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Lust on Trial: Censorship and the Rise of American Obscenity in the Age of Anthony Comstock by Amy Beth Werbel

Christine Schultz-Richert

Abstract


In her work, Lust on Trial: Censorship and the Rise of American Obscenity in the Age of Anthony Comstock, author Amy Werbel explores the unintended consequences of the forty-year vice suppression campaign of America’s first professional censor, Anthony Comstock. Equal parts a history of lust in art and a legal history of the cultural importance of the First Amendment, this work offers an inspiring tale of artist-, activist-, and attorney-led revolts against censorship, and underlines how the pursuit of moral and sexual control through prosecution is futile in the face of interminable cultural and technological change. Werbel points to the proliferation of lust and freedom of expression as evidence of Comstock’s ultimate failure to “purify” the nation of those materials that he deemed obscene. However, the most salient, underlying current of the story of Comstock is not perhaps the question of the efficacy of his mission, but instead the ways in which such efforts disproportionately silence the most vulnerable.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/jifp.v3i2-3.6783

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