Nude Bodies and Censorship and Censored Nudity

| December 31, 2012 | 18 Comments

Censorship Of Nudity – The Story Of Censored Nude Bodies

Nudity, Nude Bodies And Censorship:

Nude Bodies and Censorship Issues: Before we try to understand Nudity and Censorship, we must first understand the basic foundation used by censors today as guidance. So with that in mind, I will start off by listing the terms that censors use as justification for deciding what should be censored and what would be considered “safe” or “public worthy.”

The use of these terms in this article will be based on their legal definitions, listed at the end for your reference. Click on any term below to jump to its definition.

Censorship of Nude Bodies - Performers Of Oh! Calcutta! by YNA

Censorship of Nude Bodies In America – Performers Of Oh! Calcutta!

The key terms that will be referred to are:

  1. Censor
  2. Censorship
  3. Nudity
  4. Osbcenity
  5. Lewd
  6. Pornography
  7. Erotic
  8. Sexual

So now that we have listed and defined the basic terms, let’s explore the issue of censorship and how it pertains to nudity and the naked human form.

The Issue Of Nudity and Censorship and Censoring Of Nude Bodies

Is Nudity A Crime! Issues with the censoring of nude bodies by YNA

Is Nudity A Crime! Issues with the censoring of nude bodies!

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is the guideline used by the legal system, in the U.S., for freedom of speech. This is where we will begin:

The First Amendment to the Bill of Rights:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Some might argue that today in the U.S., the issue of censorship has been spinning out of control. Mainstream Broadway shows, TV shows, art, books, articles, websites and many more have been forced to change or cut out parts in order to abide by the censorship standards set forth by the powers that be. For the most part, the reasons given for censoring materials vary but in its essence, it usually has to do with the morals and ethics set forth by the country and its courts (in a democratic society).

Not all censored information would be considered controversial. There are many instances where censorship is used by government agencies as a vital part of national security. They do not tell the public what they are doing because it could compromise their ability to carry out a mission, thus putting innocent people’s lives at risk. (An example of this would be if the FBI got wind of terror cell’s intent to carry out an attack. By broadcasting intent to apprehend the terror cell’s members, they run the risk that those terrorists will simply run away before they get caught).

But not all cases are so cut and dry as is the case with artistic or “simple” and / or “innocent” nudity. To understand why nudity is censored today we must first understand when it began. The naked human form was not always seen as a threat. The ancient Greeks and Romans had no issue with nudity, hence the many nude figures depicted in their various forms of art. Both empires created statues and art depicting the naked human form in a celebratory manner, with many of the nude figures standing tall and proud. They obviously did not have an issue with public or social nudity since the original Olympic Games were conducted (by men) in the nude, and the people who frequented the public bath houses were all nude. Bath houses were a meeting place for social interaction and some of them were even unisex, as was the case with the bath houses that were unearthed in Bet Shean Israel.

The Origins of Censoring Nude Bodies

So one might wonder, when did everything change and why? Well, the first methodical attempt of censoring the unclothed human form occurred with the rise of Christianity and the Catholic Church. Once Christianity became an established religion we see a dramatic shift in attitudes towards the naked human body. The Church’s perception of nudity and the naked human body changed the nude figure in art from a positive image to one of shame. Once the Church began viewing sexuality as a primal sin, the artistic representation of nudity began to change as well. The nude artwork that was produced during the medieval time period began depicting nude figures that were guilt-ridden or even worse – forever damned.

Hans Memling Last Judgment

Hans Memling’s The Last Judgment

It’s important to note that the risk of “eternal damnation”, for true believers, can be a powerful motivator and will inevitably become a driving force that fuels the crusades of people who seek to implement ideals based on religious beliefs.

During the early Middle Ages, the Catholic Church tried to control the depiction of nudity and the human form. Under the guidelines set forth by the church, nudity in art was only to be allowed when depicting classical mythological themes, but not allowed when depicting religious or simply random ones. The church’s efforts to suppress and censor the portrayal of nudity were extremely successful and their policies were the law of the land for many years to come. In fact, it was not until the Renaissance that we start to see a shift back towards a more accepting and positive depiction of nakedness and a revival of the classic, more accepting view of the naked body.

The Renaissance ushered in a “new age.” Works of art such as Michaelangelo’s “David” and Raphael’s “The Three Graces” began to challenge the notion that the naked human body should be synonymous with shame. Their works depict naked people in a glorified manner, devoid of negative connotation.

