Social Psychology: An Analysis of Social Behavior

Chapter 26: Censorship: The Negative Control of Opinion

Kimball Young

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A. The Background of Censorship.

1. Censorship and Propaganda.— By the group taboos enforced by group leaders, censorship of a kind exists in primary groups, such as the neighborhood, village, or small community. Today censorship is a phase of social control closely correlated with rapid communication and with the extension of secondary group relationships transcending the usual limitations of space. Just as opinion had a narrow range in the village, so, too, the control of expression of opinion and of action had the same boundaries. Censorship is fundamentally a phase of social taboo against the expression of opinion. If it once had a narrow range in primary groups, today it reaches as far as political power and public opinion extend. In the primary group censorship of opinion for the most part was restricted to control of speech rather than of printing. In secondary groups censorship has moved definitely toward tabooing the printing of opinion as well as controlling speech. The fundamental purpose of censorship of free speech and of free printing is much the same. The censorship of free speech attempted to control the crowd-audience; the censorship of the press attempts to control the public-audience. We shall discuss very largely the censorship of the press, but the social-psychological principles involved are similar to those of the restriction of free speech.

Censorship in the modern sense is linked with propaganda. The deletions made by the censor may be filled up with manufactured news and opinion in the form of propaganda. When we are denied the facts of a crisis which concerns us, we find it easy to create a legend to fill up the deletion of the censor. In the absence of facts we unconsciously create stories to satisfy our curiosity. The clever propagandist simply directs the trend of this legendary material in a manner which seems advantageous to his particular cause. This was the usual device of propagandists during the World War. The propaganda agencies often worked in close harmony

(633) with the censorship bureaus. When men ask for bread and are given a stone, it is the ingenious thing to make the stones seem as palatable as possible. This the war propagandist does most effectively.

All propaganda does not merely replace censored news. Neither are censorship and propaganda active solely in wars and international disputes. They both occur in all the crises of our lives. The threat of social change in politics, economics, or religion produces a social tension which easily produces censorship and propaganda. In the present chapter we shall treat the nature and psychology of censorship. In the following chapter we shall turn our attention to propaganda. Censorship is negative and repressive, and takes on the nature of taboo. Propaganda is positive and creative, and takes on the nature of legend- and myth-making which is so effective, as we have seen, in creating the social realities.

2. The Social History of Censorship.— As we saw in dealing with prejudice, group controls, leadership, and crowd behavior, we can not properly understand the psychology of any phase of social behavior without taking into account its historical and cultural background. So, too, we can not understand the psychology of censorship in relation to public opinion without some review of the sources of the attitudes and anticipatory responses upon which it rests. Especially in a group crisis censorship is a phase of modern social control. As we have seen, the mores center about those situations which seem to involve the survival and welfare of the group. Infractions of the non-moral folkways may bring ridicule and mild censure; but violations of the group mores provoke the wrath of the gods. The gods always have earthly viceregents in the group elders, medicine men, war leaders, kings, and the democratic mobs led by the ever-present demagog. So long as the group follows its usual customs, attempts at suppression of speech or press are slight. But when the values of the group are called into question by a crisis, social pressure is applied in order to insure group solidarity. Morale is essential for group survival, and anything which threatens to disintegrate morale is, for the group, extremely dangerous. A person who questions the procedure of military, religious, or political leader undermines the strength of the group. A person who exposes facts which run counter to those given out by the group leaders is frowned upon and may be subject to social regulations of all sorts. The author of a realistic novel is felt to injure our long-established morality.

So long as people live in isolated villages, with fairly stable social, politi-

(634) -cal, and religious forms, as in the Middle Ages, there was little need for censorship beyond that exercised by gossip and the mild control of the village elders and the church officials. When, however, men began to question the social, economic, political, and religious organizations under which they lived, there was danger of social disruption. With the improvement in communication, with the spread of education, with the rise of nationalism and of freedom of thought in theology, the authorities of the time became concerned to retain their power. In 1501 Pope Alexander VI issued his edict against unlicensed printing in order to prevent the contagion of heresy in the church. As Lea said, the Inquisition began to censor printing as soon as this new means of disseminating heresy came into being. Later, the state began to apply censorship to criticisms of the divine right of kings, of foreign wars, and still later, as in England, to criticisms of parliamentary procedures. In England only stipulated persons or corporations were licensed to print. Subsequently the stamp taxes put a heavy burden on publishers and restricted their activities. Accordingly other means of spreading news and opinion— the coffee houses, the correspondents, the secret printing of pamphlets— were devised.

Yet, as literacy spread, as the bourgeois classes began to compete with the priestly and aristocratic classes for the control of Western Europe, changes occurred which have left their marks on our present culture patterns. The doctrines of social contract and of natural rights, the individualism of the modern world, which is so closely bound up with the Protestant revolt and with the rise of capitalism and its dogma of laissez faire— all these have produced a culture pattern, especially in the Anglo-American groups, of freedom of speech and of the press which is of greatest importance for democratic society.

On the Continent modern means of disseminating news and opinion were developed later than in England and America. Nevertheless the development of a public opinion with marked changes in attitudes helped to produce the bourgeois French Revolution. Often printed material was anonymously written, and, in spite of the governmental attempts at censorship, quite freely circulated. During the Revolution itself each succeeding government put as severe a ban upon divergent expressions as it did upon divergent action. In spite of these social pressures, opinion-making went on among those who opposed the government. While he hid from

(635) the Jacobins, Condorcet circulated not only his mathematical treatises, but his political opinions as well.

Censorship during the Napoleonic period was very rigorous. Without it Napoleon's power could scarcely have continued so long as it did. After his downfall, the European governments, beginning with Metternich's repressive measures, continued to penalize the circulation of all divergent opinion. The control of press and speech was very severe. This was true of both radical and conservative governments. The censorship of Napoleon III was even outdone by that of the Commune. The newly created German Empire felt the omnipresent censorship of Bismarck for a generation. Freedom of the press is a recently won prerogative in continental Europe. In all countries today censorship laws still persist. Each governmental administration attempts to prevent the development of opposition to its own regime.

In the nineteenth century England saw a great loosening of governmental control over opinion in political and economic discussion. In morals, however, the taboos have remained intact. In America much the same thing is true. Except during national crises, the American press has won a notable degree of freedom to discuss economic and political problems. The shift toward freedom in morals has been much less marked.

It is evident, then, that ever since the invention of printing censorship has been a device of social control. It arises in times of crisis or social change. When the status quo is threatened, the existing power always attempts to prevent the spread of opinions and attitudes hostile to those it holds sacred.

B. The Nature and Psychology of Censorship.

Censorship is essentially a negative process. In contrast to propaganda which is constructive and emotionally expansive, censorship is inhibitory and restrictive of action. It derives its force very largely from fear and the threats of power. Psychologically censorship has its counterpart in individual experience. We all censor or pass judgment of good or bad, like or dislike, on what we see and hear. This censorship, this judgment, depends, naturally, upon our temperament and upon our previous social-cultural conditioning. We do not let our minds dwell on those subjects which are socially disapproved. In this sense censorship is clearly akin to prejudice.

(636)We inhibit our associations on a dangerous subject. We do not like it. We cast it out of our mind. The new idea may disturb our ego proportions. It may seem too strange, too far-fetched, too extravagant, and we set up a defense reaction against it. We tell ourselves that the idea is foolish. It is "no good." It is illogical. As we know, inhibitions are largely created by the introduction of novel or divergent patterns of behavior which block, inhibit, or stop our usual associations. If inhibitions only extended this far, their social consequences might be insignificant. The new associations are blocked by the old ones that have their basis in long-accepted culture patterns. Labeling ideas, images, and attitudes as evil, as immoral, as unpatriotic, is usually an effective method of stopping the development of such notions and attitudes. All forms of social taboos are designed to do just this. They furnish the individual with guide posts in his associative thinking which keep him within the boundaries set by the moral codes. The ideas, images or attitudes with which the new ideas conflict are sacred. They are right. They are proper. Therefore, persons having the same social and cultural heritage may develop a consensus of opinion that the divergent ideas or attitudes ought to be stopped.

Censorship, then, is psychologically a form of negativism. It is a type of repression caused by our fear of the consequences of novel stimuli. In censorship we assume that if there is no stimulation there will be no response. For example, if we keep our school children from seeing motion pictures of crimes or sexual immoralities, we sometimes think we can thus limit their responses to such stimuli.

As group control, censorship is not created by one man's dislike of some other man's ideas, attitudes or productions in art, literature, or science. It must be a collective dislike. It must involve group control of infractions against some code. When the zealous individual finds another doing and saying things contrary to the code, by securing the aid of like-minded men and women he may attempt to bring pressure to bear upon the offending individual. If a new idea strikes at the central values of the group with which we have been taught to identify ourselves, we inevitably resist it. Attacks by outsiders— opposite political parties, groups adhering to divergent economic views or even literary standards— offend us. By some kind of force we try to prevent any further attacks upon our moral citadels. Often a fanatic, himself full of inhibitions and temptations, will project his paranoid ideas upon whole groups of people who, because of their similar back-

(637) -grounds, easily catch his fanaticism. A howling mob may proceed to censor and punish the offenders against the social codes. It is thus that many moral enthusiasts accomplish their work. These bands of militant moralists have the passive if not the active support of thousands of people who feel much as they do, even if they would hesitate to assist in such direct action themselves. Censorship of the drama and motion picture, of immoral books, or of divergent economic-political doctrines like anarchism and communism, depends upon the dominant group sentiment. This sentiment is kept alive, as a rule, by militant minorities, who are, however, given silent but effective support from inactive but interested majorities. Censorship, like other forms of social pressure, is exerted wherever the groups in control feel themselves endangered by the divergent minorities who question their authority by word or deed.

The moral codes do not exist apart from human personalities. They do not exist in a vacuum, but are carried in unwritten form by speech or writing and formally in the legal regulations of our society. Institutional authorities and the leaders of men are the principal agents in enforcing these codes. The group elders symbolize in the flesh these moral formulations. The executive and judicial administrators enforce the codes of law, but they are always subject to the check of public opinion. Hundreds of laws on our statute books are not enforced because public sentiment does not support them. Public opinion in some states does not support the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution; and in some communities the Volstead Act can get no public support. The actions of officers of the law in enforcing political control depend upon the personalities of these officers and the support they receive from the publics interested in political control. The usual swing in American cities between corruption and reform indicates the fluctuations of community opinion and attitude. A reform mayor, with a vigorous district attorney, an enthusiastic police force, and a strong judiciary, may enforce codes in one community which are absolutely neglected in another. The dictum of "divide and conquer" is as true of moral conflicts as any other, and a militant reform group can often dominate a political situation in an effective manner because the opposition is broken or disorganized.

In time of war, the political control of censorship is dominated by the military exigencies of national survival. Here the executive arm of the government, under the stress of national danger, may put terrific pressure

( 638) upon newspapers, publishers, and all other makers and reflectors. of public opinion.

In a large area of moral conduct not immediately under the control of the law, the censors depend upon public press, preaching, and pamphlets for the dissemination of their views. Organizations agitating against the public dance hall, against the cigarette, against many alleged evils in literature and art, try to develop opinion and action outside the formal legal system. Such an enthusiast as Comstock had the support of thousands who saw in him a crusader for righteousness. He symbolized for them the protection and maintenance of their threatened morals. And much of his power was outside the strictly legal codes of social control.

The dominant moral codes of our own country are in general those of Christianity, and particularly those of Anglo-American Puritanism. These codes are kept alive by church officials, and reform organizations. In speech and in print they discuss in terms of the code all sorts of infractions; divorce and marriage scandals, the liquor traffic, white slavery, immodest art productions, and literature which does not conform to the Puritan norms of sex. As a means of political-economic control, censorship is directed against divergent political and economic theories, printed or spoken, and in times of war, against any attitudes which those in authority think will destroy group morale and prevent a whole-hearted support of the national cause.

C. Forms of Contemporary Censorship.

For our purposes we may divide censorship into that form which touches our intra-national life and that which is applied in time of war. Both of these types betray in-group— out-group conflicts; but war-time censorship of course indicates a more definite hostility to a more definite out-group. Though the various minorities affected by intra-national censorship assume definite attitudes of conflict, the purpose of such censorship is to preserve those values held essential to the welfare of the whole group. Frequently the mass of people may be rather indifferent to the censorship; and more often the censorship changes its features in varying localities. In this way minorities are often completely submerged, because the censorship is so generally accepted as right and proper.

1. Intra-national Censorship: Here we shall discuss principally the

(639) intra-national censorship of political-economic theories, literature, art, and drama.

a. Political-economic Censorship.—  Political-economic censorship forbids the circulation, in the printed page or by word of mouth, of social attitudes and ideas which threaten the economic and political stability of the nation. In our history the Abolitionist discussion of slavery produced a long controversy over censorship. Through the mails the Abolitionists sent into the Southern states great quantities of their papers and pamphlets. Southern postmasters destroyed literally tons of this material as unfit to circulate through the United States mails. Here the public opinion of a large section of the country, coupled with the theory of State's rights, predetermined a censorship by federal officials. In other sections of the country this same type of matter was circulated freely enough.

Since the Civil War the censorship of political or economic opinion has been applied to the extremely radical speakers and newspapers supported by communistic or anarchistic minorities. During the World War these extremist papers were prohibited as a part of the larger censorship. Even in peace times radical newspapers have been suppressed. An editor of Paterson, New Jersey, was arrested for making some remarks about Theodore Roosevelt while he was president.

In 1927 a radical newspaper published a poem in which the United States was compared to a prostitute. The publisher and the author, a lad of seventeen, were both arrested. The author was sentenced to the state reformatory. After protests from various associations and prestige-bearing persons who objected to such punishment of a radically-minded adolescent, the young man was finally released. He had, of course, violated simultaneously our political and sexual taboos.

Suppression of the facts of political history is also a form of censorship. Formerly, the United States history textbooks used in the Southern states painted a very different picture of the Civil War than did those used by the schools of the Northern and Western states. In the last generation, groups in various sections of our country have attacked "pro-British" history texts. Thompson of Chicago made the latest of these attacks. In-group— out-group psychology is apparent in all such attacks. People oppose the printing in textbooks of any thing favorable to the British attitudes and actions during the Revolutionary War. A more objective text will not per-

( 640) -petuate in the next generation our old antagonistic attitudes toward Great Britain; and thus it may undermine the patriotism of the nation's youth. So argue the defenders of the older stereotyped history. The truth is that the opponents of "pro-British" history texts are maintaining and trying to pass on the old, familiar attitude of the we-group against its traditional enemy. If we teach our children that the British were not so vicious and benighted as we have hitherto declared, we run the danger of dissipating their patriotism. Patriotism, as we know, is made up of negative attitudes toward the enemy quite as much as positive attitudes toward the we-group.

The two following letters indicate divergent viewpoints on censorship. On the one hand, we have the radical immigrant interested in material interpreting social changes. On the other, we have an official who states the conservative opinion about the easy and uncontrolled circulation of these same materials:

To the Editor of The Nation:

SIR: "Were you born in this country?" "Why did you come here?"

Thus spake Mr. John H. Leete, the director of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, simply because I contributed to the library a book dealing with a vital phase of American history. The book was John Kenneth Turner's remarkable and most accurate study of America's part in the late war, Shall It Be Again? The director refused to place this book on the shelves for general circulation. He told me by letters and by personal interview that this book was anti-American insidiously anti-American— and that no true American would desire to see it circulated.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is controlled by a ruthless czar; he is the director, who is appointed by a board of trustees, among them Andrew Mellon, foremost Pittsburgh citizen (on the income-tax returns) and Secretary of the United States Treasury. The director has the final word on all books, magazines, and newspapers that are to enter the library.

After experimenting thus far, I decided to go further. I sent the library three more books, which, I wrote the director, I would be glad to contribute if he would place them on the shelves for general circulation. These books were Scott Nearing's The American Empire, Upton Sinclair's The Goose-Step, and ex-Senator Pettigrew's Imperial Washington. A few days later I received an acknowledgment and thanks for my contribution, but do you think they were ever placed on the shelves for general circulation? No!



To the Editor of The Nation:

SIR: I appreciate your courtesy in allowing me to see the article criticizing the

(641) policy of the Carnegie Library. As typical of many points in which the article falls short of the truth, let me say that the opening conversation, in order correctly to represent the facts, should be prefaced by statements of your correspondent to the effect: America is all wrong. Her government is altogether corrupt and her public men are all crooks and grafters. It was only then that as a matter of curiosity I asked the question "Were you born in this country?" and obtained the answer that the young man was of Russian birth. Again, to be fair, the article should state explicitly that the books were accepted for reference use, which would make them always available for all readers of maturity.

Yes, there is a distinct difference of opinion between your correspondent and the writer as to the policy which should be pursued by a public library. We do contend that a public library is not only justified in limiting the circulation of certain material to people of maturity of judgment and with sufficient knowledge of the facts in question to enable them to discriminate between true and just charges and unfair and malicious slander, but is obligated to adopt such a policy. While we would not and do not debar from our shelves any material representing the viewpoint of any individual or group of individuals, we do believe that we should not circulate indiscriminately among young and immature minds unproved or false assertions and accusations calculated to defame character and to subvert government and good order. We believe that public funds should not be devoted to such a purpose.

May I call your attention to the fact, also, that every editor and publisher uses discretionary power as to the material he shall circulate and, in that sense, exercises the same right (censorship?) as that claimed for the library? To say that the library shall circulate without question anything that finds its way into print simply makes the publisher the judge rather than the public library.

Director, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh [1]

This same determination to maintain patriotic attitudes is the basis for opposing the publication of biographies of Washington and other national heroes which dissipate our popular legends and myths about them. Thus the Daughters of the American Revolution violently disapprove of Rupert Hughes' and W. E. Woodard's rather frank biographies of George Washington. These women are genuinely convinced that such men are destroying our patriotism and that their books should therefore be suppressed. The process of "de-bunking" our national heroes, which seems to be a popular diversion of some authors, has aroused a distinct protest from the patriotic minorities who think that such activities will destroy our fundamental nationalistic values. We find many other legends under scrutiny by

( 642) these same authors. The exposure of many of the actual facts about John Brown or Walter Hines Page helps to disrupt our traditional pictures of them. Whether our new picture is fairly accurate or merely another legend, is a question which only the future can answer. Certainly while the controversy is on, many groups of sincere patriots will try to suppress the spread of these new ideas in schools, on the lecture platform, or through the press.

b. Literary Censorship.— Our Christian society has always looked askance at any literature, artistic or scientific, which does not respect our mores about sex. In the 1870's the Young Men's Christian Association in New York began a crusade against pornographic literature. One Anthony Comstock joined the crusade and his organization, The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, has continued the crusade down to the present. The Society was and is supported by ample funds from religious groups. It has caused the destruction of literally tons of improper books, pictures, and playing cards, and it has obtained the imprisonment of a considerable number of people. Through the efforts of the Society and its supporters more rigorous laws against pornographic literature were written into the federal law. Many state laws were also tightened up. The preponderant opinion which, on the whole, had supported the war of the Society against obviously obscene matter, split decidedly, as did the courts, when the Society tried to prevent the publication and distribution of literature long considered classical. Boccaccio, Rabelais, Rousseau, Zola, Balzac, and Daudet were attacked as immoralists; and even such books as Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure and Harold Frederic's The Damnation of Theron Ware were not safe.

Books of scientific merit like Havelock Ellis' Psychology of Sex were restricted in circulation. Curiously enough, after circulating for more than thirty years, Sanger's History of Prostitution was suppressed. Dr. Malchow and his publisher both went to prison for publishing The Sexual Life, a book highly praised by medical journals and professional persons.

The question of whether censorship is right or not is not our concern. We are interested rather in the fact that public opinion, here as elsewhere, reflects divergent attitudes and beliefs. The supporters of censorship maintain that such literature, whether the pornographic pictures and stories sold by newsboys on trains or such books as Havelock Ellis' and Malchow's, is certain to produce morally disastrous effects upon the readers. Schroeder,

( 643) describing the trial of Dr. Malchow and his publisher, reports the following:

During the trial, the court refused the defendants the right to prove that all in the book was true, holding, with all the judicial decisions, that their being true was immaterial in fixing guilt. An unsuccessful effort was made to prove the need for such a book because of the great ignorance of the public upon sex matters, and the "learned" judge remarked that he hoped it was true that the public was ignorant of such matters, and excluded the evidence. President Roosevelt being asked by members of Congress to pardon the convicts, because of the propriety of this book, is reported to have expressed an amazing regret that he could not prolong the sentence.[2]

In the various court decisions, the obscene is held to be anything that may incite "impure thoughts" in the "minds of persons that are susceptible to impure thoughts," or which "tends to deprave the minds" of any, who because of youth or inexperience, are "open to such influences." These opinions continue down to the most recent censorship of Mrs. Mary Ware Dennett's pamphlet on sex education. Books are subject to censorship when they are "unbecoming and immodest," and yet in all this the courts have been vague in their definitions. On the whole, the judges have expressed from the bench the Christian mores as a basis for finding the accused guilty. In United States vs. Harman Judge Phillips thus delivered himself to the jury:

There is in the popular conception and heart such a thing as modesty. It was born in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they passed from that condition of perfectibility, which some people nowadays aspire to, and, their eyes being opened, they discovered that there was both good and evil; "and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons." From that day to this civilized man has carried with him a sense of shame, the feeling that there were some things on which the eye, the mind, should not look; and where men or women become so depraved by the use, or so insensate from perverted education that they swill not veil their eyes, or hold their tongues, the Government should perform the office for them in protection of the social compact and the body politic [3]

( 644)

The opinion of the judge reflects the attitude of the masses. And so all frank discussion of sex is commonly censored. While minorities may differ, majority opinion seems to favor the traditional mores, even though in any single case it may be hard to decide what is censorable and what is not.

In addition to the direct censorship of the expression of opinion, there is an indirect pressure of significance. This is the threat of censorship, as it has existed in many countries. Thus without overt action by the authorities, a pretty effective censorship may nevertheless be maintained. Tolstoy described the way in which the very fear of possible censorship affected his work

You will not believe how, from the very commencement of my activity, that horrible censor question has tormented me. I wanted to write what I felt, but at the same time it occurred to me that what I wrote would not be permitted, and involuntarily I had to abandon the work. I abandoned, and went on abandoning, and meanwhile the years passed .[4]

As Tolstoy implies, the effect of such a fear is to prevent any expression of opinion. This means that censorship may obviously retard the growth of adequate political or economic institutions or of creative art.

Unsuccessful attempts at censorship often give to a book the attention of a much wider public than it might otherwise have gained. For example, Cabell's Jurgen, which had an originally limited circulation, was brought before a court by the Society for Suppression of Vice. The book became famous overnight, and for two years it was given attention in the press. Copies of Jurgen were in demand through the country at high prices. Thousands of persons read it who otherwise would never have heard of it. After the case was finally dismissed in favor of the publisher, the book had an enormous sale. The notion having got abroad that the book was dangerously spicy, people in all circles became interested in it. A more recent instance was the effort to suppress Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness. This novel must have reached thousands who otherwise would never have heard of it. This sort of thing has happened over and over again in this country. The suppression of a book or a printed play arouses public curiosity. We promptly discuss it and attempt to secure it, and give the book a far greater circulation than it might otherwise have had. In our

(645) day when such suppression is itself news, the fact or mere threat of suppression soon spreads. Almost overnight the curious become over-anxious to see and read the forbidden thing.

One very definite result of all censorship, as of all taboo, is clear from this. While it may be effective in preventing a lecture or in limiting the circulation of obnoxious books or pamphlets, it also has the effect of calling unusual attention to the prohibited object. The fact of the taboo itself arouses an interest in the forbidden thing. Suppression so complete that no one ever knows about the material is the only effective way of preventing this surreptitious interest in the tabooed object. The very negation of our attention and movement toward an object produces irritation and even rage. Hence, the suppression of a book or play may arouse antagonistic responses not only in the persons directly concerned but in others who hear about it and imagine that they would like to see it.

c. Dramatic Censorship.— Much the same sort of experience follows the censorship of the drama. In Great Britain the censorship of plays has been under the control of the Lord Chamberlain since 1737. The Puritan mores are responsible for this control. Although the existence of the law has provoked furious public discussion, the law stands today practically unchanged. The practical administration of the code, like the concrete administration of many such details in the mores, depends in part at least upon the individual judgment, or even caprice, of the official censor. One examiner appointed by the Lord Chamberlain had an obsession against the use of such words as "heaven" and "angel" and forbade their use in dramas. Other examiners have been equally arbitrary. Not only have dramas of sex like Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession been the storm center of public opinion, but plays thought irreligious have been banned. Such plays as Oscar Wilde's Salome (1892), Maeterlinck's Monna Vanna (1902), and Housman's Bethlehem (1902) have been suppressed, in part on religious grounds.

In the United States the control of the drama is derived largely from general statutes forbidding obscenity and lewdness and from the general police power over immoral acts. In New York the so-called "Padlock Law" is an effective threat to producers of immoral plays, for through it the courts may, on finding a play immoral, close the theater for stated periods.

In late years American censorship has been directed against dramas of sex, religion, and the war. What Price Glory was forced to omit some of

(646) its more Rabelaisian action. It was actually forbidden in some cities because it offended the patriotic minorities who declared that it exposed the "wrong side" of war. The censorship of Schildkraut's God of Vengeance and of Gantillon's Maya reveals the current American mores of sex. Both plays deal with prostitution, the one realistically, the other symbolically, yet in a conscientious manner.

The student of social behavior explains these actions as part of our contemporary Christian mores. The serious treatment of the tabooed topic of sex is banned. Equally interesting to the student of human action is the fact that both in this country and in England the music hall or burlesque thrives with very little censorship. In these stage productions sex is made the subject of humor. It is treated as a joke, under the thin veil of double entendre. This substitute fashion of portraying sex frailties is permissible. But serious, frank, and rational treatment is taboo because after all to permit such treatment puts sex into the realm of public discussion.[5] This the conservative elements wish to prevent.

Our taboos on sex and on the unconventional portrayal of religious characters prevented the showing of Maugham's Rain in some cities. As Sumner said, the sacredness of religion is in the mores of this country and any attempts on the stage, in the novel, or in the newspaper to attack it are quickly punished in one way or another. The first scene of ONeill's All God's Chillun Got Wings was censored because it offended the mores of race relations. In 1911 Hebrew groups made some efforts to stop the use of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice in the public schools of New York City because it gave a wrong impression of the Jew, Shylock. Had these groups been in control of the schools, the drama would probably have been suppressed.

As with the novel, any censorship or threat of censorship of a play stimulates a great curiosity among people who otherwise might never hear of it. The producers of O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms complained of the morbid and ignorant sensation-seekers who crowded into their little playhouse during the weeks when the play was under fire from the censors. A stimulation of our interest in the tabooed subject has always followed from the efforts to enforce the taboo. This seems especially to be a fact in situa-

( 647) -tions where the masses may satisfy their repressions by vicarious indulgence in dramatic situations.

Censorship of the motion picture follows the same cultural patterns. Here, as in all censorship, there are local indifferences. What is cut by the State censors of Pennsylvania or Kansas may be acceptable in other states. Still the taboo in general follows the Christian codes. Scenes dealing with passionate love-making, with crime, or with particular religions are deleted. Often the permissible sections are very short and merely suggestive. The following list of deletions from rather recent films shows concretely what kinds of actions the censors think are offensive to public morals:

Great stress is laid on the fact that children must be protected from all knowledge of evil. In Brother Officers the censors cut out scenes showing baby clothes designed for a baby yet to be born and gave as the official reason, "The average child believes a stork brings the baby. We can't disillusion the child."

— — — — — — 

It is interesting to note that Ohio censors cut out pictures of girls in bathing suits that the stern Pennsylvanians pass. The explanation is that Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers are hardened to bathing suits because they are so much nearer Atlantic City, Coney Island and such places.

— — — — — — 

The Pennsylvania Board of Censors has a list of about thirty standards which guides it in its work. I will quote a few of the more interesting ones:

"1. No prenatal or childbed scenes will be approved.

"2. Pictures including themes and incidents having to do with eugenics, birth control, race suicide.

"3. Pictures showing men and women living together without marriage.

"4. Views of women smoking will not be disapproved as such, but when women are smoking in suggestive postures or their manner of smoking is suggestive or degrading, such scenes will be disapproved."

— — — — — — 

It will interest you to see a few random elimination orders of censorship boards. Ohio censors forbade this joke:

"Bootlegging must be a good business."

"Aw, it ain't the coin that counts so much wit' me, lady. It's the people youse meet."

The reason: "It would incite to crime."

Eliminated from Mack Sennet comedy:

"Will you drink your hair tonic here or take it home?" Another crime incentive.

An uncle was spanking two children. He says, "This hurts me more than it does you." "Yes, but not in the same place." Blotted out as indecent.


Here is one cut out from a picture called The Best People.

"The Willow Grove Country Club had heard about prohibition several years ago and didn't believe it yet." The censors made it "The Willow Grove Country Club was smart and snappy."

Close-up views of bottles of champagne and ice were eliminated.

The Manicure Girl— "Eliminate `Give Anthony and Cleopatra a facial. God knows they need it,' and substitute `Give Anthony and Cleopatra a facial. Heaven knows they need it: Profane and objectionable language." [6]

National differences in the mores of course appear in censorship. In Japan kissing scenes in American films are strictly tabooed because kissing is thought highly immoral for Japanese youth. In the United States, while long kissing scenes in the films are usually cut down, kissing as such is not taboo.

d. Censorship of Fine Arts.— The censorship of painting and sculpture follows much the same trend. The placing of MacMonnies' "Civic Virtue" in City Hall Square, New York, aroused a storm of protest from organizations and individuals who saw in it an indecent thrust at the female sex. The exposure of paintings of the nude has been tabooed in many cities, as has also the erection of statues of the nude, for much the same reasons as the censorship of plays and novels dealing with sex. The local mores operate here as elsewhere in determining what is "good" and "proper." What is immoral in one country may in another be quite acceptable or at [east a mere peccadillo.

2. International Conflict and Censorship.— Political, economic, and moral changes provoke a certain amount of censorship in our day. Nevertheless, in spite of all our taboos, we really have much more freedom in these things than ever before. With the changing of moral codes there is bound to be, at least in our cosmopolitan centers, a good deal of liberty in printing, play production and the exhibition of artistic works. While minorities, usually reformer groups with the older Puritan mores, try to enforce their own taboos, other minorities oppose this attempt at censorship. Though the reform groups may feel that the threatening social changes constitute a real crisis, they are only partly successful in suppressing the offensive productions.

In periods, as during the World War, where our national existence is thought to be at stake, the situation is somewhat different. In such times

(649) national survival becomes paramount. Any efforts to hurt the public morale and prevent complete support of the armed force of the nation are dealt with severely. Our official theories of personal liberty seem unable to stretch themselves to tolerate disobedience and disloyalty in a time of rational stress. As a consequence we substitute an oligarchic military control for democratic civil procedure. Military tactics seem to demand censorship of military information. As in the recent war, this is easily followed by censorship of political opinion about the war. While those gifted in logical niceties may distinguish military from non-military censorship, in actual practice, with our highly integrated modern life where every detail of our social organization becomes essential to military success, it is impossible to separate sharply the military from other forms of censorship. Thus, in the late war, censorship was applied to every phase of news and opinion. An entire nation or even group of allied nations became a large in-group fighting for existence. We attempted to close up even the slightest difference of idea or attitude. If public opinion implies differences of opinion— and we have so defined it— it practically ceased to exist. Instead whole populations were dragooned into silence and conformity in order to insure the larger good of national survival.

War news has been commonly censored for a long time. Organized governmental censorship is relatively recent. For instance, during the Civil War the censorship of newspapers and periodicals was not systematic. The Northern newspapers printed information and opinions which never would be permitted today in war time. It might be contended that the liberty permitted the press during the Civil War affected unfavorably the success of Northern arms. War correspondents traveling with the Union troops caused some antagonism among many military commanders. Sherman was particularly bitter. He remarked in one of his letters: "If the press can govern the country, let them fight the battles." Harper's Weekly was once suppressed for printing sketches of fortifications at Yorktown at the time it was beseiged by General McClellan. The Chicago Times was suppressed because of its attitudes on the war. Other sporadic efforts were made to control the press in the interests of the Union cause. Still, on the whole, the newspapers during the Civil War were remarkably free from censorship.

The Franco-Prussian War brought into existence a fairly systematic organization for the control of news. However, it was not until the Balkan

( 650) Wars and the Russian-Japanese War that censorship began to assume the national significance which we witnessed in the World War. Since the hysteria of war has dissipated itself, a number of recent books and memoirs throw much light on the techniques of censorship during the World War. Two accessible British publications of value are Brownrigg's Indiscretions of a Naval Censor and Sir Campbell Stuart's Secrets of Crewe House.

Various books formerly thought harmless such as pictorial annuals of the British navy showing pictures of fighting ships were called in and suppressed. The names of mercantile vessels destroyed by mines were suppressed so that the enemy might not know of its successes. The theory early developed that news of disasters should be kept from the public for fear that they might lose heart and fail to support the war. For instance, Brownrigg relates how, in September, 1914, Lord Churchill withheld news of disasters to the British in the Dardanelles in the hope that he might have good news from some other quarter to offset it. One of the most interesting cases of censorship in the whole war occurred following the Battle of Jutland. The Grand Fleet met the Germans on May 31, 1916. Over the radio the Germans proclaimed to the world a complete victory. The British public got nothing official or otherwise in its newspapers for days. Finally men from the crippled ships which had crept into English ports began to tell their stories of the battle. These narratives circulated first by word of mouth and then got into the press. In the end, when the public became sufficiently aroused, the naval officials gave out the news, telling the number of vessels lost and some details about the fight. They still suppressed the names of the vessels lost. Under the theory of military secrecy, the British administration first tried to censor rigidly all news which appeared in the British papers; later, as the war went on, they modified this policy. In the modifications made in published photographs of British ships, we see some curious aspects of censorship. Brownrigg re-publishes a number of original pictures, and then the pictures as they appeared free from details which might give information to the enemy. In all this, there is the attitude of the military authority which feels that it must repress all information and opinion about its operations, and, in opposition, the theory, or culture pattern, of a free press in a democratic country. Inevitably conflicts arose between the press and the government. In 1917 the London Nation was forbidden to send one of its issues to America on the ground

( 651) that its comment might arouse the wrong attitudes in America toward the war. Yet, in general, the press supported the war whole-heartedly. It so completely complied with the government's wishes that public opinion about the war ceased to exist. The only problems left were the minor ones of just what material to print and what not to.

