Fandom has encountered censorship at the hands of authorities, but fans have more often been the practitioners than the victims of censorship. Actual or suggested suppression of ideas, publications and images most often involved sexual themes (overtly or by innuendo), but political issues have also been targeted.
In 1944, FAPA held a special election that was intended, among other things, to quash expressions of racism in the apa, in particular Jack Speer’s outspoken opinions. The membership voted it down by one vote (19–18), partly due partly to concerns it amounted to censorship.
In March 1945, A. Langley Searles threatened to turn objectionable FAPA material over to the Post Office. FAPAns resented this to the point of making the organization too hot to hold him. FAPA also had episodes of censorship when items were excluded from the mailings by Official Editors Francis Towner Laney (for libel), and Charles Burbee, Redd Boggs, and Dick Eney (for indecency). The FAPA bundle is mailed under the Official Editor's name, therefore he may exclude anything that would get him in trouble with Postal authorities. Various genzines had run-ins with the P.O. for publishing indelicate illustrations: "Postal inspectors can usually see, even if they can't read."
During World War II, Bill Danner was abused for "slipping one by the censor" when he wrote a humorous ad for Astounding which concealed in its price list the words "SUM FUN HEY KID," and in 1951 Detroit fen published an issue of Spicy STF Stuff which originally contained lots of racy dialog that was carefully crayoned out before distribution. (However, this was done to suppress a feud, rather than to please the government.) At another time, the New Jersey Spectators published a fanzine wherein the four-letter words were left blank on the stencil, then handwritten in for trustworthy recipients.
Vernon McCain (Wastebasket) and Dick Geis (Psychotic) reported receiving warnings to delete objectionable material before distribution of their fanzines. The Crusade to Clean Up Fandom, launched by Russ Watkins in 1951, targeted anti-religious and pro-sex fanwritings, and only lasted until Watkins joined the Air Force and then fafiated.
Dr. Fredric Wertham's influence in censoring comics particularly offended collectors of the material. (Twenty years later, Wertham re-established contact with fandom to write an academic publication on fanzines, and found acceptance as a letterhack to Donn Brazier's Title.)
Although outright pornography has not been a common outlet for fanac, two of the best-known fanwriters, Dick Geis and Earl Kemp (Who Killed Science Fiction?), as well as several less noted fans, earned their living in the field and fueled discussion of obscenity laws and censorship. For publishing the text of the report of the President's Commission on Pornography -- illustrated to show precisely what they were discussing -- Earl Kemp and Bill Hamling served jail time beginning in 1969. During the early ’70s, Geis chronicled his porn career in Science Fiction Review and The Alien Critic. He also ran a limited circulation zine including sexual material.
Andrew Offutt, as John Cleve, achieved a small cult following among fans aware of the pro writing pseudonym. Mike Resnick also wrote porn, and later spoke openly about it, but without revealing his pennames. Bill Rotsler's photography of naked ladies was well publicized and envied.
By the early ’70s, nudity and discussion of sexual topics had ceased to be a target of fannish censorship to the extent that several Westercon masquerades presented a Most Naked Lady awards, until it became boring. Whereas in the late ’60s The Victorian Digest had a circumspect distribution of scatological and sexual wit, by the mid-70s APA-69 partly succeeded as a publishing association of outright pornography.
Fandom's acceptance of public expressions of sexuality did not do away with censorship in itself. New motives arose for one lot of fans to repress another lot's ideas and material. For instance, in the mid-70s, the FBI reacted against film pirates and the sale of unlicensed media merchandise by actually visiting a few SF conventions, usually when encouraged by Lucasfilms. The threat of legal action deterred some hucksters from openly selling illegally obtained copyrighted material and deterred most SF conventions from showing questionably-obtained film prints. Or at least from advertising such prints. This may have been conformity rather than censorship; in any case the effect was to bar a form of fannish activity.
Truer examples of censorship popped up in Art Shows. Dave Vereschagin's comic panel, "How to Kill a Cat," in the 1979 Westercon Art Show, drew quite a bit of extremely derogatory comment from ailurophilic attendees, including members of the Art Show staff (see File 770 14, p. 5 and File 770 15, p. 2 p. 8). At the 1981 Norwescon, the art show director withdrew a painting by Artist GoH Rowena Morrill on the ground that it was sexist. It was rehung before the close of the show, but "the controversy over censorship versus the exploitation of women made for interesting and heated conversations for the rest of the convention" [Locus 244, p. 12]. One art show director also refused to permit certain paintings to be shown on aesthetic grounds.
