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A great literate public which is below even the reach of the Saturday Evening Post has found a new source of reading matter. Mr. Oswald Garrison Villard Investigates it and gives his results in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly. He finds that magazines with a bold sex appeal such as True Confessions. Artists and Models, and Hot Dog are enjoying a tremendous vogue. Mr. Villard recognizes that danger but he would not have a rigid censorship. They are after all, a small price to pay for liberty.
The explanation of the great vogue of these periodicals is simple enough. The relaxation and reaction from prurient Victorian prudery has extended to the masses. The post-war restlessness completed the swing and it was accentuated by returning soldiers who had come into touch with French pornographic writing. Formerly, sex in literature was more or less restricted to intellectuals. Save for an occasional surreptitious exception the literature of the multitudes was as chaste as an Horatio Alger Jr. or a Mary Jane Holmes could make it. Who outside the intelligentsia read Beardsley, Beaudelaise, or could understand the more esoteric work of Whitman?
Now, however, demos is being served. Bad as their lowered taste is, the people are having their inning. What was caviar to the mob is dressed up to suit its ruder palate. And if there is a place for sex in literature why should not the varietry share it? Life with all its experiences means as much to it as to the more effete sophisticates. If these new periodicals flash a bit of light into the deadly village dullness or provide a vicarious escape for a dry goods clerk one must grant them some justification.
Undoubtedly, such publications are now unfortunately extreme. They cannot be defended in their gross descents into pornography. Though vulgar they are rarely vicious. The moral they ostensibly convey, however inartistic, is usually above reproach. Only a few which contain rehashed drummer's tales and ribald witticisms are coarse. The pseudo-art magazines despite their unmistakably sexual appeal may not be without some value in creating a whole some frankness.
The alarmist may cry in vain, for this writing which panders to the lower class is not wholly bad. What is seriously harmful will pass out of itself as did the excessive license of the Restoration drama and as will the James Joyces and Ben Hechts in the upper literary strata. As the worst passes it will leave a literature for the masses which has a truer, broader interpretation of life.
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