Skip to main content

Search NYU Steinhardt

Thumbnail

Brett Gary

Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication

Media, Culture, and Communication

212 998 5113

Trained as an American studies scholar, Brett Gary’s teaching takes a historical approach to media, culture, and politics, with an emphasis on the cultural discourse about media power and fear of public susceptibilities; censorship battles and contested cultural expression; competing narrative constructions of the nation’s history in Hollywood films; and the constructions of American manhood and masculinities in Hollywood film. He has lectured internationally on the subject of Hollywood westerns, and is a recipient of both the Steinhardt School’s Teaching Excellence Award and NYU’s Distinguishing Teaching Award.

His first book, The Nervous Liberals: Propaganda Anxieties from World War One to the Cold War (Columbia, 1999), his courses, and intellectual engagements, are historical in orientation with interests in cultural and artistic expression, politics and media, legal history and censorship, and increasingly in issues of gender and sexual liberty.

Gary’s new book-in-progress, Sex on Trial: Battles over Obscenity and Censorship (under review, Columbia University Press) is a study of U.S. censorship battles in the middle of the 20th century and explores how civil libertarians, birth control activists and feminists, journalists, publishers, public health activists, and the ACLU struggled to curb cultural and sexual censorship. Sex on Trial focuses on landmark legal cases lead by New York Lawyer and longtime executive board member and general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Morris L. Ernst, who, along with his partners Harriet Pilpel and Alexander Lindey, paved the way for the modern libertarian culture we inhabit today. Working on behalf of a roster of high profile clients, including the American birth control activists Margaret Sanger and Dr. Hannah Stone; feminist and sex education pioneer Mary Ware Dennett; British birth control activist and writer Marie Stopes; English novelist Radclyffe Hall, and most famously, James Joyce’s Ulysses on behalf of Random House and later Indiana University’s Alfred Kinsey and his Institute for Sex Research in a battle with Customs, Ernst and his colleagues brought high profile attention to their anti-censorship cause and extended free speech protection to sexual matters. Ernst and his partners drew upon parallel developments in First Amendment law to systematically challenge federal and state obscenity law statutes to extend progressive free speech ideals to matters sexual, making cultural and literary expression inexorably bound up with the First Amendment’s promised protections.

Prior to joining the NYU faculty, Gary taught at Drew University and the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is also a Faculty Fellow in Residence at Brittany Hall, a first year Residence hall, where he along with his spouse and fellow NYU professor, Amy Bentley, offer cultural programming for first year student residents.

Recent grants: 

  • (Summer 2019) NYU Global/MCC Global Travel Research Grant: “Exploring the Hollywood Western and its Afterlife in Germany and the Czech Republic”

Presentations and Keynotes:

  • Keynote Address, “World War I Speech Catastrophes and the Postwar Struggle for Free Political and Sexual Speech,” delivered as Constitution Day lecture and opening reception for the World War I and Copper Country Symposium, Michigan Tech University, September 13, 2018.
  • United States Embassy Higher Education Speaker Program, Paris France, December 3-7, 2018. Invited by US Embassy in Paris to deliver lectures titled "Hollywood's Histories of the American West: Conquest and Conflict, 1850-1890” at: Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, Nice; Prépas du Lycée Masséna, Nice; University of Avignon, Avignon; Sorbonne, Paris; Prépas du Lycée Henri-IV, Paris; Prépas du Lycée international de Sèvres, Sevre (12/7); Prepas Jean-Jaurès Montreuil, Montreuil (12/7)
  • Introduction and discussion of John Sayles’ Lone Star, as part of the 2018-2019 Western Film Series, Ivan Doig Center, Montana State University, March 2019
  • Muhlenberg College, Banned  Books Week Lecture:  “How Did We Get from the Comstock Laws to ‘Anything Goes’ Culture? A Short History of Anti-Censorship Liberalism in the 20th Century,” September 2012
  • The Stanley Burnshaw Lecture, Harry Ransom Humanities Center, University of Texas, Austin, “The Importance of Being Morris Ernst: The Man Who Took on the Censors and Freed Ulysses,” September 2011
  • Workshop Leader and Lecturer, National Endowment for the Humanities Teaching American History Workshop, “Teaching Censorship in American History, ” Crescent City, CA (Aug 9-11, 2010)

