“Trash,” Censorship, and National Identity in Early Twentieth-Century Germany
Cambridge University Press 2016
Convinced that sexual immorality and unstable gender norms were endangering national recovery after World War One, German lawmakers drafted a constitution in 1919 legalizing the censorship of movies and pulp fiction, and prioritizing social rights over individual rights. These provisions enabled legislations to adopt two national censorship laws intended to regulate the movie industry and retail trade in pulp fiction. In her book, “Trash,” Censorship, and National Identity in Early Twentieth-Century Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2016), Kara Ritzheimer explains how both laws had their ideological origins in grass-roots anti-'trash' campaigns inspired by early encounters with commercial mass culture and Germany's federalist structure. Before the war, activists characterized censorship as a form of youth protection. Afterwards, they described it as a form of social welfare. Local activists and authorities enforcing the decisions of federal censors made censorship familiar and respectable even as these laws became a lightning rod for criticism of the young republic. Nazi leaders subsequently refashioned anti-'trash' rhetoric to justify the stringent censorship regime they imposed on Germany.Michael E. O’Sullivan is Professor of History at Marist College where he teaches courses about Modern Europe. He published Disruptive Power: Catholic Women, Miracles, and Politics in Modern Germany, 1918-1965 with University of Toronto Press in 2018.