Studio employees had little time or energy for social life except when they were not working, and in those circumstances they stuck as close as they could to other motion-picture people, hoping to find a new assignment.
After working together all day, players and directors often dined together, visited together. For many performers, whose theatrical work had forced them to travel and live for months at a time in hotels or boarding houses, it was their first opportunity to own a home and live year-round in the same place. Lacking the rich cultural attractions of New York, and the competition and acquaintanceship of creative workers in allied arts, they fell in upon themselves with the intensity sometimes found in isolated, specialized groups, such as diplomats in a foreign capital. They became distinctive, self-aware, permanently settled community of entertainers.
The first real motion picture celebrity was an actress who went by the alias Biograph Girl. It wasn’t until 1910 when she was signed by Universal Pictures for advertisements and personal appearance tours (not to mention going on to appear in 300 films); that was when her name was revealed, Florence Lawrence. She would also go on to invent (but not patent) the automobile “signaling arm” (to indicate when you’re turning and which direction) and the first mechanical brake signal in 1914. She would fall on hard times after suffering from relapse in 1914, her career would flounder in the early 1920s, suffer from bad personal relationships, and commit suicide in 1938. She would not be the first, or last, celebrity to suffer a terrible late-career fate. But she would outlive others, who became stars after her.
1914, Mary Pickford became the first real movie superstar. Canadian-born, co-founder of United Artists film studio in 1919 (as did the other famous film star Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith), she would star in 52 feature films. Her fame faded when “talkies” (film with sound) grew in popularity from 1927 and onwards. She retired from acting in 1933, and became an alcoholic (the same year prohibition ended). After a tumultuous relationship with her family members, she became a recluse for the rest of her life until her death in 1979.
1914-1919, Theda Bara became popular. Known as one of the earliest motion picture sex symbols, she was also known for being a vamp (dark and seductive) in her film roles. Unfortunately, most of her films have been lost to the ravages of time.
Women’s clubs/organizations were prevalent during this time period. They worked heavily to make prohibition and women’s suffrage legal. Meanwhile the film industry was providing more career opportunities than anything else at the time. Some women also learned to use their good looks to their advantage when off-camera.
Intelligent girls learned to calculate a man’s worth. Enterprising aspirants had several alternatives: they could be supported as mistresses; could marry; could divorce for the alimony; could sue for breach of promise; could blackmail. The leering mogul may have been a real figure, but so, too, was the producer who always kept his door open and never saw a young woman in his office without another person present. Smart women did not become streetwalkers on Skid Row; some of them bankrolled their charms into acting careers.
— Sklar, p.76
1917, the same year famous silent film star Buster Keaton arrived on the film scene, America entered into World War I. Soon after, the film The Spirit of ’76 is released. A film portraying the Revolutionary War. The film would be confiscated by the Chicago censorship board maker of the film, and Robert Goldstein would later be tried and convicted under the Espionage Act, for portraying Britain, America’s ally in World War I, in a negative light. This film has been lost to the ravages of time.
December 18, 1917, thanks to the efforts of women’s rights organizations, the 18th Amendment (prohibition) is proposed by Congress. Prohibition would become the rule of federal law two years later.
November 11, 1918, World War I ends, and the American economy took a nosedive. There was no need to be manufacturing weapons and inventory for war now. When the soldiers returned stateside, they flooded an overwhelmed job market made all the worse when a depression hit at the start of 1920. It made many look forward to finding an escape from reality and into entertainment. Since the motion picture industry showed no signs of slowing down, and with the growing popularity of various movie celebrities, the movies were an optimal choice. And with the European continent devastated by the war and in poor financial straits, it was prime time for Hollywood films to take advantage of the international market like never before.
January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment is adopted into law. Billy Sunday declares:
The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.
1919, popular actor Wallace Reid suffered a serious leg injury. In order to finish filming the scenes he was to be in for the film In the Valley of the Giants, the studio would have their doctor provide Reid morphine. From that point on, without having time set aside to allow him to recuperate, Reid would become addicted to morphine.
September 28, 1920 – Eddie Cicotte and Joe Jackson confess to participated in the fixing of the 1919 World Series by the Black Sox. The scandal causes the creation of the position of ‘Commissioner’ to serve as the public face of reform. The film industry would learn from this example as it formed the Motion Picture Producer Distributors of America (MPPDA). Similar scandals were arising within Hollywood, with accounts of celebrities having booze parties and prostitutes, having plenty of money and connections to live a party lifestyle when they weren’t working. Meanwhile church leaders and women’s organizations would continue to rally the public against Hollywood.
1918, Charlie Chaplin (age 29) abruptly marries 16-year-old Mildred Harris. They divorced two years later, causing quite a public stir. In 1922, he married Lolita McMurry, also 16 (making the name almost ironically appropriate). They would divorce in 1927 after a sensational divorce case. During this sensational divorce, women’s clubs successfully urged some states to bar the showing of Chaplin pictures.
Starting in the 1920s, Hollywood allowed mandated abortions on their actresses. Studios determined whether or not a pregnant actress to should keep the baby (taking into account demand for her star presence in their upcoming films). Joan Crawford, Jeanette MacDonald, Tallulah Bankhead, and Bette Davis had abortions for the sake of their careers in motion pictures. Studios even pressured (forcefully) some actresses, such as Jean Harlow and Judy Garland (who became pregnant in 1941 at age 19) were forced to have abortions, sometimes with their parents contributing towards pressuring them to having an abortion (that includes the mother, particularly in Garland’s case).
August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage) was adopted into law. Politicians began courting the new block of potential voters.
September 5, 1920 – Model and actress Olive Thomas accidentally ingests mercury bichloride and kills herself. The bichloride had been prescribed to her husband, Jack Pickford to treat his chronic syphilis. The press ran wild with the incident, some accusing Pickford of murder, others declaring Thomas committing suicide after her husband forced her to participate in drug-induced orgies, among other wild theories. This became one of the first big scandals that would rock Hollywood.
Thanksgiving 1920, a gang of around 8 young men would drug and sexually assault 2 teenage girls in San Francisco. This incident would make headlines, and be perpetuated when more women came forward with similar rape charges (referring to separate but similar incidents). 75 women’s clubs would have their representatives attend a meeting on December 13, 1920, and form the Women’s Vigilance Committee (WVC). Their goal: to curb vice, and support female victims, witnesses, and family members at trials.
March 1921, the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry (established in 1916) would issue “Thirteen Points” that the movie industry was to avoid for the sake of avoiding promotion of immoral conduct, in order to appease the ever-growing protests of religious/womens organizations. This ultimately didn’t work, as many studios flat-out ignored the existence of the points.
