Terror by telephone: Normative anxieties around obscene calls in the 1960s

  • Melissa Villa-Nicholas Faculty Graduate School of Library and Information Studies (GSLIS) University of Rhode Island
Keywords: Telephone history, science and technology studies, information histories

Abstract

By 1967, telephone harassment complaints in the United States had hit an all-time high. Telephone companies, government officials, police, and media scrambled to make sense of and harness the surge in obscene calls. Such a phenomenon drew on the publics’ fears of an unknown and anonymous ‘pervert,’ which now had access to their private sphere through the technology of telephone calls. Previous research had focused on obscenity laws and censorship with regards to cultural products, however neglects the gendered, sexual, and racialized implications of this historical episode of obscene calls. The discourse around obscene calls during the 1960s demonstrates that the telephone shifted from a technology of progress to a technology of ‘terror’ that delivered social anxieties around race, gender, and sexuality into the domestic sphere.

Author Biography

Melissa Villa-Nicholas, Faculty Graduate School of Library and Information Studies (GSLIS) University of Rhode Island

Melissa Villa-Nicholas is a faculty member of the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island. Her work looks at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality around the constructions and interactions of information technologies.

Published
2018-04-30
How to Cite
Villa-Nicholas, M. (2018). Terror by telephone: Normative anxieties around obscene calls in the 1960s. First Monday, 23(5). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i5.7010
Section
Articles