Results: 20th Century rulings

The 1930s were a promising decade for publishing and a restrictive one for movies and radio. In the decades that followed, print media witnessed the publication of Hugh Hefner's Playboy (1953), Bob Guccione's Penthouse (on American soil in 1969) and Larry Flynt's Hustler (1972), which of course featured far more salacious imagery. Broadway saw nudity on stage in “Hair” in 1967. Pornography in the 1970s blossomed. This was not without backlash. Time magazine declared in 1965 that “[j]ust about anything is printable in the U.S. today. … [A]ll kinds of respectable hardcover books now contain subject matter and language that would have brought police raids only a few years ago” (Boyer 292). A poll conducted by Gallup found in 1969 that “85 percent of U.S. adults supported ‘stricter laws on pornography.'” In 1970 President Johnson appointed a Federal Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, which, after a two-year study, found that “‘empirical research has found no evidence to date that exposure to explicit sexual materials plays a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior among youth or adults' and that ‘established patterns of sexual behavior were found to be very stable and not altered substantially by exposure to erotica'” (Lewis 226). The findings were met with displeasure by political leaders.

All of these media were effected by the Supreme Court decisions of 1973 on five cases, handed down on June 21: Miller v. California , Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton , Kaplan v. California , United States v. 12 200-ft. Reels of Super 8mm Film and United States v. Orito . Chief Justice Burger laid out in Miller v. California that:

“The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest … (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law, and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” (Lewis 230).

Justice Burger threw out the previous “utterly without redeeming social value” clause that had been considered valid since the Fanny Hill ruling. Since that first obscenity case in December 1815, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Sharpless, the United States has struggled to label and regulate obscene material. Clearly interpretation of these laws have varied over time, and material that might have given Anthony Comstock a heart attack is not only permitted today, but it sells quite well. Publishers and producers argue with conviction that the First Amendment protects their rights to give voice to their creations, and the U.S. in numerous court cases, eventually has sided with them.