Thursday, November 03, 2005

Lady Chatterley's Lover: 45 Years Later

I missed a milestone date yesterday, and surprisingly I was reminded by the usually vapid morning radio show. In their list of "things on this date in history" for November 2nd, they mentioned that in 1960 Penguin Books was found not guilty of obscenity in the UK for publishing the scandalous book Lady Chatterley's Lover, thanks to a new law that allowed books to be excused from the obscenity tag by demonstrating they had artistic or literary merit. Chatterley ran into trouble in the US, too: Grove Press published it, but copies were siezed as obscene by the postal service, under laws designed to prevent obscenity from passing through the mail. (Incidentally, this law is still on the books). With the help of an anti-censorship lawyer, the obscenity label was overturned here, too, paving the way for sexual content through the so-called 'sexual revolution.'

Now, before you frown and attribute this to the existence of Hustler and Barely Legal magazines -- this paved the way for sexual content, period. If you've read a novel that describes sexual activity in any way, you can thank Lady Chatterley and her ass-boinking servant. The freedom from obscenity-labelling allowed Judy Blume's Forever and The Color Purple by Alice Walker to be published. Mentioning a condom in a book (a contraceptive device, also frowned upon in the same US postal law), like in The Cheerleader, was inviting jail-time, but Chatterley gave these topics a way into the public discourse.

The Cheerleader, Forever, Portnoy's Complaint, Brave New World, and numerous other books of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, all planted the seeds of sexual understanding in today's adults -- including those people who wish to impose greater censorship on books. Let's hope they don't get their way, and sexual knowledge can continue to be available to those looking for it. There's not much sexually from the pre-Chatterley days (save the flapper days of the 20s) that the world needs to return to: oppresion of women, naiive recklessness, emotional repression...none of that's necessary, and being able to read about it helped bring us to today, where Dr. Ruth can talk about penises freely and a husband on Deperate Housewives can be into BDSM.

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