I’m with you in Rockland: Howl’s Obscenity Trial vs. the SOPA Act

We all read Ginsberg’s “Howl” for class today. “Howl” as a poem is seen as one of the most influential works of the Post WWII era and for good reason. I feel like the most important thing “Howl” did came in the aftermath of its obscenity trial in 1957. On March 25 of that year, the 520 copies of “Howl” that were published in London were seized by US customs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Shig Murao were arrested for publishing and selling the book. The reason for the trial was its often graphic discussion of sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, and drug use. At the end of the trial, “Howl” was deemed to have “redeeming social importance” and was acquitted. This was a win for America in that it upheld the notion of free speech.

That being said, recently there has been much debate about censorship, especially in regard to the internet with the looming SOPA act (if you don’t know what it is here is a link to the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act; it’s absolutely ridiculous on various levels, but that is another debate). To sum it up, this bill is mostly focused on stopping online piracy. But under the bills current terms, it makes any unauthorized streaming of copyrighted material a felony. The punishment? Could be up to five years in prison for a first offense. Entire websites including the likes of Youtube, Twitter and Facebook could be shut down after just one copyright violation. What is considered a copyright violation under the bill? You know that video you posted on Youtube of you and your friend dancing to that Lady Gaga song as a joke? You could face prison time for that.

The ruling in the “Howl” obscenity trial set a precedent for freedom of speech and, in a way, paved the way for revolution. In today’s technology driven world, similar revolutions are driven by social media sites like Twitter (think the Arab Spring). Without them, what will happen? Do you see the similarity between the “Howl” obscenity trial and the current SOPA act? What are your feelings?

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3 thoughts on “I’m with you in Rockland: Howl’s Obscenity Trial vs. the SOPA Act

  1. First, I agree that SOPA is stupid, but I think that with sites such as Youtube and Facebook, the government is just asking for piracy to happen. I actually just wrote a paper on censoring, but it was actually about censoring children from racism and making white writers look better. I really dont like poetry, but I do see the connection between Howl and SOPA. America is also an example of this.

  2. I see social media as a unification tool. It has made the world seem like a much smaller place when at any time someone can “follow” someone else anywhere in the world. This unification process involves more than just being able to contact so many at once but also realizing the similarities we all posses. Communal acts such as the Arab Spring have gained so much power because they united people under one cause. In a group, people experience less fear. They are less afraid to speak their minds and act out against established governments when they have the backing of millions. I think Howl had a similar effect. It spoke things that people had been afraid to say but once voiced it served as a rallying cry and united people with similar experiences and opinions.

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