Memoirs v. Massachusetts  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Memoirs v. Massachusetts (argued December 78, 1965, decided March 21, 1966) was the United States Supreme Court decision that attempted to clarify a holding made in Roth v. United States (1957), a decade earlier regarding obscenity. It was a response to the publication by American publisher Putnam and Sons of the 1748 novel Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.

Since the Roth ruling, to be declared obscene a work of literature had to be proven by censors to: 1) appeal to prurient interest, 2) be patently offensive, and 3) have no redeeming social value. The book in question in this case was Fanny Hill (1749) by John Cleland and the Court held in Memoirs v. Massachusetts that, while it may fit the first two criteria (it appealed to prurient interest and was patently offensive), it could not be proven that Fanny Hill had no redeeming social value. The judgment favoring the plaintiff continued that it could still be held obscene under certain circumstances -- for instance, if it were marketed solely for its prurient appeal.

Memoirs v. Massachusetts led to more years of debate about what was and was not obscene and the conferring of more power in these matters to proposers of local community standards.

In a landmark decision on March 21 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the previously banned novel "Fanny Hill" did not meet the Roth standard for obscenity.

Effect of the case

As Stephen J. Gertz remarked in Sin-A-Rama:

"Suddenly [after the Memoirs v. Massachusetts case], community standards regarding prurient interest were trumped by any value whatsoever. The publication of almost the entire corpus of explicit erotic literature became a reality. This was an epochal event, heralding nothing less than the democratization of reading in this country, for this kind of literature had prior been almost exclusively available to the wealthy or well-connected only, printed in small editions and generally cost-prohibitive for the average citizen."

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Memoirs v. Massachusetts" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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