Americans had always been of mixed minds about great wealth. They agreed it was a desirable goal, but they feared the temptations that came with the power of money–the release it gave from ordinary social restraints.
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle would begin his rise to fame in 1913. He was a big name alongside that of Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, even working with both of them on separate occasions (and was close friends with Keaton). A comedian who’s role was largely slapstick humor, and taking the blunt of most jokes (partly because his on-screen character deserved it at times). However, September 5, 1921, Labor Day, that day marked an incident that would not only change his life forever, but also drastically accelerate the controversy of the motion picture industry (let alone Hollywood), and increase the pressure from both women and religious organizations. It was a night of partying at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco for Arbuckle and company. A party with plenty of booze, which was illegal at the time, though virtually all major Hollywood stars did this.
Arbuckle would spend a portion of the evening alone in a room with another aspiring film actress Virginia Rappe, a woman who used to be a fashion model, advocated for women to seek non-traditional forms of employment, became a clothing designer, all before she reached the age of 25 (though she would lie about her age during her film career, claiming to be younger than she was). After they spent a portion of the evening together at the party, she would spend the next two days in physical pain before being admitted to an asylum for treatment. (It was common for actors to get medically treated anywhere but hospitals to keep things on the down-low, especially since actors were known within the industry to be drug users and alcoholics, which could cause medical problems the industry didn’t want to be made public.) She would die September 9, 1921, 4 days after the event at the hotel. William Arbuckle would be accused of rape and manslaughter, be arrested, and tried at the courts.
From there, the controversy would explode. This event would be the catalyst women and religious organizations had been praying for to ignite their war on film, and turn the war in their favor on what they considered an immoral practice that needed to be reigned in and suppressed. It would also be the catalyst that would cause the government to get even more involved in the industry, outside of pro-war propaganda films (which was no longer relevant since the Great War’s end in 1918). And the controversy would be covered by the papers, many of which were controlled by William Randolph Hearst. The papers would largely smear and ravage Arbuckle’s image, while portraying Rappe as an innocent angel. And this wasn’t limited to just America. This also made international headlines, as Arbuckle and his films were also popular in foreign markets.
A former friend and director Arbuckle worked with, Henry Lehrman (who was also former domestic partner of Rappe), would speak out against Arbuckle.
Would I kill Arbuckle? Yes. I feel just as any other man with red blood in his veins. I will not deny that I have said I would kill him if we were to meet. I hope the law will punish him and that he will receive full justice for the crime.
— Merrit, p.118
District Attorney Matthew Brady, the prosecutor on the case, worked with the WVC to rally against Arbuckle, hoping their influence and his association with them, combined with the potential of securing a guilty verdict, would ensure his maintained position as District Attorney when the next election took place.
Religious organizations and preachers would also speak out against Arbuckle.
He has assaulted public decency and morality. He has betrayed the thousands of little children who laughed at his antics. He has defied chastity and mocked virtue.
— Evangelist Robert Shuler [Merrit, p.165]
The only exceptional priest who spoke in Arbuckle’s favor would be the Protestant preacher who spoke out against alcohol, Billy Sunday.
I feel sorry for ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and do not see how any court in the land could convict the fallen idol for murder or manslaughter. […] The girl died, but I believe her death was caused by an accident and not by Roscoe Arbuckle.
Theaters across the nation would pull and ban all Fatty films to avoid controversy.
September 14, 1921, the Los Angeles city council held a meeting to discuss increasing film regulation. Protestant ministers spoke in favor of regulation and censorship. The president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, William Desmond Taylor, would speak out against such regulation. He would make a statement titled “The Nonsense of Censorship.”
Censorship of motion pictures is a menace to the very principles of the Constitution of these United States of America.
November 14, 1921 – December 4, 1921, the first trial of Roscoe Arbuckle takes place, with 5 women and 7 men on the jury. The WVC (the president of the club at the time was Dr. Mariana Bertola) sided heavily with the prosecution. The jury (which had their names and addresses released in the papers) voted 10-2 not guilty. It was a hung jury, where one of the women jurors, Helen Hubbard, became internationally famous as the “lone holdout.” She was too stubborn in her refusal to acknowledge some of the facts of the case. She would make a statement post-trial, referring to her time on the jury:
There is no place for the woman on the jury. […] Any woman is a fool to even get on one if she can possibly get out of serving. I’d rather die than go through it again. The general attitude and language of the men is offensive to a woman.
— [Merrit, p.225]
It is worth noting that at this time, it was still a bit controversial for women to be serving on the jury. This had been legalized in California in 1911, and still remained questionable that women could be considered fair and impartial jurors. During this Arbuckle trial, the Chicago Tribune would state:
It is a fair presumption that the cause of exact justice was injured by the presence of the women on the Arbuckle jury. A woman might have to overcome her aversion for a man charged with immorality before she could get anywhere near the issue of whether he was guilty of manslaughter.
— [Merrit, p.225]
The WVC, of course, praised Hubbard’s stance. Nothing much was said of the other 4 women who voted not-guilty along with the other 6 men.
January 11, 1922, the second trial begins. This time the jury would consist of 11 men and one woman.
It’s not prison I’m afraid of. It’s not the loss of fame or fortune. It is the loss of regard; the loss of affection, the fact that the kids may think I am guilty that hurts me…. Guilty? The law says a man is not guilty until he is proven so. But, my friend, let a man once be arrested and charged with a crime; let his name go broadcast in those first, cruel stories, regardless of fact, and he is branded guilty…. I have suffered.
— Roscoe Arbuckle [Merrit, p.244]
January 14, 1922 – William Hays resigns his cabinet post as the Postmaster General to become the President of the newly formed Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). His annual salary would be $100,000, an increase from his postmaster general annual salary of $12,000, and even higher than the president of the United State’s $75,000 annual salary. He would stay on as postmaster general until March 4.
February 2, 1922 – The director William Desmond Taylor, the director who spoke out against censorship, is found murdered. The murder, unsolved to this day, unraveled careers of several Hollywood stars and further damaged Hollywood’s reputation. Actresses revealed to be addicted to cocaine, underage girls alleged to have sexual relations with the deceased director, among other various acts of prostitution, drug dealing, and prohibition gangsters. Taylor’s death exposed more than just the incidents he was involved in. It exposed the actions of others within Hollywood.
