John & Yoko at an Oz Demo
Richard Neville, defending himself, made pleas for the magazine and its project in both his opening and closing statements (all citations on this page are from Tony Palmer’s The Trials of Oz):
… all of these issues of Oz should not be seen in isolation from other magazines and newspapers published in this country such as International Times, Friends, Ink, Mole Express, Styng, Press Ups and dozens of others, known generally, if misleadingly, as the underground press—papers which offer a platform to the socially impotent, and which mirror the changing way of life in our community. And because this ‘underground’ or ‘alternative’ press is a worldwide phenomenon and because it represents a voice of progress and change in our society, then it is not really only us who are on trial today... but all of you... and the right of all of you to freely discuss the issues which concern you...
Our suggestion that Oz had the intention of improving society has been heavily derided. But that has always been our contention and always will be. We felt it was of social value to find out what adolescents were complaining about, in the hope that when their complaints were published, someone might do something about them. Young people, as they go through this no-man’s land between 15 and 18 are socially impotent. Even if some of the criticisms expressed in Oz 28 are crude and silly, we believe it was of sociological and educational value that they should have been openly expressed.
A host of prestigious defence witnesses supported the magazine, including psychologist Dr Lionel Haward, who argued that what may be "unacceptable" to adults might be perfectly acceptable to children: "For too long we have assumed that what offends us will necessarily offend or disturb them". Vivian Berger’s Mother insisted that the Rupert montage was a joke:
"A joke?" asked Leary, clutching his sides. "Yes, a joke," repeated Mrs Berger. "And the joke was this; to put into print what every child knows, that is that the innocent little bear has sexual organs. Children today are surrounded by, and cannot escape from, the sexual nature of our society—newspapers which are sold by having advertisements based on sex, and which include gossip also based on innuendos about the sexual relationships between people who are not married. This is the world in which our children grow up."
Michael Duane, the former Headmaster of Rising Hill, a progressive comprehensive school, had this to say about Rupert:
"In its own crude way… it’s perhaps the funniest thing in the magazine. It is simply an attempt to shock those of the older generation like myself who have been brought up on the nauseous fact that Rupert and Enid Blyton books and all this kind of rubbishy sentimentality, are suitable for children. The cartoon, therefore, brings together the notion of Rupert, a horrible sentimental little bear, with the more realistic activities of a male human being in such a way as to cause an element of shock. This can only be to the good if it helps people to realise just how bad, how destructive in the long run, such mush as Rupert is".
The ‘aesthetic defence’ of the montage was articulated most forcefully by Feliks Topolski:
The achievement of the cartoon, maintained Topolski, lay in its juxtaposition of hitherto unrelated elements—the American comic strip from which the story line had come, and the head of Rupert Bear taken out of a Rupert Annual; Rupert provided a fantastical and nostalgic quality to the cartoon. "I’m very bad at quotations," he said, "but I think it was Koestler [The Act of Creation, 1964] who said that unexpected elements when brought together, produce the act of creation, of creativity."
LEARY: I’m not dealing with the act of creation. I’m dealing with Rupert Annual. Could you help us as to whether or not Rupert on his own, as he appears in this Annual, as he appears in a national daily, is that Art?
TOPOLSKI: Well, he’s here a symbol of a certain state of mind and when in the central position of the page…
JUDGE: No, Mr Topolski, you haven’t understood. What Learned Counsel is asking you is this; suppose you went into a bookshop and bought the Rupert Annual to give someone as a present, would you regard that as Art?
TOPOLSKI: No, I personally wouldn’t, but many probably would. But I have to add that in this case we are not facing Rupert alone. We are…
LEARY: I fully understand what you mean about bringing two things together. I want to separate them for a moment…
TOPOLSKI: But that’s unfair to the situation on this page.
LEARY: I won’t be unfair. I want to understand what you’re saying. Do you agree that Rupert as he appears in the daily strip in a national daily and in Rupert’s Annual is not Art?
TOPOLSKI: Not to me.
LEARY: And to you, I imagine, this comic strip, again, is not ART? And you say that bringing the two together makes it (pause) different?
LEARY: Does it make it Art in your opinion?
TOPOLSKI: It makes it satirical art.
LEARY: Satirical art. I see…
TOPOLSKI: …may I remind you that this is a school-children’s issue, which has a large proportion of material that is immensely interesting precisely because it is produced by school children.