Saturday, April 19, 2014

A brief history of Censorship

The invention of photography in the 19th century expanded the voyeur’s world and in the privacy and safety of their own home privileged people could view subjects never before seen. These included battles, corpses, poverty, exotic places, wild animals, royalty as well as other people’s lives. When Louis Daguerre unveiled his invention in 1839, the photograph was going to record history, document the people, the places and events of the time. In reality, once established the daguerregraph was used for nude photography. Erotic imagery for wealthy gentleman was a lucrative market with the price for a portrait between one and two guineas. This was the equivalent to one month’s pay to the working class. Victorians viewed images through a stereoscope. Subjects posed and a two lense camera side by side took simultaneous images from slightly different viewpoints. When seen through the stereoscope the images merged to give the impression of a three dimensional view. Simple toiletry became all consuming via keyhole peeping in the form of "What the butler saw?" and “dirty postcards” were every bit as graphic as today’s hardcore pornography.

Later with the development of the moving pictures, voyeuristic eroticism boomed. Early ‘Stag films’ appeared at the turn of the twentieth century. One of the first was ‘The Gay shoe clerk’, (Edison, 1903). The term 'gay' meant jolly then and not homosexual. The narrative of the film follows the adventures of a young woman being fitted for a pair of shoes. Close ups of the woman’s foot and ankle being fondled by the clerk are followed by foot kissing.

The audience for these early porno films was the upper-class. Later wider distribution and viewing took place in bordellos and at male only, gatherings. Stag films represented a new male only social ritual where women were objectified. The authorities recognised potential dangers of a developing film industry and fearing it would threaten base emotions of the uneducated, the lower classes, women, and children, introduced censorship. First in New York (1902), then in UK (1913) the purpose of censorship was gain a control over the masses by restricting their access to pictures of violence and nudity. The prevailing philosophy was Judo Christian in origin and based on 'to see sin, was to be a sinner". Needless to say the alternative film industry for private distribution to the privileged continued unabated.

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