It’s nudity, but is it art? The U.S. Supreme Court deemed the question irrelevant with its legalization of sexual nudity in April 1968. But in the years leading up to the ruling, the representation of the male form in media had to have ‘socially redeeming value’ in order to avoid any persecution.
Now, the Bob Mizer Foundation is releasing a new DVD that examines Mizer’s portrayal of the male physique in the decade between the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1957 that media could be labeled obscene unless they included any ‘socially redeeming values’ and the same court’s legalization of male nudity during one of the most tumultuous years in the country’s history -- the year after the Summer of Love and before the Stonewall riots. The new compilation of Mizer’s films, titled “Socially Redeeming Value,” will be released May 20.
The DVD’s release comes on the heels of last year’s DVD, “Bob Mizer: Court Declares Nudity Not Obscene, 1967-71,” an 11-film compilation of Mizer movies produced in the months directly before and after the court redefined obscenity.
The 1957 arrival of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem “Howl” in the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court signaled a landmark in the fight for artists to be free to express themselves in their work. Especially in the midst of 1950s America’s puritanical aversion to sex and the male form, Ginsberg’s victory set the stage for the evolution of Mizer’s own work. Finally, male nudity could be portrayed in media, but not erotically – it had to have “redeeming social importance.
In the years that followed, photographers and filmmakers like Mizer presented nude males in setting such as nudist camps, promoting them as pristine models for robust health and good living. Desert camps such as Ramona Ranch, Hemet and Homeland were the settings for these films that showed nude male models in an unerotic light. By the middle of the decade, male nude photography and films at nudist camps were highly popular, going to distributors like Wyngate and Bevins (one of the first porn mogul companies), setting the stage for the golden age of pornography in the early and mid-1970s.
Five years later, Miller v. California would lead the Supreme Court to develop its Three-Prong Obscenity Test, which measured whether materials could be labeled obscene: 1. If the “average person” in any given community could find that the material appealed to his or her prurient interests, 2. If the work depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and 3. If the work lacks any “literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” The court ruled that the work could be considered obscene if it met all three criteria.
Trailers and clips for “Socially Redeeming Value” will be released on bobmizer.org and the foundation’s social media pages in the coming days before the DVD’s rollout in late May. The foundation will accept preorders beginning later this week.
The Bob Mizer Foundation seeks to raise awareness and appreciation of Mizer’s photographs and films produced over the span of his career of more than 50 years.
For more information, visit the foundation’s website at www.bobmizer.org.