Monday, August 10, 2009

Comstock Laws & Times Square Peep Shows : they are both NY

New York City's reputation for Time Square Peep Shows and big city sexuality is of a very recent duration.

Earlier in the last century - until the mid 1960s in fact - its reputation to the rest of the world was of a very different sort.

Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) moved to the Large Apple from Connecticut after serving in the Civil War.

Not unlike Adolf Hitler, he was mostly remembered by his fellow soldiers for his intense hostility to off-color stories from the other men.

He joined the YMCA, in the days when it was still a very respectable evangelical institution and no yet the subject of a ribald hit song.

Adroit in currying favour from powerful fellow evangelicals in the political and financial communities, he became an all-powerful Postal inspector - armed with a gun and sweeping powers.

His control over the mails and parcel post meant a lot , in the time before internet, phones and faxes and cheap fast travel - all ideas moved by mail - from books to newspapers to private letters.

He could and did destroy many individuals when he found their ideas distributing ;he went after sex in particular - from mild smut to pornography.

Often he simply censored any idea he felt threatened Victorian values - votes for women, for example.


Not even expensive medical textbooks intended only for doctors, and only affordable by doctors, were immune.

Soon his activities were known all throughout the civilized world - widely admired publicly by many but more privately derided as "comstockery" by others.

He proudly boasted he had driven 15 people to suicide and his entrapment tactics were later closely copied by a young admirer, Edgar Hoover of the FBI.

His main accomplishment, because he generally only drove illicit sexual activities underground rather than out of existence, was to make America - and New York in particular - a byword in Europe for being provincial and lacking sophistication.

Janus Manhattan.

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