The War of Words Over Obscenity

Table of Contents

This brief short course is 13 minutes long. To access each section as a short video clip that can be shared online, please continue scrolling down.

"A War on Words Over Obscenity" Section Videos

Part 1: An introduction to the question of obscenity’s definition and use.

Part 2: The precise legal definition of obscenity according to Miller v. California.

Part 3: How the term “obscene” is used in imprecise ways to chill speech.

Part 4: How the term "obscenity" has been used to silence marginalized voices.

Part 5: From terms to ideas and connecting across the political divide.

Reading Recommendations

Shortcourse Designed by Patrick Lawrence, Ph. D.

Patrick S. Lawrence is an Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina, Lancaster. His research focuses on censorship controversies and American political and social movements. He is currently co-editing a collection of essays about obscenity discourses and comics history called Out of the Gutters:  Obscenity, Censorship, and Transgression in American Comics (under advance contract with University of Texas Press). His book Obscene Gestures: Counter-Narratives of Sex and Race in the Twentieth Century (Fordham 2022) reconsiders the divergent afterlives of twentieth-century texts that depict taboo subjects based on different narratives of racial, sexual, and gendered possibility. His research appears or is forthcoming in American Literature, Mosaic, Asian American Literature: Discourses and Pedagogies, and Intertexts and in collections from Cambridge University Press, University Press of Mississippi, and Utah University Press. 

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