Michelangelo David

Michelangelo’s David

Subsequent pieces continued this trend of celebrating the human form but as the decades passed, things did not get easier for artists whose work dealt with the sensitive topic of nudity.

Nude Bodies Of The Three Graces by raphael

Nude Bodies by Raphael – The Three Graces

Nudity and Censorship of the naked Human body in Art, Media and Shows In The U.S.

Some of the most revered artists from the not-so-distant past have encountered issues with the enforcement of censorship laws. One of the best examples is Modigliani. Modigliani’s art was deemed pornographic, and his only one-man show was shut down by the French police after the first day (you can read more about this in Felicity’s blog post about nude art).

But all those things happened years ago, and some even took place in distant countries. Here in the U.S., we have the first amendment, and U.S. citizens live in a society that is open to new ideas as well as art – right? Well if you really believe this to be true then you are sorely mistaken.

The implementation of censorship laws has run  amok, and if you doubt this to be true, take a look at what Felicity went through during her performance in Ocularpation Wall Street By Zefrey Throwell; a piece that has been deemed significant enough to be shown in one of the most respected art museums in the world – The MOMA.

Felicity Arrested On Wall Street

Felicity Arrested On Wall Street

Nude Bodies Censorship and Censoring of Oh! Calcutta!

Or better yet, have you heard of the Broadway show Oh! Calcutta! ? This show opened in 1969 and by the mid 1970’s became the longest running show on Broadway (at the time). It incorporated scenes written by well-known celebrities and icons such as Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard and John Lennon. It became so popular that in the 1970’s it began touring worldwide.

One would think that a Broadway show would be considered a legitimate form of artistic expression. Unfortunately, some people did not agree.

Oh! Calcutta! Poster

Oh! Calcutta! Poster

In 1991 the producers of Oh! Calcutta! tried  to bring the show to Chattanooga, Tennessee. There were just two municipally-owned theaters in town that were capable of staging such a production. But when producers  inquired about booking one of them, the city said no, claiming that the show’s full-frontal nudity violated the city AND state’s “public indecency” laws and that the show was legally “obscene.”

Let’s take a moment to think about this. A world renowned Broadway show was too obscene for Chattanooga, but okay for pretty much the rest of the world? Does that sound logical to you?

Public indecency laws are in place to protect citizens from the so-called negative effects of being subjected to unexpected nudity in public settings. But would a theater be considered public when people have to take action in order to gain entry? Unless someone wants to attend and buys a ticket, he or she cannot be subjected to the “horrors” of seeing a naked person live and on stage.

The city officials claimed to be protecting their fellow city inhabitants  from a threat to the people’s morals and ethics. But was their censorship legally justified? Did they have the legal right to censor this production and ban it from being shown?

The city of Chattanooga had unsuccessfully sought to ban the play Hair in 1971, but this time they felt empowered by a 1991 Supreme Court ruling in the case of “Barnes v. Glen Theatre” in Indiana. In this infamous case, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s ban of naked barroom dancing as part of the general  “public nudity” law. The reasoning behind the ruling put the world of art AND constitutional law on edge because it could be easily interpreted and applied to theater, as well as art, if one so wished.

William Rehnquist

Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at the time was William Rehnquist. When announcing the ruling in the Barnes case, Justice Rehnquist explained that while nude dancing was indeed a form of artistic expression, its sole purpose was to sexually and erotically entice. He went on to say that the state’s minimal requirement of G-strings and pasties would not  deprive the dance routine of its erotic message and would only make that message a little less graphic.

He also noted that public nudity laws were part of “our” history and can be traced back to the “Biblical story of Adam and Eve “(please note that I placed the word our in quotation marks because he is implying that we, as a nation, all believe in the historical merits of the Bible. Since the entire population is not Muslim, Jewish and / or Christian, the totality of the statement is simply wrong). While the ruling was in favor of censoring nudity, Justice Rehnquist’s reasoning was supported by only two other people in the court – Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy.

Now back to Oh! Calcutta!

The producers of Oh! Calcutta! decided to take the city of Chattanooga to court. The presiding judge, R. Vann Owens, decided to impanel an “advisory jury.” Though a jury was not required in this case, the judge thought it was important for the community to be able to weigh in on this sensitive topic.

After four days of listening to expert testimony, watching videos of the production and hearing the different opinions of the parties involved, the jury came to their conclusion. They said that while the show itself was in fact offensive, it had serious artistic value / merit, and therefore it should not to be perceived as obscene. In essence, they disagreed with the censors and believed that show should NOT be banned (even though they might personally disagree with show’s content).

