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While cheap "nudie" movies are branching out into torture and lesbianism in a desperate attempt to keep a few steps below Hollywood, the far-out new wave in New York and San Francisco is also creating a cinema of sorts; such "underground" films as Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures and Andy Warhol's Couch feature transvestite orgies with masturbation and other frillsalthough they seem even more concerned with an almost narcotic attack on the concept of time, since most of them are interminable.
After a visit to the U.S., Malcolm Muggeridge, onetime editor of Punch, complained: "I'd have joined a Trappist order rather than take more. All those ghastly novelssex is an obsession with the Americans." Besides, adds Muggeridge, "if the purpose of pornography is to excite sexual desire, it is unnecessary for the young, inconvenient for the middleaged, and unseemly for the old."
Retreat of Censorship
Unnecessary or unseemly, or just unpleasant, what young and old may now read or see is part of the anti-Puritan revolution in American morals.
The Greek term pornographos, meaning literally "the writing of harlots," has always been relative and subjective. As D. H. Lawrence put it, "What is pornography to one man is the laughter of genius to another." Until the 1930s, U.S. courts generally followed a celebrated 1868 ruling of Britain's Lord Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn, whose test for obscenityused more or less interchangeably with pornographywas the effect any material might have on a hypothetical schoolgirl, or its tendency to "deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences." This ruling, which bedeviled and outraged the literary world for some 65 years, ignored the overall literary or educational merit of a book for the adult reader.
The schoolgirl test began to crumble in 1933 with the famed ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, which held that James Joyce's Ulysses was not obscene despite its impudent pudendicity and ovablastic genitories since the "proper test" is a book's "dominant effect." In 1957, in decisions that upheld the conviction of two mail-order pornography dealers, the U.S. Supreme Court finally defined its own views on the matter. First, it flatly denied the smut peddlers' contention that the 1st and 14th Amendments guaranteeing freedom of speech and press gave them a right to sell obscene material. Second, the court held that the Constitution does guarantee freedom for ideas "having even the slightest redeeming social importanceunorthodox ideas, controversial ideas, even ideas hateful to the prevailing climate of opinion." The court defined obscenity as material "utterly without redeeming social importance," and set up as its test "whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest."