Censorship, Art, and the Law
Course No. HCS 386 Credits: 3.0
This course will cover the history of censorship in America. We will begin with the language of the First Amendment. We will then study the evolution of the definition of obscenity starting with the Comstack Laws and moving through the current Supreme Court test for determining whether an expression is obscene. We will look at the laws surrounding child pornography as well as hate speech and art that incite violence. For each of these categories of expression, we will discuss anecdotal applications of the First Amendment using artists such as Mapplethorpe, Serrano, Ligon, Zimmerman, Scott, Diana and Finley. While the primary focus of the class will be on government action, we will also look at examples of self censorship by the entertainment industry and public galleries. Finally, we will finish with an overview of the Patriot Act, its current applications and its implications for our future freedom of expression. The question underlying all of the historical context, anecdotal applications and the current law is why do we censor? Are there ever legitimate justifications for censorship and if so, how do we, as a society, draw those lines? In addressing these issues, we will study in depth the feminist anti-pornography movement, excerpts from Susan Sontag's On Photography, and the outcry over music lyrics post Columbine.
Assistant Professor, Film and Art History
Erica Levin's research focuses on vital points of intersection between avant-garde cinema and post-war art, pe...more
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