Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

11 OCTOBER, 2011

Perversion for Profit: Vintage Anti-Porn Propaganda

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A vintage card from the Tea Party playbook, or what the Kama Sutra has to do with the fall of the Roman Empire.

Until the global crisis of 2008, the largest financial debacle in living memory was triggered by the Savings & Loan crisis of the late 1980s. And the face of that scandal was Charles Keating. When his bank, Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, failed in 1989, more than 21,000 investors, most of whom elderly, lost their savings, and the American taxpayer forked over $3.4 billion to clean up the mess. Political scandals followed — remember the Keating Five? — and Keating did federal time for wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud.

That’s when financial institutions began to lay waste to the American dream. But if you asked Charles Keating what posed the biggest threat to America’s bright future, he’d point you to something else — porn. (No, not the green kind.) Way back in 1958, Keating founded Citizens for Decent Literature, which became the largest anti-pornography organization in the U.S. As part of his crusade, Keating also produced Perversion for Profit, a 1965 propaganda film that stitched together scads of pornographic images, hoping to make the visual case that pornography, nd homosexuality right along with it, threatened to undermine America as a civilization. Domestic moral decay leads to external threat. That’s the essential argument of the film. And so we get lines like: ”This moral decay weakens our resistance to the onslaught of the communist masters of deceit.” And then this, the closing words narrated by Los Angeles newsman George Putnam:

This same type of rot and decay caused sixteen of the nineteen major civilizations to vanish from the Earth. Magnificent Egypt, classical Greece, imperial Rome, all crumbled away not because of the strength of the aggressor, but because of moral decay from within. But we are in a unique position to cure our own ills: our Constitution was written by men who put their trust in God and founded a government based in His laws. These laws are on our side. We have a constitutional guarantee of protection against obscenity. And, in this day especially, we must seek to deliver ourselves from this twisting, torturing evil. We must save our nation from decay and deliver our children from the horrors of perversion. We must make our land, ‘the land of the free’, a safe home. O God, deliver us, Americans, from evil.”

You can watch this vintage piece of reactionary Americana on YouTube, or find it housed in Open Culture’s collection of Free Movies Online.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University. You can find Open Culture on Twitter and Facebook

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10 OCTOBER, 2011

Poets Ranked by Beard Weights

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Calculating aptitude by way of facial hair, or what Walt Whitman’s “hibernator” has to do with phrenology.

It’s common knowledge that a poet is only as good as his beard. Or so went the wisdom of Poets Ranked by Beard Weight, a privately printed subscription leaflet authored by Upton Uxbridge Underwood and distributed by the Torchbearer Society of London across the reading bins and cocktail tables of turn-of-the-century parlor cars and smoking lounges to keep the era’s literati informed and entertained. The exceedingly rare work eventually became a prized collector’s item for bibliophiles and beard-historians alike, and inspired many of today’s beard-grooming competitions.

Poets Ranked by Beard Weight: The Commemorative Edition, flagged by the ever-fascinating 50 Watts, collects the best of this Edwardian esoterica in an entertaining volume based on the original 1913 edition, resurrecting the seminal text from out-of-print obscurity and into hipster-readiness. From comparing how Walt Whitman’s “Hibernator” beard stacks up against Henry David Thoreau’s “Wandering Jim” to perusing the code of beard poses and gestures found in the Fundamentals of Beard Flirtation, the tome even peeks inside Underwood’s curious beard-sorcery. Critic and literary historian Gilbert Alter-Gilbert writes in the preface:

The Language of the Beard [...] vaunts the premise that the texture, contours, and growth patterns of a man’s beard indicate personality traits, aptitudes, and strengths and weaknesses of character. A spade beard, according to Underwood’s theories, may denote audacity and resolution, for example, while a forked, finely-downed beard signifies creativity and the gift of intuition, a bushy beard suggests generosity, and so on. Moreover, in keeping with the tenets of such sister systems as palmistry, numerology, and phrenology, Underwood posits the power of the ancient art of pogonomancy, or divination by beard reading, to foresee future events.”

The beards are ranked on Underwood’s Pogonometric Index of 0 (“Very very weak”) to 60 (“Very very heavy”), which attributes numerical values to “poetic gravity” and relative “beard weights,” citing 10 to 24 as the normal range for the average person, with the exceptionally gifted scoring upwards of forty. Though the book features only black-and-white illustrations, 50 Watts’ Will Schofield, whose 2009 post on beard weights inspired the book, has culled some photographic examples of the beards in Underwood’s ranking.

Samuel Morse (1791 – 1872)

Beard type: Garibaldi Elongated

Typical opus: What Hath God Wrought

Gravity (UPI rating): 58

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

Beard type: Italian False Goatee

Typical opus: The Blessed Damozel

Gravity (UPI rating): 38

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

Beard type: Wandering Jim

Typical opus: Within the Circuit of This Plodding Life

Gravity (UPI rating): 29

Sidney Lanier (1842 – 1881)

Beard type: Spade

Typical opus: The Song of the Chattahoochee

Gravity (UPI rating): 41

William Cullen Bryant (1794 – 1878)

Beard type: Van Winkle

Typical opus: To a Waterfowl

Gravity (UPI rating): 43

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 – 1618)

Beard type: Van Dyke

Typical opus: The Lie

Gravity (UPI rating): 27

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

Beard type: Hibernator

Typical opus: O Captain! My Captain!

Gravity (UPI rating): 22

As for the obvious “What about the lady-poets?” question, lest we forget what era we’re dealing with here, here’s a proper map of woman’s heart to remind us.

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10 OCTOBER, 2011

Animation Pioneer Max Fleischer Illustrates 1944-1945 News Wires

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From the most expensive kiss on record to university classes on how to choose and keep a husband.

We’ve previously seen artists visually capture the news, from Félix Fénéon’s illustrated three-line “novels” circa 1906 to Sophie Blackall’s brilliant illustrated Craigslist missed connections. In 1944-1945, iconic animation pioneer Max Fleischer, while heading the animation department at the Handy (Jam) Organization (remember them?), created a series of humorous “news sketches” based on human interest stories from the Associated Press wires.

If the stop-motion timelapse editing and Fleicher’s illustration style look familiar, they should be — they presage the excellent and ever-popular RSA animations by over half a century and no doubt inspired everyone’s favorite intellectual sketchnote-storytelling.

The film is now in the public domain and available as a free, legal, remixable download courtesy of the Internet Archive.

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