A short history of the Moral Menace

Normally one thinks of coffee shops as places where mild-mannered people, male and female alike, gather to chat or to stare at their Macs over coffee and perhaps a pastry; not as hotbeds of sex and immorality.

That, at least, tends to be the reality in Canada, which is why a recent article in the Kuwait Times might strike many of us here in North America as being inadvertently hilarious:

Three Kuwaiti ministers could be interrogated by parliament if mixed coffee shops are not closed within one month, a lawmaker has warned. Reports in Kuwait City pointed to the presence of young women and men in these coffee shops to smoke shisha.

“We will not hesitate to grill the competent ministers if these immoral coffee shops are not shut down within one month,” MP Askar Al- Enezi said, quoted by local media.

“We urge the ministers of interior, commerce and municipality to take action against these cafes all over Kuwait, but particularly in the Jahra area,” he said, referring to his constituency north east of the capital Kuwait City.

The lawmaker issued his warning as he took part in a rally on Saturday alongside other MPs, religious figures and residents in Jahra to push for action against the coffee shops accused of promoting vice and depravation.

“Such coffee shops have no room in our society as they violate our very traditions and customs as well as the spirit of the Constitution which stipulates the state’s responsibility in maintaining the values of the family considered as the core of the community and in protecting the youth,” the lawmaker said.

MP Sultan Al Laghisem and Mohammad Tana said that they would use all parliamentary means to ensure the end to the “moral menace” to Jahra by the coffee shops. “There is a deep corruption of morals at these suspicious places and we will do our utmost, including quizzing, to fight it,” Mohammad Tana said, quoted by Al-Jareeda daily on Sunday.

On my next visit to a local Starbucks after reading this article, I scanned the scene carefully for any sign of vice, depravation or corruption of morals.

Other than a woman in a blue coat who looked suspiciously like a cheating dieter by becoming suddenly shifty-eyed when ordering her pumpkin scone, there were no signs that that particular Starbucks was in any way a “suspicious place”.

But that’s not to say that North America has always been free of relatively innocuous behaviours being treated as moral menaces. Some of these menaces include:

  • Children’s stories and nursery rhymes. The Mar. 14, 1925 Reading Eagle reported on public comments made in New York by Dr. Winifred Sackville Stoner, the president of the National Education Forum, accusing Mother Goose of promoting “cruelty, rudeness, selfishness, murder, immorality, cowardice, bad grammar” and a variety of other evils “with the possible exception of arson”. Stoner also criticized Little Jack Horner for promoting bad manners, Rock-a-By-Baby for terrifying children, and Old King Cole for promoting an anti-Prohibition message.
  • Tinky Winky the Teletubby. Televangelist Rev. Jerry Falwell raised a few eyebrows in 1999 when he accused Tinky Winky, a character on Teletubbies, a U.K.-produced children’s program syndicated to the U.S., of promoting homosexuality. ”He is purple — the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle — the gay-pride symbol,” Falwell wrote in his organization’s National Liberty Journal magazine. The company distributing the show to American audiences denied the accusations.
  • Watching movies on a Sunday. The audience at a showing of Cranes are Flying at Winnipeg’s Uptown Theatre received an unwelcome surprise one Sunday in November, 1959 as the Winnipeg Police morality squad raided the premises to investigate “possible violations of the Lord’s Day Act”, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reported on Nov. 23, 1959. The newspaper reported that Winnipeg Police chief Robert Taft was considering whether a report should be sent to provincial attorney-general Sterling Lyon for further action; and noted that several other sports teams in Winnipeg had been given warnings by police for playing sports on a Sunday. Movies could at that time be shown for a voluntary contribution on a Sunday, but not for a set admission price.
  • Dancing. In 1917, Toronto police cracked down on the perceived problem of — wait for it — young people going to dances to look for a partner. Thus, as the Jan. 31, 1917 edition of the Toronto World reported, “In future, the young women of Toronto who wish to go to a dance hall will have to be escorted there by a young man. Vice versa, the young man will not be admitted without a fair partner.” The crackdown by the Toronto Police morality division came after “complaints of indecorous conduct”, and came with a promise to station police officers at the front doors of Toronto’s dance halls, with orders to arrest “any woman who accosts a man with a view to entering the place.”

About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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