the more things change….

the more they apparently stay the same, or sometimes go backwards.

On October 3, 1957, Judge Clayton Horn had ruled that Allan Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” was not written with the intent of obscenity. Fifty years later, the epic poem is still regarded as one of the most important literary works of the twentieth century.

Fifty years later, “Howl” is once again too obscene for American audiences…

October 3 marks the 50th anniversary of the vindication of Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL and the dismissal of obscenity charges against Ferlinghetti. We and scholars at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. hoped to have the poem read over Pacifica Radio stations to celebrate this victory over censorship.

FCC rules now forbid the broadcasting of a single indecent word before10:00 pm.  The fines for so doing range from $5,000,000 to $25,000,000. Pacifica Radio said they could not air the poem before that hour for fear they would be cited and driven off the air. source

This is what comes from the rise of our American Christofacism. This is what has been reaped from the rise of the moral majority, from the rise of the vocal minority of the religious right, this is what the last thirty plus years have wrought.

Well, obscene or not…

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats
floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene- ment roofs
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the
scholars of war,

excerpt from Howl
by Allen Ginsberg


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  1. the best minds of our generation are being destroyed by a fear of speaking out, by a fear of offending one listener in a crowd of thousands…

    also in orange

  2. ‘Howl,’ which winds through the beat-era landscape of sex, drugs and madness, contains enough of the FCC’s banned words to crush the $4 million operating budget of Pacifica station WBAI . The fine for ‘Howl’ would have been $325,000 for each word. The FCC has ramped up its power to punish broadcasters that air expletives or indecency, regardless of the intention or cultural relevance.

      The following can be attributed to ACLU Legislative Counsel Marv Johnson:

      “It’s no longer accurate to say free speech has rolled back to the fifties – it’s worse now. A radio station cannot possibly celebrate the First Amendment by being forced to gag its announcers and point to a website. ‘Howl’ captured the essence of a society on the brink of explosion, and the ‘Howl’ obscenity decision marked a forward march toward greater free speech. If the FCC and our lawmakers want to repeat the repression of the 1950s, they should remember that even then the country was inching toward more freedom, not less.”

    ACLU ‘Howls’ Against FCC Destroying the Best Poems of a Generation

    And from SF Chronicle ‘Howl’ too hot to hear

      Another irony: WBAI, the Pacifica Foundation station in New York that plans to post “Howl” online, is the same station that took on the FCC more than 30 years ago over the right to air George Carlin’s comedy routine featuring the “seven dirty words.” The challenge led to a 1978 Supreme Court decision governing what naughty words can be broadcast and when.

      Pacifica’s attorney for FCC issues, John Crigler, thinks airing “Howl” would be “a great test case” in the current environment. But he understands why WBAI won’t broadcast “Howl,” even between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the hours the FCC has cordoned off for rougher language.

      WBAI program director Bernard White fears that the FCC will fine the station $325,000 for every one of Ginsberg’s dirty-word bombs. If each Pacifica station that aired the poem – and possibly repeated it – were to be fined for airing “Howl,” it could mean millions of dollars in fines.

    This is disturbing. I think this sentence from the ACLU above, “If the FCC and our lawmakers want to repeat the repression of the 1950s, they should remember that even then the country was inching toward more freedom, not less” says it all.

    We are heading away from freedom these days and that is depressing and enraging as hell. We need a new Allen to howl at this shit… hint, hint, hint

  3. This is fucking depressing. And a great essay.

    The internet is exactly how we work around this BS. If you go to youtube, although much of the material is crass, I am encouraged to see today’s youth basically say ‘screw you’ to the FCC sensors and post what they want, and watch it whenever they want.

    Protecting the internet will be the next big battle, I think.

    If we lose that battle, well then fuck it all and move to New Zealand…

    • snud on October 9, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    The. Very. First. Amendment. Sad, isn’t it?

    • lezlie on October 10, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Fahrenheit 451… that’s where we are headed if we don’t put the brakes on this shit. We live in a world where the “leader” of the free world can say “Fuck, Saddam!” and make “obscene” jestures to the camera, but high school students must stay up past 10PM, if at all, to hear one of the best literary pieces of the 20th Century! what utter hypocrisy!

    I was so careful never to say “fuck”, my favorite word, around my children only to hear my darling 7 year old call his brother a “fucker” in the backyard one day. In spite of all my efforts, he had heard it at school. You can never protect your children from these things, just give them some context. When my baby admitted he didn’t know the meaning of the word “fucker”, we decided he should find an alternate word for his sibling. It’s called parenting… someone tell Rev. Dobson that!

      • snud on October 9, 2007 at 10:58 pm

      This happens periodically and mysteriously comes and goes: I click the “Rec” button and for a brief instant the word “error” appears, then goes away, leaving the essay un-rec’d by me. 🙁

    • plf515 on October 11, 2007 at 12:23 am

    end when the networks themselves rebel…. because they’ve got lots of money to give.  And this sort of censorship just increases the trend of youth abandoning TV to go web surfing.

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