Alabama: 19th Century Too Risque

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The drawing below is a vintage 1895 bicycle advertising poster, featuring a nude nymph flying alongside a winged bike. The ad appeared at the height of the European bicycle craze, which liberated women to leave the house without petticoats, chaperone, or horse-and-carriage for the first time.

bicycle 1895

Hahn Family Wines bottles its Cabernet with the famous ad as its label.

The State of Alabama has now criminalized the sale of wine in these bottles, citing the law against alcohol advertising featuring “any person(s) posed in an immodest or sensuous manner.”

Some say that censorship is a slippery slope. But the slope isn’t slippery: those who censor run as fast as they can to attack life wherever they see it. That’s why we have to identify and resist censorship in all its forms, even when we don’t want the specific right being challenged (I’m a Chardonnay guy, myself). We don’t defend this label (or South Park or disgusting stories about violent sex), we defend the right to create, buy, sell, or see this label (and various other creations).

For centuries, lawmakers around the world have seized the power to criminalize immodesty, sensuousness, immorality, indecency, decadence, lewdness, licentiousness, eroticism, depravity, debauchery, and (ahem) crimes against nature.

These subjective states are impossible to define, easy to label, and a wonderful target for anyone uncomfortable with their own sexuality. They’re a great way to attack anyone with a shred of life in their bodies or souls. It’s absolutely impossible to defend oneself against such a vague-yet-fundamental attack.

It’s easy to pick on the little minds in Alabama who fear, hate, and ultimately try to destroy what this 110-year-old drawing represents. But that erotophobic culture thrives in every American state: In California, where a hotel was prevented from hosting a swingers’ convention; in Wisconsin, where attempts were made to publicly burn a children’s book; in Kansas, where a doctor was murdered for aborting fetuses; in Pennsylvania, where people were jailed for making adult movies; in Iowa, where the government has closed strip clubs; in Florida, where seniors are now prohibited from acting in porn films.

I don’t care where you live: when it comes to sexual expression, we all live in Alabama.

Of course, Alabama is also the state that criminalizes the sale of sex toys. Its lawmakers are clearly obsessed with sex. Too bad they don’t care as much for education. This guarantees that Alabama will stay Alabama—where sexuality is feared more than ignorance.

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