Friday, December 13, 2013

The Legion of Decency

I didn’t grow up in an era in which “decent” meant bowdlerized. By the time I was an adventurous reader explicit condemnatory censorship was relatively muted and powerless.

It helped that my mother made no attempt to restrict what my brother or I would read or try to prevent us from going to scandalous movies - not, at least, once we were old enough to seek them out for ourselves. But then there was more available by the 70s than there was when my mother was a girl because organizations like the Legion of Decency could no longer prevent work they found objectionable from being published and distributed. The first naughty stuff I bought was in the form of underground comix. As a kid I wasn’t attracted to the sexy, but the anarchic and psychedelic was appealing. Loved The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, for instance.

As I read up on the situation for readers before I came along, I feel increasingly fortunate. The historian Lillian Faderman talks about how lesbians could only appear in fiction if portrayed as damaged, criminal, fated to come to a bad end; otherwise stories featuring lesbians fell afoul of organizations like the National Organization for Decent Literature and the Legion of Decency. When I came across mention of the “Legion of Decency” it sounded, frankly, like a supervillain group. Of course, independent and underground cartoonists were lampooning just such groups and I didn’t realize that the joke was actually pretty serious. As far as I was concerned “decent literature” was literature that was competently written rather than literature that had been neutered. Lucky me for thinking so.

source: Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: a history of Lesbian life in Twentieth-Century America by Lillian Faderman


David Lee Ingersoll said...

I've always appreciated Mom's willingness to let us watch and read whatever we were interested in.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I remember her being appalled by one of your Corben prints that featured a slavering penis monster - and we protested that she was imagining the penis! Yeah. Good times.