The most subtle form of self-censorship prevalent today stems from our society's increasing fondness for lawsuits. In the Good Old Days, fannish libels and slanders were unlikely to be punished other than by response in kind. This was chiefly because the victim could not afford legal action, and the perpetrator had no assets to make a lawsuit worthwhile. This practice was generalized to a tradition (now obsolete) that it was somehow immoral for one fan to sue another merely on the grounds of fannish activity. Modern fandom, with its nonprofit corporations, clubhouses, and bank accounts, now has assets which are legally vulnerable. Therefore many editorial decisions affecting material to be published are based on the potential for lawsuit.
The 2021 Worldcon, Discon 3, took on a role as political censor by disinviting its Editor GoH, Toni Weisskopf, because of content others posted in her company’s user forums that the concom found objectionable.
|From Fancyclopedia 2, ca. 1959|
|Something bound to be encountered by any form of writing advocating or depicting different standards in morality, politics, or other fields. Various fans have threatened it, like the CCF and Marion Zimmer Bradley during her feud (1950-1951) with Laney. [She claimed later that her threat was a hoax (on Boggs, the OE, not on FTL); cf Sick Sick Sick Jokes.] In March '45 Langley Searles began to voice threats of turning objectionable material over to the post office, which FAPA resented to the point of making the organization too hot to hold him. Curiously, the only available records of fan censorship -- as distinguished from editing -- were by fans opposed to the practice; at various times items were excluded from the FAPA bundle by OEs Laney (for libel), Burbee, Boggs, and Eney (for indecency). [The FAPA bundle is mailed under the Official Editor's name; he therefore has the power to exclude anything that'd get him in trouble with the Post Office.] Various generalzines have had difficulties with the PO, mostly for publishing indelicate illustrations ("Postal inspectors can usually see, even if they can't read") but Max Keasler got in bad with Them on account of an article on butterfly fandom, "The Immoral Storm", and they kept after him so persistently on subsequent issues that Opus 4 had to be smuggled into a different postal area and dispatched from there. ("The only border-run fanzine!", he called it.) During World War II Bill Danner was abused for "slipping one by the censor" when he wrote a humorous ad for ASF which concealed in its price list the words SUM FUN HEY KID, and in 1951 the Detroiters published an issue of Spicy STF Stuff which had originally had lots of racy dialogue -- but before distribution they carefully crayoned out all questionable words! This, however, was to suppress a feud and was not honest-to-Roscoe law-imposed censorship. Similar was the New Jersey Spectators' publication of a fanzine in which the four-letter words were left blank in the stencil and written in by hand for trustworthy recipients. Vernon McCain and Dick Geis both report having been warned to delete objectionable material before distribution of Wastebasket and Psychotic, but here censorship begins to fade into editorial warnings.
Canada and Australia, however, have offered some of the most hair-raising exhibitions in the English-speaking fan world. The Canadian Minister of National Revenue has the power to ban books and magazines sent into Canada (because they fall under Customs authority) for being of a "treasonable, seditious, or of an immoral or indecent character". Under this authority Canada banned Horror Stories, Strange Stories, Terror Tales, and Weird Tales (all weird magazines) at various times, as well as such books as Heavenly Discourse and The Arabian Nights. The Minister incumbent at this time declared that he banned an item "if he wouldn't want his young daughter to read such a book". Since he had no daughter, "the final criterion of what Canadians may or may not read is the moral sensitivity of a young lady who doesn't exist!" And as a rule censors do not reveal which publications they have banned; thus, as Alastair Cameron pointed out, not only can the censor "suppress the opinions of whomever he chooses, but he can go further and suppress the fact of his suppression". Over at the antipodes the Australian Customs has a very large list of "prohibited" books, but this list is held in the greatest secrecy. They won't tell anybody whether a particular book is prohibited or not; the only way you can find out is to try and import it and see whether it gets seized. And once OK'd, a publication is not then in the clear permanently; it can be reclassified at any time. The Ziff Davis Fantastic was allowed thru at first, but when one issue ran a Mickey Spillane story the entire publication, including the previous issues which had been passed, was immediately placed on the banned list. Roger Dard lost a set of pb's to this sort of conduct; he got some that were on the banned list, and the police and postal authorities rifled his home and confiscated some paperbacks by that noted subversive writer, A. Merritt.
|From Fancyclopedia 2 Supplement, ca. 1960|
|In the Boggs case, MZBradley told him at the time -- not "later" -- she wasn't serious; "I just wanted to see what effect the threat would have on you. If you really had the courage of your convictions you would have said 'Nuts, I hope they laugh in your face'. You (Boggs) must have thought it was slightly dirty or you wouldn't have been worrying about it..."|
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