The judge agreed and went along with the jury’s recommendation. However he felt the need to supplement the ruling with his own distaste for the show’s content, with its “presumably” overall theme of promiscuity and relaxed attitudes towards sex.

Censorship Case of Lady Chatterley’s Lover

While there will always be judges, or people, who disagree with the message or idea behind an art piece, opinions such as judge Owens’ above are not cause to determine whether or not it should be censored. In the overturning of the ban on the D.H. Lawrence inspired film “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” Justice Potter Stewart explains that the Constitution protects all  ideas and freedom of speech -regardless of whether those ideas are accepted by the majority. The film was originally banned because New York City’s censorship board disapproved of its message – adultery.

Justice Potter Stewart wrote the summation:

“The first amendment’s basic guarantees of freedom to advocate ideas.” He goes on to explain that the City of New York had no legal case to censor or ban the film because: “the motion picture attractively portrays a relationship which is contrary to the moral standards, the religious precept, and the legal code of its citizenry. This argument misconceives what it is that the Constitution protects. Its guarantee is not confined to the expression of ideas that are conventional or shared by a majority. It protects advocacy of the opinion that adultery may sometimes be proper, no less than advocacy of socialism or the single tax. And in the realm of ideas it protects expression which is eloquent no less than that which is unconvincing.”

Censorship, The Bible and the Separation of Church and State

This issue of censorship, as it pertains to the portrayal of the naked body, was originated by the Catholic Church. But the U.S. was founded on the idea that people should be free of religious persecution and that a clear distinction between church and state must be upheld. So why is the Chief Justice of the United States quoting the Bible as part of his justification for a ruling?

The issue of censorship affects the lives of us all. The powers that be are the ones deciding what is considered acceptable, and many of them revert back to the Bible for guidance. So where does that leave the citizens? Do we just have to sit there and accept it? Why must we all have to live by the rules set forth hundreds of years ago by the Catholic Church? Does the church have the sole right to decide what is good and what is not?

The ancient, biblical laws used as justification for  censorship are not only applied to art, but to our everyday freedoms as well. Nudity at one time was accepted as part of everyday life, until the Church changed that (as previously described). But as U.S. citizens, none of us signed up, as a collective, to live under the rules and laws of the Bible or Catholic Church.  But we are.  

We may have legalized certain “sins” like adultery and sodomy, but there are still plenty of other laws that can be traced back to religion; not the Constitution.    So why are we letting the Bible override the Constitution to determine our basic freedoms?

The recent case of the  San Francisco nudity ban  in the Castro is one such example.  Ambitious politicians aside, this kind of law succeeds because people don’t realize they are being told what they can and can’t wear based on  taboos set forth by the Catholic Church ages ago.  The same thing holds true to gay rights and marriage. If the US were not geared by the bible, then why can’t two law abiding citizens get married? Is it the  governments  job to decide who is marriage worthy? And if so, why use the bible as a guide? Why not the constitution?

There is no logic in these laws without taking into account religious  doctrines.  Laws cannot be made based on what someone find purly “offensive” (think of how much would be outlawed if they were!).

As far as lewd behavior, there are already laws to address those. So, as was the case in the Castro, why must the people be forced to start wearing clothing after so many years, and why now specifically? Is it a fact that  naked people  are crossing the lines of social behavior and if so, how? Why not fine just those individuals that are abusing the right to go nude? Where is the justice in punishing everyone for what a handful of people might or might not be doing?

Adverse Effects of Seeing Non-Sexual Nude Bodies?

This is a short paragraph because there are none. It has now been proven, time and time again, that children and / or adults do not suffer from any adverse effects from exposure to “simple” nudity. But with that said, censors continue to subject the general public to their archaic and religiously motivated / interpretive rules.

Young Naturists America and Nudity Censorship Issues

Effects or benefits of nudity aside, the censorship of nudity when there is a substantive message is simply unjust. Based on the legal precedence, such censorship should not be permitted as long as there is a substantive message to support it.

YNA is a classic example of an organization that is being unjustly censored by companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and others (not to mention the city of New York who arrested Felicity for no good reason – hence her recent civil suit victory against the city).

