We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE


Download PDF

Symptomatic Cases: Hysteria in the Supreme Court's Nude Dancing Decisions

From: American Imago
Volume 64, Number 3, Fall 2007
pp. 297-316 | 10.1353/aim.2007.0031


The Supreme Court's nude dancing cases—analyzing striptease as First Amendment "speech"—were sources of palpable unease for the Court. It seemed embarrassed, worried about its own authority, concerned about lapses in its logic. This article treats these lapses as symptoms that cry out for a diagnosis. The perplexing gaps in the opinions are understood as having been driven not by legal logic, but instead by fantasies and anxieties surrounding female sexuality. Associations between the nude dancer and the hysteric are deeply embedded in the cases and shaped the Court's reading. In fact, the cases ultimately become hysterical narratives in their own right, places where the Court displays and denies its own hysterical symptoms. By reading the cases as if they themselves were case studies on hysteria, a broader claim is made for rethinking our approach to reading law. Normally, we presume that First Amendment law is rational and objective, based on a continually evolving, often contested, set of legal principles. The present reinterpretation of the nude dancing cases, however, points toward a very different vision of the First Amendment, as a body of law that claims objectivity yet is steeped in unmentioned anxieties and fantasies.