This would cause the papers to refocus their attention on Hollywood in general, bringing back up accusations of the depravity and danger within Hollywood. This would, in turn, increase calls for film censorship. There would also be a movement among Hollywood critics who would espouse nativism and anti-Semitism, since most of the major studio heads were immigrants, all of whom were Jewish.
The American public is ardent in its hero worship and quite as ruthless in destroying its idols in any walk of life. It elevates a man more quickly than any nation in the world, and casts him down more quickly–quite often on surmise or a mere hunch. It is the general inclination, when trouble happens to strike in film circles, for the thoughtless to whisper, malign and gossip and to speak with that mock sagacity of the times of “the inside dope”[…]
The man and the woman who thus accepts as worthy of esteem this filmland neighbor should do himself or herself the moral honor of refusing to accept tattle and shoulder shrugs in place of fact–as he undoubtedly would in the case of his respected physical neighbor.
–Statement attributed to Arbuckle [Merritt, p.255]
Hollywood wouldn’t be in much of a position to defend itself, since there were other celebrity controversies already brewing, if not already exposed in the papers (such as aforementioned Chaplin marriage and extra-marital affairs controversy, and Olive Thomas’ accidental drug overdose). They needed a sacrificial lamb to keep the mobs at bay. Arbuckle, one of their biggest stars that currently had the biggest spotlight shined on him due to the controversy and the coverage in the papers, would be their prime candidate, regardless of his innocence or guilt.
The pressures of aspirants and fans had caused studios and stars to build walls of privacy against the outside world.
February 3, 1922, the second trial ends, in a 10-2 hung jury vote of guilty, with only the lone woman juror, and another male juror, voting not guilty. The defense was overconfident in this trial.
The public is tired of seeing some morally rotten but highly paid actor or actress glorified and held up as an idol. The public is tired of having sex flung in their faces. People who live decent lives, the mothers and fathers with families that they are trying to raise to be upright and decent, are tired of seeing film after film picturing infidelity and red love. They are tired of seeing the other man as a permanent fixture in the home–according to the movies. They are giving the producers their chance to reform from within. If they don’t, public opinion won’t do any reforming at all. It will simply annihilate the motion picture industry altogether, just as it did the saloon.
— District Attorney Matthew Brady [Merritt, p.278]
March 13, 1922, third trial began. This time, there would be 8 men and 4 women on the jury. April 12, 1922, they would all reach a verdict of not guilty. The 12 jurors would make a statement following the acquittal.
Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of this crime. […] The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success, and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women who have sat listening for thirty-one days to the evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.
Arbuckle would also make a statement.
For this vindication I am truly grateful to God and my fellow men and women. My life has been devoted to the production of clean pictures for the happiness of children. I shall try to enlarge my field of usefulness so that my art shall have a wider service. It is the duty of all men to use the lessons that have been given them by experience and misfortune for the benefit of all–to make themselves more useful to humanity. This I shall do. I can only repay the trust, confidence and loyalty bestowed upon me during my trouble by millions of men and women throughout the world by rendering service in justification of their faith.
Arbuckle was broke after the trials. Thanks to his celebrity habit of reckless spending, his attorney fees, and the fine to be payed for unlawful possession of alcohol, he was in dire need of finances. Finances he hoped to recoup with ease once he got back to working in movies again.
April 18, 1922 – Will Hays forbids Roscoe Arbuckle from ever working in Hollywood again. However, it would not be Hays who acted alone on this. According to Hays’ memoirs, Joseph Schenck and Adolph Zukor came to him after the third Arbuckle trial and demanded Hays and the MPPDA be the ones to publicly blacklist Arbuckle, while keeping their names (and thus Paramount Pictures) from being associated with the blacklisting. In turn, it would give credit to the MPPDA for coming out swinging, getting Hollywood to clean up its act, an act publicized (and at times blown out of proportion) by the papers, and the Protestants, among other organizations. Arbuckle’s films continued to be banned across the country (as they had been since prior to the first trial).
“Fatty” Arbuckle was a movie “goat.” While he escaped conviction in court he was crucified by public sentiment which demanded that somebody be made to pay for the loose lives of too many of the movie stars. It was just Arbuckle;s misfortune that the choice fell upon him. It might have been anyone of a number of others no better than he. A little more than usual vulgarity and an accident directed selection of Arbuckle. So he is paying for it all.
–Editorial in a Wisconsin newspaper, November 22, 1922 [Merritt, p.289]
Senator Henry Lee Miles would denounce Arbuckle while on the floor of the US Senate, and further state:
At Hollywood, California, is a colony of these people, where debauchery, riotous living, drunkenness, ribaldry, dissipation, free love, seem to be conspicuous.
The California Congress of Women and Parents supported the banning of his films, as did the San Francisco Federation of Women’s Clubs. The general public, with the aided influence of women’s and religious organizations, plus gossip articles in the papers, was still generally against Arbuckle and in support of keeping his films suppressed. In addition, the public grew even more curious as to the (secret) lives of Hollywood and the celebrities they (once) admired.
After the Laughter Dies
May 1922 – The Sins of Hollywood: An Expose of Movie Vice is published by an anonymous author, later identified as Ed Roberts (former editor at Photoplay).
To the boys and girls of the land these mock heroes and heroines have been pictured and painted, for box office purposes, as the living symbols of all the virtues–
An avalanche of propaganda by screen and press has imbued them with every ennobling trait.
Privately they have lived, and are still living, lives of wild debauchery.
Unfaithful and cruelly indifferent to the worship of the youth of the land, they have led or are leading such lives as may, any day, precipitate yet another nation-wide scandal and again shatter the ideals, the dreams, the castles, the faith of our boys and girls!
It is for these reasons that the SINS OF HOLLYWOOD are given to the public–
That a great medium of national expression may be purified–taken from the hands of those who have misused it–that the childish faith of our boys and girls may again be made sacred!
If the screen is to be “cleaned up,” the sores must be cut open–the puss and corruption removed–This always hurts! But it is the only known way!
During the 1920s, several women would become major Hollywood stars. Colleen Moore’s fame would arrive in the early 1920s, being known as one of the first flapper girls (meaning a 1920s woman who showed disdain for conventional dress and behavior). Then there was Clara Bow, who would become the first natural sex symbol (and would be known within Hollywood to freely sleep around with several men).
Many of these stars, however, would not have a good end to their stardom.
May 27, 1922 – Actress Audrey Munson attempts suicide in Mexico, New York, by attempting to swallow a solution of bi-chloride, the same substance that killed Olive Thomas. Unlike Thomas, she would survive the attempt, but became mentally unstable, and would spent the next 65 years in a mental institute until the day she died.
