Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The history of censorship - the Comstock Act

An excerpt from: Can You Pass the Acid Test?: A History of the Drug and Sex Counterculture and Its Censorship in the 20th Century

The Comstock Act

History of the Early Underground Press
It’s hard to say when underground newspapers really got their start.
Author Laurence Leamer said the first underground newspaper actually
surfaced in 1690, the Public Occurrences. It was banned after one issue,
by Boston officials, for being too critical. Ben Franklin’s brother James
was thrown in prison for satirizing the local government with his New
England Currant. By 1892 there was an estimated 900 papers dominated
by the Populist movement. Between 1912 and 1913 many socialist papers
had begun to appear. From Girard, Kansas, there was Appeal to Reason.337
Some of these papers had huge circulations. The Halletsville Texas Rebel

had a circulation of 35,000.338
As with magazines, most of the cultural opposition to America’s
Puritanism came from anarchist-oriented papers such as Lucifer, the
Light-Bearer. It was a well-known newspaper published in Valley Falls,
Kansas, that advocated anarchy and free love (1880 to 1907).
The paper often had poems or editorials on its front page. Its attacks of
sexual codes were very similar to those made by the 1960s and 1970s
counterculture. An example of such writings was called “Survival of the
Fear of Sex”:
“The Censor has the support of the body of the people because, third
and particularly, the fact of sex is held to be a blunder of God or nature,
one or the other, as your sexphobist’s viewpoint is that of the Theist and
Christian, or the Rationalist.”
The censor he talked about concerned a court case used to try and shut
the paper down and imprison its publisher, under obscenity charges. The
article appeared in the Nov. 5, 1903, edition. Other comments in the
editorial include:
“The religious belief was that this world is merely a temporary
stopping-place in which we prepare for heaven or hell. Whatever distracts
our attention from our future home, one or the other place named, is bad
for our souls. If we are happy here we are likely to forget God and go to
hell. If we are miserable here we are likely to be reminded of God and go
to heaven. The fear of sex is about the only survival of it that is doing
business amongst us. It was said that not even ambition wealth and fame
were so apt to turn men’s thoughts from God and his saints and from the
devil and his never-dying worms as were sexual joy and domestic
Other articles typical of the paper include “Rulers Are Not
Originators,” by Thomas Henry Huckle, in that same issue. He states that
political reforms or improvements have never originated from leaders.
Just as the 1960s counterculture was concerned with the war in
Indochina, Lucifer also commented on foreign wars. On the front page of
one issue (Oct. 17, 1903), was a news brief that criticized English liberals
for wanting to go to war in Turkey on behalf of Christians living in

Early Censorship
Lucifer’s editor, Moses Harmon, was convicted of obscenity in the
federal courts in 1904. Lucifer was repeatedly held by postal
authorities.340 Much of this was the work of the “Comstock Act,” named
after a sexual moral crusader at the turn of the century.
Anthony Comstock was a Christian social activist who took it upon
himself to use censorship laws to suppress anything of a sexual nature. His
crusades caught the eye of the New York Young Men’s Christian
Association (YMCA). They gave him a salaried position. He not only
campaigned against pornography and sinful behavior, he lobbied for
federal and state anti-obscenity legislation. This led to the Comstock Act,
which gave an offender up to ten years imprisonment for mailing or
receiving “obscene, lewd or lascivious” printed and graphic material.341
Then, as now, there are those who attempted to use censorship to close
down newspapers. Although the reason for censorship was sexual
material, it spilled over into political and philosophy debates, just as it did
in the later part of the 20th century. Censorship laws have always tried to
protect the culture of the status quo.

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