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Nudity and Nonconsensual Viewing

The question of whether an artwork is offensive is now determined by the least generous interpretation of the most sensitive viewer.

· 10 min read
Nudity and Nonconsensual Viewing
Helmut Newton photograph censored with post-it notes in the window of a picture framers in Bermondsey, on 15th August 2019, in London, England. Getty

If the human body’s obscene, complain to the manufacturer, not me.
~Larry Flynt

A lifetime ago, Gore Vidal published two searing essays about sexual morality in the respective contexts of law and politics. Vidal lobbed his critical grenades from publications whose very existence was a testament to the efficacy of the First Amendment. In 1965, “Sex and the Law” appeared in the Partisan Review, a journal started by the Communist Party USA-affiliated John Reed Club. The hedonistic Playboy magazine, which printed “Sex is Politics” in 1979, aimed to undo mainstream mores. In these two essays, Vidal argued that sex, including pornography, was the “hottest of buttons” in politics, and that the prudery of “dead-letter laws,” then still on the books, was rooted in outdated religious prejudice. “When the Cromwells fell,” he wrote, “the disgruntled Puritans left England for Holland (not because they were persecuted for their religious beliefs but because they were forbidden to persecute others for their beliefs).” Once in North America, the Puritans fulfilled their goal of creating a “quasi-theocratic society,” the morality of which had distinctly Old Testament origins.

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