. That amount has since been reduced by the FCC so that only the 13 stations that ostensibly received complaints would be fined, but even that degree of outcry is suspect. Through just a bit of sleuthing, journalist Jeff Jarvis uncovered that the number of complaints was not 159, but merely 23. And of those, all but two were identical form letters, boiling down to three original complaints out of millions viewing.

Instead of paying the reduced amount, Fox will file a request that the FCC completely reconsider the fine. In another case currently pending Supreme Court review, Fox also successfully sued the agency over a new restriction on “fleeting” expletives.

The world watches. (Or pretends otherwise, but secretly Tivos.)

Jun 052007

>Sorta, especially if it’s in the form of a fleeting expletive. So said a federal appeals panel as it struck down Federal Communication Commission policies that had, in recent years, taken a tougher stance on so-called obscenties spoken on broadcast television and radio.

The challenge to the FCC indecency fines related specifically to utterances by such celebrity luminaries as Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie appearing on live awards broadcasts, generally involving variations on your basic “f-word” theme.

Reversing decades of a more lenient policy, the commission had found that the mere utterance of certain words implied that sexual or excretory acts were carried out and therefore violated the indecency rules.

But the judges said vulgar words are just as often used out of frustration or excitement, and not to convey any broader obscene meaning. “In recent times even the top leaders of our government have used variants of these expletives in a manner that no reasonable person would believe referenced sexual or excretory organs or activities.”

As we sit back and ponder what might constitute a “reasonable person,” we eagerly anticipate what ruling might soon come down on the matter of another celebrity’s fleeting, bare nipple.