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The history of modern art is strewn with the wreckage of obscenity charges. At the beginning of the 20th century, a work of literature with sexual content might initially be deemed obscene but eventually embraced for its esthetic and social importance. James Joyce’s Ulysses and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover are notable examples. They opposed Victorian standards of propriety, but after passage through the courts and critical opinion, emerged as high art.

In the realm of cinematic representation, obscenity was initially an industry-wide concern. The Motion Picture Production Code was developed in the 1930s under the assumption that movies, as mass entertainment, needed to be monitored to protect public morality. Strict enforcement began to wane in the 1960s, and the Code was replaced by a more indulgent film rating system. Nonetheless, certain films struggled to maintain their integrity in the face of a dreaded X rating. Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Tango in Paris refused to amend its subject-matter to avoid such a rating, which reduced its box office profits. In time, however, it emerged as a film classic.

Television, too, began by monitoring its sexual content until the advent of cable TV did away with most forms of censorship. On premium channels at least, sex and art are now permitted to consort.
More… “Pay to Play”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a talk show broadcast on more than 400 public television stations across the country. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.
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Cock-a-doodle-news!
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The origins of the limerick are vague
But the style came after black plague.
And in today’s modern age
This boyfriend may wage
Spats in rhyme, though his girlfriend may beg.
(Stylisticienne, The Smart Set)

Let’s take a critical eye to the profane and the obscene. (Los Angeles Review of Books, The Smart Set)

What’s the value of paper in the digital world? If you’re biting your nails over the imminent demise of the paper book, relax — technological doomsayers have been around for ages. And before you hit send on that e-résumé, consider putting your skills on paper. (National Endowment for the Humanities, The Smart Set) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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I know no faster way to divide a room of feminists than to utter the word “pornography.” We’re all pretty together on the choice and equal pay issues, and other disagreements have considerable common ground. But when it comes to porn, feminists retreat to their dogma. There is the camp that derides pornography as violence against women and believes it causes men to dehumanize women. This is, admittedly, a small (and mostly aging) group, but they are vocal and they like to write books. There is another group, the sex-positive group, some of whom are sex writers or have created their own pornography. They’re a little embarrassed about the “penetrative heterosexual sex is rape” stance of their predecessors and are trying to create more female-friendly sexual environment in the culture.

(I know that feminists aren’t the only ones… More…

We hardly bought ye.

It’s a standard part of the hospitality industry: To make guests feel pampered, cared for, at home on the road, hotel operators grievously overcharge them for hardcore pornography. The hotels make a modest but effortless profit on these transactions. The bored and lonely guests who rent on-demand porn feel even more bored and lonely after watching it — and thus stay in their rooms and out of trouble.

Naturally, because it’s a win-win proposition, someone wants to end it. Recently, representatives from Focus on the Family, Citizens for Community Values, and assorted other professional American finger-waggers met with the top brass at Marriott International in an effort to convince the hotel chain to banish porn from its properties. The decency advocates have been engaged in the campaign for nearly a decade now; this was the first time Marriott agreed to sit down with them.

According to Tom Minnery, senior vice… More…

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Last year a few video trailers for Chad Kultgen’s novel The Average American Male came online. In one, a man bitches about the price of the dinner, demanding a blow job in return. In another, a man tells a girl he loves her only to get her to give him a blow job. And finally, over dinner with his girlfriend’s family, when the father asks, “We’re just wondering when we’re going to see a ring on our little girl’s finger,” the Average American Male replies, “As soon as she learns to swallow without gagging and take it up the ass without crying.”

If the novel itself had been as violently offensive as the ad campaign, it would have at least been interesting. Instead, Kultgen had about as much insight into the typical male psyche as Maxim…. More…

But it wasn't that way in the 15th century.

Italian nuns have left quite a subversive legacy. This is thanks largely to the literary labors of Pietro Aretino, a Venetian author who is today hailed as the “father of modern pornography.” In addition to his ground-breaking book of sonnets – The Sixteen Postures, which described a string of athletic sexual positions with handy engravings – Aretino penned the classic Secret Life of Nuns, whose panting prose would not be out of place on nerve.com today. It depicts lonely young novices in ritualized “jousts” with monks and priests (“First tilt went to the trumpeter…spurring himself on with his fingers, he ran his lance right into his lady-friend’s target right up to the hilt…”) and devoted to the pastinaca muranese, “crystal turnip,” a state-of-the-art dildo made of fine Venetian glass and filled with warm water. The nuns kept erotic manuals hidden in their prayer books and always offered their charity to… More…