In the year 1557, an edict by then-Pope Paul IV in Rome decreed that fig leaves should be placed on various sculptures that displayed men’s private parts in plain view.
This oddity continued for about 450 years through several popes, though some favored leaves made of metal or plaster. The modestly draped statues still stand–in altered view–in Vatican City in Rome.
Not to be left out, in 1798, noted Spanish artist Francisco Goya—who was commissioned by the Spanish Court—painted “The Naked Maja,” which depicted a female in a reclining position in the buff. The painting caused a stir, and Goya added another picture of the same model in the same pose, but this time wearing clothing. Regardless, Goya was severely reprimanded by the Spanish Inquisition and no longer allowed to paint for the court.
Long after his death, Goya was thrust into more controversy in 1930, when a set of four of his paintings—including “The Naked Maja”—were issued in stamp form. The U.S. government and the U.S. Postal Service subsequently forbade and returned letters coming from Spain that displayed the Naked Maja stamps. That ruling ended in 1996.
Even today, nude sculptures create a stir among our society. “Civic Virtue”—a statue of a naked man towering over two female sirens—was moved to Kew Gardens from City Hall during the 1930s after Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia famously said he was tired of looking at the statue’s derriére on the way to work every morning.
The statue was relocated to Kew Gardens, and today, a number of elected officials in Queens want it removed since they considered it to be sexist.
Such moral restrictions surrounding genuine works of art have been occurring long before the advent of computers and the Internet. Today, images of nudity—though in a much more graphic form—are just a click away, and anyone can view them simply by visiting their local libraries, with little public outcry.
The accessibility of pornography at public libraries—which certainly isn’t art—is a very touchy subject. While many may find such graphic content morally repugnant, it is completely legal and protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Library officials claim that customers can watch whatever they want on their computers, especially since they are provided to the library by federal funding. Filters can be added for use by those under 17 years of age under the Children’s Internet Protection Act, but they are fraught with technological problems.
Even though many libraries have separate computer stations for adults and children—as they would with separate reading areas—there’s little to stop a child from sitting next to an adult at a library computer looking at pornography.
Ideally, porn users should keep their viewing practices at home, but they’re probably afraid of getting caught by family members. Since our libraries are going to be used in such a manner, it’s time for administrators to take steps to prevent children from being accidentally exposed to lewd images.
Perhaps the libraries should set aside a special “adults only” section of the public library—hidden behind a curtain, much like a local video rental store—for adults to browse their pornography and not leave it up to librarians to determine who is or is not a porn user.
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