Selected Publications

  • “Guessing Oneself into Jail,” in Obscenity and the Limits of Liberalism, The Ohio State University Press, 2011, edited by Loren Glass and Charles Francis Williams, pp. 50-68.
  • “The Search for a Competent Public: The Hutchins Commission and post-WWII Democratic Possibilities,” in Democracy and Excellence, Praeger Books, Greenwood Press, 2005, edited by Joseph Romance and Neal Riemer, pp 75-90.
  • "The Pitiless Spotlight of Publicity: LIFE Magazine and the Pre-war Surveillance of American Extremists," in Erika Doss, ed., Looking at LIFE: Framing the American Century in the Pages of LIFE Magazine, 1936-1972, Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001, pp 77-99.
  • The Nervous Liberals: Propaganda Anxieties from World War I to the Cold War

Programs

Media, Culture, and Communication

Our media studies programs train agile researchers of a shifting media landscape. Learn to analyze media and technology in its cultural, social, and global contexts.

Courses

Censorship in American Culture

This course examines censorship in American culture, from the late 19th century to the present and surveys areas where debates about censorship have been urgently contested, from discussion about birth control, to literature, film, theater, art galleries and history museums, to public sidewalks, lecture halls, to the internet. students will explore the historical contexts in which important cultural and legal struggles over censorship took place, and how this history effects contemporary debates about the arts, sexuality, national security, technology, privacy, and government involvement in the marketplace of ideas and images.
Course #
MCC-GE 2010
Units
4
Term
Spring
Faculty

Professors

Brett Gary ,
Department

Professional Writing and Research Application

This course is meant to integrate skills & knowledge acquired during the master’s program to achieve a professional level of competency in several areas:writing for professional journals or websites; developing survey or other instruments for data production; surveying the scholarly literature; writing scholarly abstracts; understanding the processes of self-editing and peer reviewing; & giving polished oral presentations of final writing &/or web-based projects.
Course #
MCC-GE 2174
Units
4
Term
Fall
Faculty

Professors

Brett Gary ,
Department

Screening History: Hollywood Films and American Life

This course explores the ways in which popular Hollywood films construct the historical past, the ensuing battles among historians and the public over Hollywood's version of American history, and the ways such films can be utilized as historical documents themselves. We will consider films as products of the culture industry; as visions of popularly understood history and national mythology; as evidence for how social conflicts have been depicted; and as evidence of how popular understanding and interpretations of the past have been revised from earlier eras to the present.
Course #
MCC-UE 1140
Units
4
Term
Spring
Faculty

Professors

Brett Gary ,
Department

Senior Media Seminar: Changing Depictions of American Masculinity in Hollywood Film

In the 20th century Hollywood’s studio films were a powerful medium for producing shared understandings about the connections between American power, progress, and (white) manhood. This course will examine early post-WWII expressions of this narrative conceit and then explore how we’ve seen a seismic shift in the protagonists of our films, from heroic and courageous men, to damaged, unsteady, and ill-equipped men. We will explore how changing depictions of American manhood might correspond with the puncturing of the myths of national innocence, a fragmenting of the narrative of shared national purpose, and optimism about present and the future. What are the social, demographic, economic, and cultural factors resulting in the so-called “crisis of masculinity” – and what is the relation between the perceived crisis and declining American power? To explore these topics, we will consider the work of historians, sociologists, film critics, media studies scholars, journalists, and others, and will use numerous Hollywood feature films as our primary evidence to consider the changing nature of American masculinity.
Course #
MCC-UE 1200 - 004
Units
4
Term
Fall, Spring
Faculty

Professors

Brett Gary ,
Department