Partly because we were farther away from the war the American press was not in quite the same situation as was the European press. On the whole, governmental control of news was more quickly and more effectively established here than elsewhere. Dispatches from European sources were all approved. Only official news got through. The Americans were often denied news which was furnished British readers without stint.

Within our country, the feeble minority groups who opposed the war were effectively silenced. The New York Call, the Masses, and the Milwaukee Leader, three radical papers, were suppressed. Censorship did not cease with newspapers. Latzo's Men in War was disapproved by Postmaster Burleson and did not circulate through the mails until some time after the war was over. The army officials prepared an official index of tabooed books among them being Frederick Howe's Why War?, Barbusse's Under Fire, and Latzo's Men in War.

Our theory in all this was that suppression of stimulation controls response. If the soldiers do not read realistic novels of the war, we can more easily fill them with the romantic, fantastical images of war which are current in our national legends and mythology. If we prevent people from reading negative, critical articles about the war, we keep them in an emotional rather than a rational attitude toward the war. We must, that is, control the direction of their attention. We must get their behavior under the control of the group leaders who have the responsibility for prosecuting the war to a successful issue. National survival, the persistence of our in-group cultural values, depends on our success; and any means to accomplish this survival are right and proper.

In summary, then, censorship is rooted in our inhibitions of our own and others' expressions of opinion and behavior except in culturally acceptable ways. It is correlated with the whole psychology of authority. That is, censorship is a form of our collective behavior when our cultural values are threatened in crises. If the crisis is intra-group, various publics or interest groups may clash over the direction which social behavior should take. If, as in war, the crisis is inter-group, practically the

( 652) whole nation may be forced into silence. Out of its desire for survival the state may mobilize itself to force the small unruly minorities to discontinue the slightest criticism of a war even if such divergent groups will not accept the nationalistic thesis. The use of arbitrary censorship in either intra-group or inter-group crisis is but another evidence of the dominance of emotionalized attitudes in a crisis. Furthermore, with our changing cultural norms, censorship is itself a subject of public discussion, in both peace and war. Although the various organs of public opinion in Europe and this country during the years 1914-118, conformed, more or less under duress, to the standards of the military authority, the democratic tradition of freedom of speech and press persisted and it was not without protest that censorship was so universally applied.


A. Questions and Exercises.

1. What is the relation of modern censorship to taboo in more primitive and ancient societies?

2. What are the principal crises in which censorship today tends to develop?

3. Why do certain ultra-patriotic groups become so concerned over the publication of the more critical, realistic biographies of Washington, Jackson, John Brown, Grant, Wilson and others?

4. How do you account for the divergences in the type of literary material censored in Boston and in New York?

5. How do you account for differences in matter censored in the motion picture in various states and communities?

6. Why is censorship more severe in time of war than at any other period?

B. Topics for Class Reports and Longer Themes.

1. Report Graves, Readings in Public Opinion, Chapters, XXXI, XXXIII, nos. r, 2.

1a. Report Ernst and Scagle, To the Pure, A Study of Obscenity and the Censor.

2. Psychological Analysis of World War Censorship: England, America, France, Germany. (Cf. Young and Lawrence, Bibliography on Censorship and Propaganda, University of Oregon Press, (1928.)

3. Review Brownrigg's Indiscretions of a Naval Censor in order to see the types of technique employed.

4. Do the same for Stuart's Secrets of Crewe House and Cook's The Press in Wartime.


  1. From correspondence column the Nation, Dec. to, 1924, vol. CXIX, p. 628.
  2. T. Schroeder, Free Press Anthology, 1909, p. 254. Cf. also Schroeder, "Obscene" Literature and Constitutional Law, 1911, p. 69. Courtesy of T. Schroeder.
  3. Quoted by H. Broun and M. Leech, Anthony Comstock, 1927, p. 274. Courtesy of Albert and Charles Boni, Inc.
  4. Quoted by E. A. Ross, Principles of Sociology, 1920, p. 645. Courtesy of The Century Company.
  5. An amusing incident in the censorship of sex materials occurred when the Report of the Chicago Vice Commission was barred from the mails. See F. L. Wells, Mental Adjustments, pp. 80-84 for a discussion of substitutive words for various tabooed subjects, and of the social factors which govern their usage.
  6. Selected from B. Ueland, "Censoring the Movies," Liberty, March 20, 1926.

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