December 20, 1922, Hays released a statement referring to Roscoe Arbuckle:
In our effort to develop a complete co-operation and confidence within the industry, I hope we can start this New Year with no yesterdays. “Live and let live” is not enough; we will try to live and help live.
While this was taken to mean it was ok for studios to screen “Fatty” films again, and employ Arbuckle, it was later revealed in Hays’ memoirs that Hays didn’t intend for Arbuckle to work in movies again so much as be given the opportunity for employment elsewhere, so that he could at least make a living; in the spirit of fair-play and charity. Ultimately, the statement ended up ringing hollow in the industry and with the public. Women’s and various Motion Picture organizations, religious groups, and teachers groups, all still demanded Arbuckle films not be shown.
Arbuckle would release a statement, asking for “the rights of an American citizen,” to be treated fairly and not be unjustly/maliciously be attacked by others who are “refusing to abide by the established law of the land.” He would even quote scripture, and reference Jesus and his acts of forgiveness. His statement proved futile in improving his position. Even theater producers offered Paramount sums of money in order to purchase Arbuckle films that hadn’t been exhibited. Paramount would refuse. Arbuckle’s career was virtually finished.
Thus, as author Greg Merrit states, “It was America’s first great battle in a culture war.”
January 1922 – Actor Wallace Reid’s morphine addiction eventually spiraled out of control. He would eventually be admitted to a sanitarium after a mental breakdown. Will Hays would visit him at the sanitarium December 19, 1922, and would later proclaim that despite his state, Wallace was recovering. Wallace would later die in the sanitarium on January 18, 1923, a fate similar to the one Audrey Munson would face. His widow produced a movie about the dangers of morphine addiction called Human Wreckage (1923) which toured the country. The film is lost, unable to be viewed today.
The board of motion picture censors of Portland [Oregon] today ordered the arrest of Andrew Saso, manager of a theater, on the ground that he had shown a motion-picture featuring Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle. Films featuring Arbuckle have been banned by city ordinance since October 15, 1924.
— Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1932 [Merrit, p.359]
March 3, 1931, The Star Spangled Banner is made the national anthem via congressional resolution, signed by president Herbert Hoover.
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
June 29, 1933, Roscoe Arbuckle, who was on the verge of a potential acting come-back, dies in his sleep of a heart attack. Some papers would declare that he literally died of a broken heart.
Here is the sad spectacle of a man being punished by so-called democracy! A man who was acquitted of a trumped-up charge by three American juries! But our militant good people arose to crucify, to persecute an innocent man! They dragged him down from the topmost pinnacle of being the clean and funny comedian that he was and made of him the world’s most tragic figure!
— Rupert Hughes, making a speech towards Roscoe Arbuckle at a 1925 Hollywood banquet [Merrit, p.307]
Regarding Virginia Rappe, and whether or not Arbuckle actually caused her death by raping her, it seems unlikely. There really isn’t any evidence that indicates he did rape her. At worst, he might have had consensual sex with her, but even that is a bit far-fetched, at least from what I’ve concluded from my research. As to what caused Rappe’s health deterioration during and after the party, there are a number of things that could’ve contributed. One, years of alcohol consumption weakening her bladder. Two, the fact that she has had at least two abortions in the past (part of that whole Hollywood mandate thing that began roughly in the 20s), and one abortion could’ve caused a small tear to her bladder that grew overtime. Plus the doctors did anything but treat her symptoms correctly for at least the first two days after they were shown.
In any case, there is at the very least a reasonable doubt as to Arbuckle’s guilt. Sure he led the celebrity lifestyle, become a higher class than most American workers, and spent in excess for mansions, vehicles, booze, parties, etc (as many top-paid celebrities back then did, and still do today). But that doesn’t excuse the wrongful condemnation by women’s rights organizations anyway (among others). And the parallel’s to today’s #MeToo movement are uncanny.
It only seems ironically fitting what events would take place just before Arbuckle’s death.
July 13, 1923 – The Hollywoodland sign is erected.
September 18, 1932, Millicent Lilian ‘Peg’ Entwhistle, known for being a stage actress, was on a downward spiral career-wise. She would hike to the Hollywoodland sign, climb a ladder on the “H,” and threw herself down the mountain. Her suicide note would read, “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain.” Soon after, the one and only film she ever appeared in, Thirteen Women, would premiere November 11. It would be neither a critical or commercial success. When it was re-released in 1935 during the Hays Code era, 14 minutes would be cut from the film.
All of [the scandals] made the media, and of course America, question: What is Hollywood like? We go to see the product that they make every week. And they’re feeding us ideas and images. But how do they live? Are they not living by the same standards, the same moral values by which we live?
— Mark Viera
If the law is wrong, it ought to be changed; but the power for that is not with us.
–Chief Justice Morrison Waite of the United States Supreme Court; Virginia Minor v. Reese Happersett (1874); case in which the Court ruled that the Constitution did not grant anyone, specifically a female citizen, the right to vote even when a state law granted those rights to certain citizen classes.
In order to promote reform, it is first necessary to show the wages of sin.
Utilitarianism (noun): A theory that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number — Merriam Webster
Paternalism (noun): A policy or practice of treating or governing people in a fatherly manner, especially by providing for their needs without giving them rights or responsibilities. — The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
American-made film exports rose from 36 million in 1915 to 159 million by 1916. By the end of WWI, the U.S. produced roughly 85% of the films shown around the world, and produced roughly 98% of the films shown in America (prior to this, the international film market was having more of an an influence in the American market).
June 15, 1917, Congress passed the The National Vocational Education Act, subsequently known as the Smith-Hughes Act. Developed by Senator Hoke Smith and Representative Dudley M. Hughes of Georgia, this act was passed in response to those advocating for vocational education, to reform the way education was done so that it would, in theory, make America more globally competitive, economically-speaking, by being more efficient at how it taught and trained youth for industrial jobs. This act allowed for federal funding of states with schools which offered vocational education. In the long-term, mainly during the early 1980s, the results of this act were mixed. It was shown that the job training provided by the programs created as a result of this law tended to be outdated compared to present needs of various industries. There was also unintended consequences of segregation. Not just with what tracks blacks and whites would take, not just with what tracks were designated for girls and boys, but also due to the class status of the students.
However, there was to be a string attached. January 1916, a bill was proposed for the creation of the Federal Motion Picture Commission.