Because our content and activities incorporate nudity, YNA’s endeavors are unjustly deemed obscene, lewd, “adult” and / or pornographic in nature. As a direct result of this mindset, our ability to reach people has been greatly diminished. Facebook continually closes down pages, Google Plus has shut down our first profile and pages, Instagram has banned us and many online avenues for generating revenue have been closed to us. All of these issues are because our content includes nudity and thus society deems that it must be pornographic and should be immediately censored and / or banned completely.

These companies are acting as judge and jury when it comes to the censorship (especially when is comes to nudity). Not only are they going against our personal constitutional right to put forth ideas, they are also removing “good” or “healthy” content, which in turn results in the abundance of truly sexually explicit content online today.

YNA has been fighting for the simple right to advocate for more tolerance and compassion through the use of social nudity, but we can’t do it alone. We need more people to voice their opinions and to continually post substantive and erudite content. It is up to all of us to send letters to our elected officials, companies and representatives if we have any hope of reversing this upsetting trend of unjustified suppression of our basic right to freedom of speech.

The terms and sources used in the above censorship article:

The basic terms used in censorship and their definitions:

Censor:

A censor is defined in the dictionary as: An official who examines books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio and television programs,letters, cablegrams, etc., for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral,political, military, or other grounds.

Censorship:

The literal definition of the term “censorship” is: The action of censoring material / information

Censorship is a broad term which encompasses many different facets of society. Here we will focus mostly on censorship and how it relates to nudity. So with that in mind here are some of the terms and their literal and / or legal definitions:

The literal definition of Nude:

1. Having no clothing; naked.
2. Permitting or featuring full exposure of the body

Nudity:

The literal definition of the term Nudity: The state of being without clothing or covering of any kind.
Nudity is often equated with obscenity so it is extremely important to understand both the literal and legal definitions of the word “Obscene”.

Obscene:

1. Offensive to morality or decency; indecent; depraved.
2. Causing uncontrolled sexual desire.
3. Abominable; disgusting; repulsive.

The legal interpretation and definition of obscenity is as follows:

“Obscenity is the character or quality of being obscene. It is also an act, utterance, or item tending to corrupt the public morals by its indecency or lewdness.

Obscenity is a legal term that applies to anything offensive to morals and is often equated with the term PORNOGRAPHY. Pornography, however, is a more limited term, which refers to the erotic content of books, magazines, films, and recordings. Obscenity includes pornography, but may also include nude dancing, sexually oriented commercial telephone messages, and scatological comedy routines. U.S. courts have had a difficult time determining what is obscene. This problem has serious implications, because if an act or an item is deemed obscene, it is not protected by the First Amendment.”

Lewd:

The term Lewd is defined as crude and offensive in a sexual way.

Pornography:

Pornography is a term that is used often but the way it is applied to nudity is often misguided and even misleading.

The literal definition of the term Pornography is that depiction of erotic behavior or material (such as books and film) intended to cause sexual excitement.

Legal definition of pornography is:

The representation in books, magazines, photographs, films, and other media of scenes of sexual behavior that are erotic or lewd and are designed to arouse sexual interest.

The literal definition of Erotic:

1. Of, devoted to, or tending to arouse sexual love or desire.
2  Strongly marked or affected by sexual desire

The literal definition of the term Sexual:

Implying or symbolizing erotic desires or activity.

This post about nudity and censorship was published by – Young Naturists & Nudists America YNA

Sources used in this censorship article:

Please note that all the legal definitions that I reference were taken from:
http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/

The literal definitions were taken from online dictionaries.

The reference to public baths was taken from the information given out to visitors of the ancient ruins of Bet Shean:

The city of Bet Shean, located in Israel, was one of the 10 Roman cities of the Decapolis, east of the Sea of Galilee. It was destroyed by earthquake in the year 749 AD. This ancient city was only discovered in 1986, just like it was left, after the quake. There is astonishing detail — frescos, paved streets, columns, well- defined rooms, mosaics, buildings and a large public UNISEX bathroom that could accommodate at least 45 men & women at any given time.

Other print sources used:

Sex, Sin, And Blasphemy by Marjorie Heins

The Constitution of the United States Of America – As published By Barnes And Nobles

Nudist Society by William E. Hartman Ph.D, Marilyn Fithian and Donald Johnson

Foolish Fig leaves? Pornography in and Out Of Court – by Rishard H. Kuh

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Category: Naked Censorship and Censoring Non Sexual Online Nudity, Naked News, Nude Art and Artistic Nudity, Social Activism, Social Nudity Blogs

About the Author ()

Jordan Blum is a lifelong nudie and co-founder of Young Naturists America.