It's almost the end of banned books week, and I haven't posted anything about it. Must fix that . . .
Several landmark court cases have paved the way for artists to be able to explore the full range of verbal expression without fear of being prosecuted for indecency or obscenity. One of the most important was a ruling that Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" was not, in fact "obscene" or "indecent" under the law, a ruling which was handed down in California 50 years ago yesterday.
The presiding judge in the case wrote in his opinion: “Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemism?” Indeed.
So, all of you who support David Levithan and Rachel Cohn's right to explore every conceivable usage of the word "fuck" or Ellen Wittlinger's right to write frankly about oral sex or Brian Mandabach's right to explore just how screwed up American schools can be, say thank you to Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Howl's original publisher. They fought the good fight.
You can listen to Howl, read by Allen Ginsberg, and a whole host of interviews and feature on the story here. You'll also discover how much the ruling has been eroded in practice, especially on broadcast media, in the past decades--a very disturbing development.