Diana West

Neither Whitman, Hemingway nor "Snow White" suffered much, and at least one stripper in the world ate better for a while (which, you never know, might have led to a more uplifting career). Looking back on decades of ever-more free speech that have made ever-more graphic depictions of sex and scatology ever-more ubiquitous, maybe it's time to indulge in a little nostalgia for Boston's quaint attempts to put a lid on it. There was in the city's quixotic efforts a certain idealism; the city believed in the public good, and it believed said good should be protected. This notion, no doubt, had something to do with the legacy of such founding fathers as John Adams, a native of nearby Quincy, Mass. (where, by the way, Bostonians would travel in 1929 to see a proscribed performance of Eugene O'Neill's "Strange Interlude").

Adams specifically noted that the viability of the new nation depended on "a moral and religious people." If smut was threatening Main Street, what else were good patriots to do? And how bad was it, really, to go to Quincy for Eugene O'Neill -- and New York City for anything else?

As the fates fixed it, Mr. Sinnott's obituary appeared shortly before Wal-Mart announced it would no longer be selling the magazines Maxim, Stuff and FHM. This British trio of dirty glossies -- glossy dirties? -- adds up to a male common denominator so low it's probably negative. In a kooky spin on the Victorian art of euphemism, however, publishers here and over there persist in calling them "racy" or "lad magazines"--almost quaint terms that ring a bright-young-things sort of bell. This is a far cry from all-but-full-frontal bludgeon of dumb sex and crudity the magazines really wield. "Maybe they [Wal-Mart] think Tyra Banks should have been wearing pink instead of black," Stephen Colvin, whose company publishes Maxim and Stuff, told The New York Times. "For any men's magazine to put a woman on the cover seems a bit troubling to them."

This is about as disingenuous as you can get. Wal-Mart, our modern-day Main Street, banned the magazines just as it bans all pornography, soft and hard. Which is only part of the story. Just because Wal-Mart stopped selling Maxim et al. doesn't mean the mags have disappeared down a hole. Anti-obscenity crusades far stronger than Wal-Mart's have never pulled off such a trick.

And to my mind that's not the goal. Far better to push the noxious stuff out of the mainstream and over to the margins. "Consumers should have the freedom to decide for themselves what they want to purchase," Magazine Publishers of America says. And so they do. Only sometimes consumers should have to turn off Main Street to do their shopping.

Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).