The Senate and House majority was Democrat. Dudley M. Hughes would request a revision to the Smith-Hughes act he initially helped write. This revision intended to create a new division of the Bureau of Education. The division would be called the Federal Motion Picture Commission, a commission intended to regulate, and at their discretion censor, all films within the United States, and would do so at the Federal level. This would be supported by Dr. Wilbur F. Crafts (superintendent of the International Reform Bureau), and by the Catholics and Methodists.
Hughes would make the following statement to support his argument for the creation of this commission:
While the idea of censorship of motion pictures is distasteful to our clients, as well as to others in the business, our support of the principle of regulation embodied in the bill before you is due to our realization of unfavorable conditions in the industry which can not be corrected by ordinary means nor by sporadic and occasional criminal prosecutions, procured by the better elements of the business or by individual or organized reformers. The motion-picture business, now of vast financial importance, has had a mushroom growth and is not yet homogeneous and standardized. Too many persons engaged in the business look upon it as a temporary means of getting money instead of a permanent business, the continued profit of which is dependent upon the quality and character of the productions. They are like miners who quickly exhaust the high-grade ore and leave the low grade on the dump. They find the opportunity for such methods in producing and exhibiting sensational productions which display scenes of lust and crime.
Unfortunately, the public is not yet discriminating and goes to see both bad and good, which are usually to be found upon the weekly program of the same theater. Still more unfortunately, the vicious picture brings the larger return to the exhibitor and producer, because it gets the money of the regular customer and the sensation-seeker also. The state of affairs constitutes a temptation hard to resist and, in fact, the production of vicious pictures is constantly increasing just because they are more profitable. If the industry is to endure, if decent people are to stay in the business, this cancer must be cut out. A Federal regulatory commission should prove a fearless surgeon and we therefore favor such a commission.
— Dudley M. Hughes, 64th U.S. Congress, First Session, H.R. 456
A bill to create a new division within the Bureau of Education. To create the Federal Motion Picture Commission. Bureaus for this commission would be located in Los Angeles, California, and New York City. These bureaus would review films and determine if they shall be licensed for exhibition (ie if they shall be allowed to be shown in theaters). The bill also contained the following noteworthy sections:
Section 8: That the commission shall license every film submitted to it and intended for entrance into interstate commerce unless such film or any part thereof is obscene, indecent, immoral, inhuman, or is a reproduction of an actual bull fight or prize fight, or is of such a character that exhibition would tend to corrupt morals or incite to crime.
Section 13: That the commission shall annually, on or before the first day of January each year, submit a written report to the United States Commissioner of Education. In this report, and from time to time by other means, the commission may recommend films particularly suitable for children, and may make suggestions regarding the recreational and educational uses of motion pictures.
Then Reverend John Macmurray, Pastor of Union Methodist Episcopal Church of Washington D.C., had an interesting say, to say the least.
[…] a large degree of paternalism is absolutely imperative in a democracy. Where every man’s voice must be heard and heeded in the decision of important matters, it is essential that that voice be intelligently raised for the commonweal or Commonwealth, as well as for the benefit of its owner; the aim being the “greatest good for the greatest number.”
It must be a thoroughly trained voice.
The function of the parent is to bring children into the world and train them for the State.
Where parents are too weak, or not wise enough or unwilling to train children thus the State must take the place of the parent. Sometimes the intelligent and capable prefer that the State do this work for their children, as better equipped for the work. Consequently the State has in a large measure taken the place of the parent in training the child and that with the consent of the very large majority of American citizens. What one State has done or is doing, a number of other States, agreeing and consenting, may form a group of States to do–United States. So now the State or a group States provides the conditions by which children are to be brought into the world; designates who shall be their parent, how they shall be born; then what the child shall eat and drink and how it shall eat and drink; what kind of air it shall breathe; what kind of clothes it shall wear; who shall nurse, train, and teach it; what it shall learn and what it shall not learn and when it shall learn it; when it shall play and what and where; when the child shall go to sleep and when it shall arise; provides for conditions of sleep; designates the route by which it shall go to and return from school; takes it from the parent and directs its activities, and may claim its services–the State may under certain circumstances take it away from the care of the parent completely; designates its mental food and its moral surroundings and everything that has to do with its moral welfare and development. When the child grows to manhood that care still continues.
The State tells me what I shall eat, how I shall eat it; what I shall drink and how and when I shall drink it; what kind of air I shall breathe; what I shall wear and how I shall wear it; what kind of house and home I shall have; tells me what I may do in the way of occupation and what I may not; what shall be my amusements and what shall not; takes care of my health; tells me how I shall ride and even what I shall pay for transportation. The State tells me what kind of books and papers I shall read; what kinds of pictures I shall look at and what dramatic performances I shall witness; how I shall marry and whom; how I shall be born, live, die, and be buried.
In fact the State, as a parent, mixes itself into almost all of my personal affairs, and I have become so accustomed to it that I do not demur or resent it. For whatever personal liberty and personal rights I have, and they are very great, I am willing to surrender in most cases because I receive more than the equivalent for what I give in the benefits accruing to me from the mutual voluntary surrender of the personal liberty and rights of others. I have no right to expect to benefit from the surrender of others unless I surrender myself to the benefits of the State. If I am not willing to abide by and be obedient to the laws and regulations of the family government for the good of all the family and let my parents direct, then I can kick and register my kick, or I am at liberty to run away and betake myself as far as possible from these obnoxious family laws and rule. Any American citizen in good standing is free to go to any spot on this globe and be freely welcomed except by those governments where, under the circumstances, he is least likely to go.
He is free to go to Mars if he can find safe transportation.
To be too insistent on personal rights and personal liberty at the expense of others is anarchy, and anarchy is not consistent with itself.
Therefore the State or a group of States may and does say: No influence shall be allowed to neutralize the effects of our public training and instruction; whatever it is wise for the child to receive we shall give; what is not wise we shall withhold.
The State teaches all useful knowledge–arts and sciences. What it does not teach may be regarded as neither useful or necessary but sometimes harmful. The States does not teach burglary, forgery, gun toting, licentiousness, losseness of necessary marriage bonds, or anything else classed as crimes, incentives to crime, nor resultant in crimes against the laws of common decency and proper human development. What the parent State refuses to teach in morality it should not permit outsiders to teach, and thus it regulates or refuses to allow those things which teach lessons subversive of or contrary to the purpose of the State.
Those who oppose paternalism are benefited by and acquiesce in paternalism in all things except when it interferes where they are directly interested, but since they in each case must of necessity be in the minority, and since the “greatest good for the greatest number” must be the thing sought for, they must eventually give way to the wish of the majority.
