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Gross Indecency in Relation to Campus Politics and Advocacy by Blair Godsey

Posted by on Friday, November 20, 2015 in News.

Throughout the course of reading Gross Indecency, I thought that the occurrences in this play have some sort of relevance to what is occurring not only on Vanderbilt’s campus, but on college campuses across the country as well. Recently, it seems that every time I turn on the news, I hear another story about a sexual assault on a college campus. Many student organizations are advocating against these acts and have caused a lot of public attention because of it. As a result, I was able to notice some similarities between the play and what is going on on college campuses across the nation.

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, depicts the three trials that involved Oscar Wilde’s relationships with Lord Alfred Douglas among other men which led to charges against Wilde of “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons.” The first trial included Wilde accusing Douglas’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, for criminal libel. The second and third trials involved the criminal charges against Wilde, with the third resulting in conviction and sentence to hard labor. Within the play, Wilde denied that his acts were criminal acts and advocated that his pieces of literature are simply “art” and not evidence of his attraction to or sexual actions with same sex acquaintinces. The evidence that appeared to be the “nail in the coffin” was the testimonies from the men with whom he had committed acts of gross indecency. However, none of them stated that Wilde forced them into it, rather he offered to pay most of them for their companionship.

The relevance that I see between the play and what is happening on college campuses, is the fact that the hookup culture on college campuses seems to have become something that happens so often and is expected to occur on college campuses. Sometimes, this is done without the consent of the other person. As of recently, people are beginning to stand up for this and speak out against these acts of sexual assault. In Gross Indecency, the Marquess of Queensberry writes a libel about Wilde being a “posing sodomite.” During this time, and even somewhat similar to today even though there is more acceptance, these acts were considered inconceivable and were deemed worthy of a heavy penalty in jail. People felt that if somebody committed these acts, they should face the consequences because of the immorality of the action. Today, acts of sexual assault still carry weight as being immoral but they also still contain a very harsh penalty if convicted. Many college campuses have taken multiple measures in order to ensure that these acts do not occur.

Examples of Vanderbilt’s campus getting involved in acts to speak out against sexual assault or to prevent it include “The Girl that Ratted” movement, Green Dots Training, and many others. In my opinion, Wilde’s acts today would not conjure the same opposition and resentment as they did back during that time. Wilde was not forcing these men into these sexual acts, while it seems to be the opposite case in today’s society. If someone like Queensberry were to make a big deal about acts of sodomy occurring in today’s society, it probably would not result in any punishment because of the laws that have been passed in most states (Tennessee included) that does not make sodomy a crime. As a result, there would not be as much fuss about it on college campuses or in the media. The only uproar that may occur is because of the acts being committed by members of the same sex. But now that same sex marriage has been made legal, it is a different case.

I think that the recent activity among college students against sexual assault exemplifies a move that we are making that is very important to the future in order to ensure that we as a society make sure that people know that it is not okay to commit these acts. In the case of Gross Indecency, Queensberry was the one leading the charge against the actions that Wilde committed with not only his son, but other men as well. It would not carry as much weight on college campuses today because of the legality of the matter, but would still generate some attention from the media if someone with the equivalence of Wilde’s social status and fame committed these acts. However, sexual assault will remain atop of the list of the incidents that occur on college campuses and will continue to be spoken out against by many campus groups and university representatives.


3 Comments on “Gross Indecency in Relation to Campus Politics and Advocacy by Blair Godsey”

Godsey’s criticism of Gross Indecency focused on the text’s relevancy to campus politics, specifically in terms of sexual assault on college campuses. I found Godsey’s argument to be engaging and relevant, though perhaps a bit of a stretch. While it is true that sexual assault is a hot topic on college campuses today, the public response to these situations seem to be handled much differently than was Oscar Wilde’s situation in Gross Indecency. With sexual assault, it is a widely recognized public and personal wrong. Campaigns on campus exist moreso to promote awareness than to paint sexual assault in a negative light. The hookup culture itself is not being criticized, rather, a particular, recurring violation within that culture. In Gross Indecency, however, Wilde is being persecuted for an act that is not a personal or a public wrong. I would argue that it is not even a particular sexual act that Wilde was being charged for. Society at the time shamed gay culture, and because Wilde fell into that category, he too suffered from unjust persecution. The only link I can find between sexual assault on college campuses and Wilde’s trials in Gross Indecency is that both are/were hot topics that the public is/was eager to talk about. Were I to try and draw a stronger comparison between Gross Indecency and some aspect of modern society, I would perhaps link Wilde’s trials to something more trivial that highlights the ignorance of society in regard to a particular social issue.

lazarzhr on November 29th, 2015 at 5:20 pm

I would have to agree with Hannah about what Blair wrote. The similarities that Blair points out are true in relation to the process of justice in Gross Indecency and in sexual assaults on campus. There is an accusation, and the court of public opinion has a lot of sway before any court of law does. However, Hannah is right to acknowledge that comparing these two issues in this way trivializes the plight of a victim of sexual assault. In Gross Indecency, what Wilde is being accused for is not necessarily wrong. On the other hand, sexual assault is unequivocally wrong. It seems almost silly to point this out, but the comparison of the play to this issue makes it a necessary distinction.

I think that comparing Gross Indecency to racial politics on campus could be a more apt comparison. Recently, racial issues on campus have become more and more judged by optics compared to actual rights and wrongs. The incident with poop on the BCC porch, which turned a lot of people against the Hidden Dores and their crusades, is a prime example of public opinion carrying more weight than actual justice and the substance of complaints and claims. This would be an interesting argument to explore in a longer blog post.

Matthew Lieberson on December 3rd, 2015 at 4:00 pm

While I understand where Matt and Hannah are coming from, I’m inclined to agree more with Blair. While I won’t argue that the “sodomy” Oscar Wilde committed is a crime in the same way that sexual assault is in today’s society, and nor should it ever be considered to be, we need to keep in mind the time period in which this story takes place. Although the motives of the Marquess are questionable at best with regards to integrity, I believe that many of the people living in Wilde’s time truly believed that homosexuality was wrong. They truly thought that actions like these had the potential to corrupt their youth and lead to a decline of society as they know it. While I personally don’t believe that their beliefs were sufficiently founded in reason, the people (other than the Marquess) were not acting with malicious intent. I think that they actually believed that they had the interests of their family and society as a whole in mind when they decided that Oscar Wilde needed to be locked up.

Every generation has a certain viewpoint that future generations will criticize them for, whether it be racism, homophobia, or something else. I don’t believe that sexual assault is one of those and, if anything, it’s something that is being taken much more seriously than it has been in the past. However, I don’t think that it is unfair of Blair to use that as a comparison. In both cases, there are groups of people doing what they believe to be right in order to protect the society they live in.

Kevin Adams on December 7th, 2015 at 11:44 pm

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