Why you shouldn’t laugh at “Perversion for Profit” (1965)

An “outstanding newsreporter” appears on screen (video below) saying “I’d like to begin with a fact… It is this – a floodtide of filth is engulfing our country in the form of newsstand obscenity and is threatening to pervert an entire generation of our American children.”  He then lists almost every form of sexual practice under the sun, shows censored  images of many of them and concludes that “This moral decay weakens our resistance to the onslaught of the Communist masters of deceit”.

Reading obscene magazines, the reporter claims, automatically leads you to change your sexual orientation. Once your desires have been stirred, the road to crime, rape, violence, even the overthrow of civilization as we know it, is not far off.

It is easy to laugh at this today, but George Putnam was actually a respected newsreporter in the 60s and 70s. He interviewed several presidents, was a familar face on TV and did important investigative reporting. He even claimed to be a lifelong member of the NAACP. When he died in 2008 FOX News broadcast a 10 min obituary (below).

Putnam believed in what he was doing and donated his services as narrator of Perversion for Profit (1965).  His employer was Citizens for Decent Literature,  a Cincinatti based group that lobbied against pornography and for cencorship. The organization was founded in 1958 by Charles Keating, a Roman Catholic who downplayed his religious affiliation to attract new members. The group would change name a number of times,  and grew to 100,000 members nationwide- the largest anti-pornography organization in the US.

Members of the Citizens for Decent Literature Ray Gauer (left), Jim Clancy and Charles Keating, and Miss Marti Lang

Charles Keating later served on President Nixon’s Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. However, his involvement in a gigantic 1980s fraud scheme resulted in a 4 and a half year prison sentence, and led to a re-evaluation of his character. According to historian Whitney Strub’s sources he was a “a racist and a sexist who leered at the attractive young women he hired in his business career—’all young, mainly blond, often buxom’—and who frequently pressured them into having breast enlargement surgery.” Whatever flaws the man had, they do not explain his  success as an activist in the sixties.

In the film Putnam declares that “Never in the history of the world have the merchants of obscenity, the teachers of unnatural sex acts, had available to them the modern facility for disseminating this filth.” He then mentions high speed presses and the 1960s forms of distribution. (imagine what he would say about the internet) But to reduce the changes of the 1960s to a media revolution would be wrong. The young rebelled  against all aspects of 1950s morality. The world was divided by the Vietnam war, the disappearance of the Hayes-codes which censored the content of Hollywood movies, and a polarization in politics that shook the right wing to its core. And much more, to be sure.

Many of the sexual orientations condemned in Perversion for Profit were illegal at the time. Putnam quotes experts in spades, and there were a lot academics who held the views he advocated. He did not make them up. What Putnam does, is really to summarize the worst prejudices facing sexual minorities in 1965. So the next time you watch Perversion for Profit (1965) try to imagine a world in which some of his views are common.