Citizens for Decent Literature and Covert Catholic Activism in Cold War America
Charles Keating, an ambitious young Cincinnati lawyer, founded Citizens for Decent Literature (CDL) in 1955. Though the social origins of CDL were rooted in Cincinnati’s conservative Catholic politics, Keating was able to recast antipornography politics for a national audience. CDL despised the influx of pornography washing over American society in the 1960s. This emphatic proclamation bespoke a comfort with modernity jarringly at odds with midcentury public perceptions of antismut activists—a very productive modernism that CDL harnessed to great effect over the course of the late 1950s and 1960s. Even as CDL pioneered new discursive formations, which often emanated directly out of obsolete earlier movements, it adopted the tropes and trappings of evolving social mores to reposition activism against obscenity and pornography not as retrograde but rather as an integral part of red-blooded, decent American citizenship. While the group faded from view during the 1970s, CDL set an important precedent for conservative groups in forwarding a sexually conservative, religiously motivated politics through modern, secular language. It also provided a model for future religious efforts at mainstreaming activism, such as the antiabortion movement, over a decade before abortion became a fulcrum for the hybrid movement known as the religious (or Christian) right.
Keywords: Anthony Comstock, Legion of Decency, National Organization for Decent Literature, Judeo-Christian heritage, tri-faith America, Charles Keating, Citizens for Decent Literature, pornography, obscenity, circus clowns
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