There can be no doubt but that if this bill passes Congress and becomes the law of the land, this seeming paternal feature will be consented to by the mass of the American people, for their silence and acquiescence will be equivalent to consent when they possess right at hand the power to reject if they should choose to do so. Gentlemen of the committee, you know and I know that the majority of common-sense American people will accept your decision and the action of Congress in favor of the regulation asked for in this bill with equanimity. It is this thought which comforts those who favor this bill.
Now, there is, however, a common ground on which our motion-picture friends and ourselves may stand, for those persons are surely our friends who contribute to our happiness and enlightenment.
That common ground is the censor-not censorship. I feel, after all, that our friends who have done so much for our pleasure and instruction in furnishing these motion pictures do not object to censorship, as it is called. They are not afraid of that. They would be the very first to disown such a fear. They really covet censorship. They have it now in a limited and uncertain manner. But they very reasonably fear the censors with the almost autocratic powers which they will possess–the possible favoritism, partisinship, and corruption–the big stick which may be held over their business with its over $350,000,000 annual income.
And those who have had any experience with many high-priced commissions of the Government feel that this fear is not altogether groundless.
Let them feel quite sure of the fair and square deal for all, that favoritism, partisanship, and possible injustice shall not prevail, and the really strongest objection to this bill must be removed. The higher priced the commission the greater will be the temptation to fill that commission with men who have no other qualifications than political ones, and what one man with appointing power is strong enough to withstand the pressure which must receive fullest attention.
Mr. Chairman, the committee of which I am the chairman is making an investigation of the character of the pictures now being shown in the nearly 80 motion-picture theaters in the District of Columbia, and would be pleased to have the privilege of submitting the results of this definite investigation to you and the committee for your consideration.
This speech gives me chills. Makes me downright terrified that someone made a speech in support of such Orwellian concepts in a meeting of Congress in America. That they would think the idea of a paternalist State/government that would have that much control over their citizens, and that would somehow prevent favoritism, partisanship, and injustice. Stuff like this begs the question, “What loony bin did this psychotic fuck escape from?” Stating that this act of censorship will lead us down a path that will eliminate favoritism and partisanship, while at the same time talking about a majority of common-sense people, the majority, and the power and ethics of the State being superior to that of any individual. Anyone who disagrees should be imprisoned or brainwashed to believe otherwise. I honestly don’t know how it is a film hasn’t been made about this event that hasn’t been a smash hit. It would have a plot revolving around the immorality of Catholics, the potential dangers of government, the threat to individuality. Everything is there that any half-assed cliched film full of stereotypes would be crawling over.
Following this were Statements from the Christian Unions and Societies, which all pretty much boil down to stating that they received information and complaints from other individuals and organizations, various citizens, who state that the films they’ve witness are improper, suggestive, exhibit immoral character; have unclean purposes; they subvert morals, ideals, good citizenship; they corrupt the youth. And, therefore, films must be subject to the most strict form of censorship before being exhibited to the public. But there is an entry worth noting from a Mr. H. F. Worley (keep in mind that films didn’t have a rating system during this time; all films were basically Not Rated):
Many of these things would not be so objectionable to older people of experience and settled opinions, but our membership is largely composed of children from 7 years of age up to and including high-school age. In some cases the pastors are complaining bitterly against the motion-picture shows and have preached sermons calling attention to the harmful effect of some films, and as no one can determine from the title or the outside illustrations the nature of films, it will have the effect of many of our people remaining away from the shows and put them in bad odor.
Many of the films are not obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent […], but they do show features that are immorally suggestive, picture crime in a way to make heroes of the criminals, show the details of safe breaking and other criminal acts make the show a school in crime, and make many suggestions promotive of vice, trickery, and crime.
We object to the motion-picture play showing so much of loose married relations, adultery, infidelity, and jealousy. If a stranger should suddenly drop down upon this earth from Mars and get his information from the motion pictures of to-day, he would immediately conclude that there is not a single good, pure, virtuous woman or mother in the United States, as they make a mockery of married relations and marriage vows. The youth of our land is being educated through what they see in the motion picture and they will come to have the same view. The pictures also set forth un-Christian views of life and cast reflections upon the most sacred things in life. They too often hold up to ridicule the preacher and the priest. There is often undue and unchaste familiarity between the sexes. Deaf-mutes are very expert in catching what is being said in a conversation by watching the movement of the lips. They have reported many times that the conversations carried on by the actors in the motion pictures were not only inappropriate to the picture, but were often vulgar and vile. Of course, the rest of the audience can not detect this. There is too much prominence given to the interior of saloons and dance halls and drinking and drunkenness. They often show too much detail regarding seductions and criminal assaults.
They prostitute the law, show the officers of the law and constituted authorities in an unfavorable light, and often the criminal escapes with the ill-gotten gains, marries a good girl who knows nothing of his past, and reforms. Other boys will think they can do the same. There is too much killing–it is too promiscuous–and the men die too easily. It tends to make life cheap. There is too much revenge, and jealousy is too prominent.
The manufacturers do not all have a decent regard for the sentiments of the people of the Southern States of of other sections, or for the races.
Some of the so-called “problem” and other plays may have a good or at least not a bad moral ending, but the story itself is so dirty that the end does not justify the means. What is not shown in the picture is supplied by suggestive explanatory wording. My little boy and girl often ask me “Daddy, what does that mean?” I can’t tell them, but they get an impression that is indelibly photographed on their brain. In early adolescence, children are very impressionable and imitative, and such pictures as I have described tend to brutalize and degrade them. If it comes to a point where children must be kept away from the shows, very few parents will go and it will only be a matter of time when they fall into bad repute. The companies that are now producing nothing but clean pictures should not attempt to defend the business generally, including those who turn out improper pictures. This same warning was sounded against the saloon in the last two decades, but in their generation the liquor trade thought they were “wiser than the children of light” and that they were too deeply intrenched in politics and habits of men to be disturbed in what they considered as their rights. If they had kept within the law and due bounds and had regulated those of their number who openly flouted the law and conducted indecent places, the great prohibition movement in this country would not have attained its present proportions. A word to the wise is not necessary.
I wish to emphasize in the strongest terms that I am in favor of the motion-picture play and think it has a great future if it is kept clean. I firmly believe that a Federal inspection or censorship of the films before they are exhibited would be a benefit to the manufacturers, distributers, and exhibitors. It would give them a standing. People would not hesitate to go, feeling that they would be in no danger of being offended or their children of seeing something undesirable. I am surprised that they have fought the bill.
Perhaps that’s because they have some sense of logic that you do not?
