Boston had a very different reputation before the ’60s:
Boston was founded by the censorious Puritans in the early 17th century. Boston’s second major wave of immigrants, Irish Catholics, began arriving in the 1820s and also held conservative moral beliefs, particularly regarding sex. The phrase “banned in Boston”, however, originated in the late 19th century at a time when American“moral crusader” Anthony Comstock began a campaign to suppress vice. He found widespread support in Boston, particularly among socially-prominent and influential officials. Comstock was also known as the proponent of the Comstock Act, which prevented “obscene” materials from being delivered by the U.S. mail.
Following Comstock’s lead, Boston’s city officials took it upon themselves to ban anything that they found to be salacious, inappropriate, or offensive. Aiding them in their efforts was a group of private citizens, the Boston Watch and Ward Society. Theatrical shows were run out of town, books were confiscated, and motion pictures were prevented from being shown; sometimes movies were stopped mid-showing, after an official had “seen enough”. In 1935, for example, during the opening performance of Clifford Odets‘ play Waiting for Lefty four cast members were placed under arrest.
And what did the international community think? When George Bernard Shaw was asked what he thought of his books being removed from library shelves in New York, the next city down on the Corridor from Boston, here’s how he replied:
Nobody outside of America is likely to be in the least surprised; Comstockery is the world’s standing joke at the expense of the United States. Europe likes to hear of such things. It confirms the deep-seated conviction of the Old World that America is a provincial place, a second-rate country-town civilization after all.
Personally I do not take the matter so lightly. American civilization is enormously interesting and important to me, if only as a colossal social experiment, and I shall make no pretense of treating a public and official insult from the American people with indifference.
It is true I shall not suffer either in reputation or pocket. Everybody knows I know better than your public library officials what is proper for people to read whether they are young or old. Everybody also knows that if I had the misfortune to be a citizen of the United States I should probably have my property confiscated by some postal official and be myself imprisoned as a writer of ‘obscene’ literature.
But as I live in a comparatively free country and my word goes further than that of mere officialdom, these things do not matter. What does matter is that this incident is only a symptom of what is really a moral horror both in America and elsewhere, and that is the secret and intense resolve of the petty domesticity of the world to tolerate no criticism and suffer no invasion.
Because I have been striving all my public life to awaken public conscience to this, while Comstock has been examining and destroying ninety-three tons of indecent postcards, it is concluded that I am a corrupt blackguard and Comstock’s mind is in such a condition of crystal purity that any American who reads, sees, writes, or says anything of which he disapproves or which he is ‘doggoned if he understands’ must be put in prison.
Well, far be it from me to question the right of American to manage its affairs its own way. Every country has the Government it deserves, and I presume Comstock couldn’t govern America without America’s consent. He will not lack supporters.
I cannot fight Comstock with the American Nation at his back and the New York police in his van. Neither can Daly. I have advised Daly to run no risks.When this news reached me I had already cabled both Daly and my agent, Miss Marbury, to countermand the performance, because I think New York has had enough of me for one season. Now I am bound to leave Daly free to accept the challenge and throw himself on the good-sense of people who want to have the traffic in women stopped instead of driven underground for its better protection.
He is young and bold; I am elderly and thoroughly intimidated by my knowledge of the appalling weight of stupidity and prejudice, of the unavowed money interest, direct or indirect, in the exploitation of womanhood, which lies behind his opponent. I cannot save Daly. If these forces are too strong for his supporters, I am afraid he will be uncomfortable in prison. But I also have a presentment that Comstock will not be quite comfortable out of it.
When a man begins to value himself, not on the number of decent postcards he puts in circulation, but on the number of indecent ones he throws out of it, he is on the high road to a condition of mania in which he is apt to seize every postcard he sees and declare it indecent. An Indian who counts the scalps he has torn from his enemies is under heavy temptation to get up quarrels with his friends in order to have an excuse for scalping them.
Comstock’s reputation grows with every blackguard he imprisons. A man in that position generally ends by seizing respectable citizens by the collar, raising the cry of blackguardism against them, and throwing them into prison.
