It’s amazing how cultures evolve, especially when looking at how society has viewed “obscenity”. While freedictionary.com defines obscenity as, “the character or quality of being obscene; an act, utterance, or item tending to corrupt the public morals by its indecency or lewdness”, it’s broader than that.
One of the first short films banned was “Carmencita” (1894), a 21-second video of a woman dancing. Her skirt showed her ankles, and she occasionally tugged her skirt upwards. This was too innapropriate for viewers, and it was banned.
Nowadays, this is almost laughable. Obscenity has become less modest and unapologetic. From TV to film to photography, creatives integrate sexual obscenity and violence into their work. In some ways, we have become desensitized since the days of Carmencita’s dance.
When I hear the word “obscene”, I think back to the 2016 presidential election. Back in October 2016, the New York Times released the story liberals and Trump-opposers had been waiting for: a recording of Trump bragging about groping women. The language and content of the tape are obscene. If this recording doesn’t embody “lewdness”, I’m not sure what does.
It seemed the tape was shrugged off by Trump and those working for him, as some called it “locker room talk”. Obscenity then, has consequence depending on the setting. Some argue that Trump has a First Amendment right to say what he wants, and Emma Goldman believes “the free expression of the hopes and aspirations of a people is the greatest and only safety in a sane society.” (Lewis, Anthony. Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment (p. 106). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.)
If we’re meant to be build upon free expression, can we control obscenity at all?