With the tangle of the Web, the notion of censorship is as relevant and challenging as it's ever been. The Guardian's
Alan Travis wraps discussion of free speech and child protection on the Net, the role of the Internet Watch Foundation, and a call for a comprehensive revision of the Obscene Publications Act, around an agile account of the history of its application. And it comes, naturally, in a brown paper cover. Opening with Ulysses
, banned after the DPP read just 42 of the 732 pages, with establishment outcry drowning out Molly Bloom's orgasmic ones, it proceeds via a now-classic progression of test cases--The Well of Loneliness
, Fanny Hill
, and virtually anything by DH Lawrence, but infamously Lady Chatterley's Lover
. A series of hapless double-barrelled Home Secretaries did their best to wreak havoc on literature they had not read, with perhaps the worst, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, a dour anti-Communist who also presided over ominously worthy organisations such as the Public Morality Council, using as a yardstick whether a work would bring a blush to the cheek of Little Nell. Today L'il Kim might be more appropriate, but the nanny state ruled in the nursery of public morality.
It was to grow up. The battles of the reforming Roy Jenkins against police corruption (the Met Commissioner laid down, as a smudged thumbnail, that if the ink came off in your hands, it was porn), the Lady Chatterley case, the needless severity of the sentences in the "Oz" trial, and the abolition of theatre censorship in 1968, all helped define abstract concepts such as obscenity and harm, while sending vulgarity back to the Blackpool postcards it had always graced. Fascinating when viewed alongside Michael Hames' The Dirty Squad, which shows the recent shift of police focus to child pornography, Alan Travis' fluid, wry journalism, the story of the growing pains of Britain as a sexual nation, successfully highlights when the law is an ass, while underlining the fundamental role it still has to play, alongside responsible self-regulation, in a global community lacking moral equilibrium. --David Vincent