For Comstock’s part, here’s what he thought of Shaw:
“Shaw?” said Mr Comstock reflectively, “I never heard of him in my life. Never saw one of his books, so he can’t be much.” The reporter had in his pocket a copy of The New York Times in which appeared the letter written by Mr Shaw, the author and playwright, after he had learned that his books had been removed from the ‘open shelves’ in the New York Free Libraries. This order of removal Mr Shaw characterized as a piece of “American Comstockery.” The reporter submitted the letter, and Mr Comstock read it carefully.
“Everybody knows,” wrote Mr Shaw, “that I know better than your public library officials what is proper for people to read, whether they are young or old.” When Mr Comstock read that, he literally grew pale with indignation. “Did you ever see such egotism?” he commented angrily. “I had nothing to do with removing this Irish smut dealer’s books from the public library shelves, but I will take a hand in the matter now.” …
“This very morning,” said Mr Comstock, “I confiscated for destruction 23,600 pictures and had the man convicted in the Special Sessions. Last week I confiscated 100,000 such pictures from a German in Brooklyn. For a third of a century I have battled in the ranks of the society with which I have the honor to be affiliated — battled for the morality of the young people of this country. I have done work in Canada, in Paris, in London, and in most of the civilized countries of the world. The society has made over 23,000 arrests; it has destroyed 98 tons of unfit matter.
It matters little if the literary style is of a high order if the subject matter is bad. I had a man convicted who was printing and selling pictures of paintings hung in the Paris Salon and in the art hall at our Centennial Exposition. The only question is, Can this book or picture or play hurt any one morally, even the weak? All else is of minor consequence.”
The Comstocks of our day are, like Mr. Hundred Thousand Pictures himself, interested in choking off a new platform for the dissemination of information — all for the good of the weak, of course — but that’s not all they want. The communist slogan is not “no platform for fascism”, but “no platform for fascists”. Not only should Shaw’s books be banned — so should Shaw himself. #指鹿為馬
This Comstock heads his blog with a quote from Emma Goldman:
Not so very long ago I attended a meeting addressed by Anthony Comstock, who has for forty years been the guardian of American morals. A more incoherent, ignorant ramble I have never heard from any platform.
The question that presented itself to me, listening to the commonplace, bigoted talk of the man, was, how could anyone so limited and unintelligent wield the power of censor and dictator over a supposedly democratic nation? True, Comstock has the law to back him. Forty years ago, when Puritanism was even more rampant than to-day, completely shutting out the light of reason and progress, Comstock succeeded, through shady machination and political wire pulling, to introduce a bill which gave him complete control over the Post Office Department — a control which has proved disastrous to the freedom of the press, as well as the right of privacy of the American citizen.
Since then, Comstock has broken into the private chambers of people, has confiscated personal correspondence, as well as works of art, and has established a system of espionage and graft which would put Russia to shame. Yet the law does not explain the power of Anthony Comstock. There is something else, more terrible than the law. It is the narrow puritanic spirit, as represented in the sterile minds of the Young-Men-and-Old-Maid’s Christian Union, Temperance Union, Sabbath Union, Purity League, etc. A spirit which is absolutely blind to the simplest manifestations of life; hence stands for stagnation and decay. As in anti-bellum days, these old fossils lament the terrible immorality of our time. Science, art, literature, the drama, are at the mercy of bigoted censorship and legal procedure, with the result that America, with all her boastful claims to progress and liberty is still steeped in the densest provincialism.
The smallest dominion in Europe can boast of an art free from the fetters of morality, an art that has the courage to portray the great social problems of our time. With the sharp edge of critical analysis, it cuts into every social ulcer, every wrong, demanding fundamental changes and the transvaluation of accepted values. Satire, wit, humor, as well as the most intensely serious modes of expression, are being employed to lay bare our conventional social and moral lies. In America we would seek in vain for such a medium, since even the attempt at it is made impossible by the rigid régime, by the moral dictator and his clique.
Your fave is problematic, Klabnik. And Urbit is banned in Boston^WSt. Louis.
This movement had several consequences. One was that Boston, a cultural center since its founding, was perceived as less sophisticated than many cities without stringent censorship practices. Another was that the phrase “banned in Boston” became associated, in the popular mind, with something lurid, sexy, and naughty. Commercial distributors were often pleased when their works were banned in Boston—it gave them more appeal elsewhere.