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Brett Gary

Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication (On Leave Fall 2019)

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.

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. Prior to joining the NYU faculty, Gary taught at Drew University and the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has lectured internationally on the subject of Hollywood westerns, and is a recipient of the Steinhardt School’s Teaching Excellence Award and NYU’s Distinguishing Teaching Award. 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.

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.

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

Censorship in American Culture

An upper level course on the topic of censorship in American culture, from the late 19th century to the present. The course explores many of the areas where debates about obscenity and censorship have been urgently contested, from discussion bout birth control, to literature, film, theatre, art galleries and history museums, to public sidewalks, lecture halls, and the internet. The goal is for the students to have an enhanced understanding of the historical contexts in which important cultural and legal struggles over censorship have taken place, and to bring that understanding to bear on contemporary debates about the arts, sexuality, national security, media technology, privacy, and government involvement in the marketplace of ideas and images.
Course #
MCC-UE 1010
Units
4
Term
Fall, 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