The Rev. Mr. Brady says that we “don’t put certain books in the hands of our children.” That is just what we are trying to do with regard to motion pictures–not to allow certain ones to be exhibited, or, to use Brother Brady’s words, “too keep them out of the sight of our children.”
When restrictive or regulative measures have been pending before the committees of Congress in the past, I have heard the same specious arguments advanced as to why they should not be enacted into law as are now put forward by the motion-picture manufacturers. They want to be let alone. They say that it is impossible to select five or more men who can pass on these films, but with unbecoming lack of modesty they admit that the five or six men in their plants are capable of deciding what is desirable and what is not. This is a strong assertion of virtue on their part to the effect that they are able to select men who can do this work satisfactorily but that the great Government of the United States can not.
They state that the legislation will infringe on their personal liberty. We have a great deal of civil liberty but very little personal liberty. Adam had it, but it was restricted by Eve’s personal liberty when she came. In like manner Robinson Crusoe had it in unrestricted degree until Friday came. This law is no more an infringement of personal liberty than the pure-food law, opium law, forcible vaccination, prohibiting prize-fight pictures from being shown, holding of duels, lotteries, etc.
They say that this act would be unconstitutional. If so, why do they oppose it? The courts would determine that in their favor if it is unconstitutional. I take it that they fear that it is constitutional.
Or they may fear the court is full of dumbfucks who don’t consider enough of the ways in how the act would be detrimental to the constitution. You know, like the 1915 ruling declaring that film shouldn’t have first amendment rights.
Conservation is the spirit of the day. We are conserving our natural resources in forests, water power, etc. We are spending large sums to save our fruit crops from blight and to prevent and cure diseases of cattle and hogs. I submit that the greatest resources of our country are the boys and girls, who will be the men and women of the next generation. One of them is worth infinitely more than all the hogs in the land.
An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. If a sewer pipe leaks in a home or on a public street, no one would counsel that it be let alone to see what the effect would be. No; they would all wish to stop up the poisonous flow of gas at once. They would want to take no chances at all, even though the leak might be very small and the effect be harmful in a small degree. If it were at all harmful, everyone would agree that it must be stopped at once. That is exactly the position we take regarding the motion pictures. The manufacturers agree with us that there are some pictures harmful in some degree and others that should not be exhibited at all. In fact, they have been prohibited by the courts from being exhibited at a number of places in this country. How much more necessary that we should stop this flow of poison into the youthful minds! It would not affect the pictures that are now clean, and in fairness I wish to say that there are some companies that I have never known to turn out a questionable picture.
The worst feature of the effect on the youthful minds is that the harvest will not be reaped this year or the next, but the seed is being sowed and the crop will be gathered in the next generation. If preventive measures are not taken now, they will be too late for this generation. We can not expect to sow weeds and reap grain. “As we sow, so shall we reap.”
For the benefit of the youth of the land as well as of the motion-picture manufacturers I trust that you will favorably report this bill and urge its enactment into law in such form and language that it will not injuriously affect any legitimate, well-intentioned manufacturer of clean films or place a burden or hardship upon him. If so, we shall feel deeply grateful to you and the manufacturers will soon see the benefits derived and will rise up and call you blessed.
That statement, “An ounce of prevention is worth of ton of cure,” does have truth to it when put in the right context. But he uses it in one context to emphasize its use in another. I’d go into details as to the problems with this, but William Seabury would do that (more on him soon).
Rev. Harvey J. Brown:
The power of pictures over the imagination and destiny of one family illustrates the moral and psychological necessity of guarding the latent force of pictures in our homes, unless we want our children to be like the pictures they view.
Well, I’ll give Harvey Brown some credit. The least that can be admitted is that motion pictures do have a psychological effect on people, carrying the potential to influence them towards doing one thing or another. Of course, if one is mature and wise enough, it shouldn’t be much of a problem, and they should only be influenced by pictures in the best ways. Those who are not, in particular children, should have some protection from this influence. But that should be at the discretion of the parents, especially because each child is different, let alone each family.
Those were the main arguments for the bill. Now for the arguments against the bill, or what I’d like to call common-sense and less Orwellian. Made by William M. Seabury of the New York bar, general counsel for the Motion Picture Board of Trade of America:
And we predict it will be demonstrated that the proposed legislation is not only wholly unnecessary and an utterly ineffective and a useless expedient for the correction of any existing evil, but that it is ruinous to the fifth largest industry in the country and will constitute a vicious, dangerous, and un-American piece of legislation, which in itself is a serious infringement of the liberties of the citizen and in reality is the announcement of the commencement of governmental censorship of the drama, the press, and of free speech, events so abhorrent and repugnant to the letter and spirit of our institutions and laws as to require from this committee its emphatic and positive denunciation and repudiation.
The motion-picture industry of this country is credited with being the fifth largest industry in the United States from the standpoint of capital invested.
As a medium of thought expression the motion picture is said to reach approximately eight to ten millions of our people daily, and the percentage of adult and infant attendance at these exhibitions is said to approximate, respectively, about 90 per cent for adults and about 10 per cent for children.
Seabury would go on to cite news articles to make his point.
Moving pictures of prize fights are forbidden. Several large Chicago papers applaud. Yet these same papers devote full pages to showing actual scenes from the battle fronts in Europe. A prize fight does not kill. A battle picture that does not show men being destroyed by hundreds fails. Why permit one to be shown and deny the right to the other?
— Chicago Journal, Dec. 17, 1915
“The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the inalienable rights of man, and every citizen may freely speak, write, and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.” (Art. I, sec. 7, Constitution of Pennsylvania.)
The fear of libel laws keeps the press within bounds and the fear of the laws against exhibiting indecent, libelous, or immoral pictures will prevent the movie managers from offending public taste. Especially if those who transgress are punished under the general laws covering such offenses.
— Philadelphia Public Ledger, Sept. 30, 1915
If censorship is right in principle, why is it not extended to include every variety of entertainment? Why censor the 10-cent motion-picture play and exempt the $2 so-called problem play?
— Chicago News, Nov. 2, 1915
The general public takes no great interest in the controversy over film censorship. Members of the tribe of Comstock and certain others who are greatly concerned that there shall be no ridicule of race and religions at the movies appear to be the active backers of censorship.
— St. Louis Republic, Oct. 29, 1915
Kansas is not the only State where Carmen [1915 Cecil B. DeMille film] was prohibited from being shown by the censors. In Ohio and Pennsylvania the scissors were wielded whole-heartedly, and finally the picture was kept from these States altogether, as it has been in Kansas.
Comment: These are the three States in the Union that have State censorship.
