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Far From Flatbush

The Burning of a Student Newspaper

When I was researching the "How I Became a Pornographer" chapter in Beaver Street several years ago, there wasn’t much available online about the City College of New York between 1971-1979. I found a couple of articles from The New York Times and not much else. But I was able to supplement these meager findings with information from my diaries and from old issues of Observation Post (OP), the student newspaper that I was writing about, which I had on file.

The chapter focuses on a pornographic cartoon published in OP in 1974, which the Times described as “a nun using a cross as a sexual object,” and a photo of an OP editor, dressed as a nun and using a cross as a sexual object—a tribute to the original cartoon—published in OP five years later. (You can read the chapter here.)

“How I Became a Pornographer” also discusses such things as OP’s “emerging punk sensibility” and a demand by a United States Senator to censor the college press because of the nun cartoon. These events both occurred in 1974, when I was editor of OP, and I had no trouble recreating them, as I was an eyewitness.

Since I wasn’t at City College for the publication of the 1979 photo, I couldn’t provide an eyewitness account of how a group of students burned OP to protest the publication of the photo. Still, I was able to rely on information in my diaries and some press accounts, and was able to recreate the events with a reasonably high degree of accuracy.

Then the other day I discovered an amazing digital archive that didn’t exist when I was writing the chapter, and which would have helped me enormously with my research: every issue of The Campus—OP’s competition at City College—published between 1907 and 1981.

The Campus often found itself in a position of having to cover OP every time OP made news by publishing something outrageous or pornographic. Looking back at their eyewitness coverage of the 1979 nun is fascinating. It also shows me that I got at least one detail wrong: I’d said that students had burned 10,000 OPs, which would have been the entire press run. According to The Campus only 4,000 were burned. (Another source puts the number at 8,000.) Whatever the exact number, it appears that there are at least 2,000 copies of this collector’s item floating around. And I will, of course, make this correction in any future editions of Beaver Street.
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