NCAC Censorship News Issue #67:

The Arts Under Attack: The Philly Flasher Succumbs to Censors in Tennessee


Frontal nudity in art, especially male, even of children and even in a non-sexual context, offends some viewers in degrees ranging from discomfort to actual revulsion. Others can appreciate such images for their aesthetic qualities or lack thereof and can identify with what the artist is attempting to reveal about the human condition.

Michelangelo’s classical sculpture of David is one such image. But as beautiful and inspiring as millions find it, others may view it as indecent, patently offensive, pornographic or obscene. Had the discredited Communications Decency Act not been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, David might well have been banned from cyberspace.

The Philly Flasher, an oil painting by Emerson Zabower, removed from the walls of an art exhibit in Johnson City, TN, in August, is a visual depiction of frontal male nudity in a different category. Painted in the style of Rubens, according to one viewer, it depicts a male “with an attitude,” featuring an open raincoat, a hat, sagging socks, and no underwear. A few of the viewers who didn’t laugh found it so offensive they demanded its removal. The Johnson City Area Arts Council capitulated, moving the work to a back room where it could be seen only by request. Spokespeople for the Council claim they are not censors. Nonetheless they have removed a work of art from the walls of their gallery.