— Topeka Daily Capitol, Oct. 24, 1915
The best of literature has been ransacked by the motion picture for the children. Sinbad the Sailor, Robinson Crusoe, the Cricket on the Hearth, Three Little Bears, Cinderella, the Children in the Tower, form a feast spread for their enjoyment.
— Louisville Herald, Oct. 25, 1915
Who protects the morals of the movie censors from the “terrible” pictures they must see? Do not these have a perverting effect upon them? They are normal Kansas folk. Perhaps it is necessary that the morals of the censors be sacrificed if need be, but their plight seems to be a sorry one indeed.
— State Journal, Topeka, Kans., Oct. 19, 1915
If Carmen had been a nice, ladylike young person, Prosper Merimee would not have written a novel about her, and Bizet would never have had a chance to make Merimee’s story over into one of the most popular of all operas. And, of course, no one would have made either novel or book into a picture play. And, now, the Ohio board of moving picture censors commands that Carmen must be respectable and orderly. She must not smoke, for smoking is not commendable in young girls of Carmen’s age. She must not do other things which do not conform to be accepted twentieth century social standards. She must, in fact, be denatured. The example indicates not only the uselessness but also the large nuisance value of the State censor board. The time is not far distant when the censorship nuisance will be abated. It is the recrudescense of Puritanism wholly out of harmony with the times.
— Cleveland Plaindealer, Oct. 15, 1915
Public sentiment is the saving force in such matters (pictures about which there is doubt). It has in the past prevented the exploitation of many unsavory plays, not alone in the movies but on the legitimate stage as well.
Censorship, why? The motion picture is an art form. As such, like art itself, it must be free to practice in accordance with its ideals. The decision as to whether these ideals are worthy is too important to be left to one or two or a hundred people. The judgement must be given by the people who will benefit or suffer by the recreations they support. When this course has been pursued in the past there have been no mistakes.
— New York Evening Mail
A State or National censorship of films probably would lead to the censorship of dramatic productions, and thence to magazines, books, and newspapers.
— Waltham (Mass.) News, Nov. 6, 1915
The censorship of moving picture films has been made a political football by Gov. Willis. The result is that motion-picture exhibitors may be forced into politics. It has come to their knowledge that several films, after having been passed by the censor board, have been recalled and rejected at the direct command of the governor. One of these is “The birth of a nation.” It was barred from Ohio by executive order, because it was objectionable to certain manipulators of the colored vote. In the same connection it is told that another film was handled by the censors and approved. Remonstrance was made by a colored politician to Gov. Willis. The film producer heard of it, and said, “I”ll have to see that fellow for $100 or so.” He must have seen him for the next day the governor was informed that the objections had been withdrawn, and again the film was approved and released.
— Messenger, Freemont, Ohio, Jan. 1, 1916
The censorship of motion pictures by the States or Federal Government would put the responsibility in the wrong place. As capable of misuse, moving pictures are not in a class by themselves. Books may carry moral poison. Unwholesome books are actually sold. By very long experience the friends of law and order know it is wiser to deal with bad books after they appear instead of assuming that no publisher can be trusted.
— Boston Herald, Nov. 8, 1915
Why Federal censorship anyway? We have no official Federal board to sit in judgement upon American literature or American newspapers. We have no Federal juries to require orators to rehearse before them ere they may deliver their orations to a breathless public. But we do have adequate laws protecting the public against indecent literature, indecent newspapers, and indecent speakers. If persons violate these laws they can be punished after the act. We should have laws to protect society against indecent films. We have such laws already. We don’t need any more Federal guardians.
— Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, Jan. 2, 1916
A body of nonexpert guardians of public morals is a sore and needless irritation to the public.
— Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle, Nov. 4, 1915
Standards of people vary surprisingly along this line. If every scene that possibly may offend somebody were to be eliminated from the average film there wouldn’t be a great deal of it left.
— Joplin (Mo.) Globe, Dec. 16, 1915
There is no more need of censorship for motion pictures than there is for censorship of newspapers, for certainly it can not be claimed that the sensational newspaper is less potent in its influence than the film drama.
— New York Evening Mail, Oct. 15, 1915
The courts of Allegheny County have in a recent decision nullified the police rights of Pennsylvania cities. By declaring that the State board of censors for moving pictures is the final authority, they have taken away the fundamental power of each city to govern itself. It is impossible to believe that this decision will stand when once its meaning has been made clear.
The board of censors has plenary power to allow or disallow films for exhibition in this State. The tyranny of this body has been suffered only because appeals to the courts and to the police have been available as a check upon it. Now the court has decided that when a film has passed the censors it can not be stopped by the police.
The full effect of this decision is to tie the hands of individuals and to deliver the cities, bound and gagged, into the hands of the board. The censorship of plays properly rests with the people. Their protests are carried out by the police and by the court. There is nothing inherently wrong with the movies to make another kind of censorship necessary. And there is nothing sacrosanct about the board of censors to make its decisions irrevocable.
— Tribune, Beaver Falls, Pa., Sept. 20, 1915
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has prepared a motion-picture film […] giving views of various phases of Georgia’s agricultural and industrial activities. Among them are pictures of the cotton industry, from planting and chopping time, through the various processes to the finished product of the mills.
We wonder if these mill pictures show the children from 12 to 15 at work? Or has Georgia a board of censorship that eliminated that little feature?
— Telegram, Bridgeport, Conn., Dec. 14, 1915
If Park Commissioner Cunneliffe’s motion-picture censorship bill passes there will soon be a demand for an enlargement of his field of activity. The people will want him to decide what the newspapers shall print, what drama shall be produced, and what books they shall read. Perhaps he will be asked to censor the sermons to be delivered from the pulpits and speeches to be made at public meetings. He will become our mental and moral dictator.
— St. Louis Post Dispatch, Nov. 4, 1915
The people themselves who daily throng the motion-picture theaters of this city and State are the best censors.
— Cleveland Plaindealer, Oct. 30, 1914
The moving picture is not an incentive to crime. Certain abnormal youths may commit crimes after seeing pictures precisely as some man may rob a jeweler’s window after gazing at the rich display it contains. These circumstances, however, indicts neither the moving picture nor the jeweler’s display.
— The Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, Oct. 12, 1914
In days not long past it was the practice of lazy thinkers to blame the dime and novel and the cigarette for crime among juveniles; to-day the same class levels its absurd charges against the motion pictures.
The guardianship of children does not stop at the door of moving-picture theater, and parents who allow their children to go without knowing what they are likely to see can not escape responsibility for their carelessness, any more than if they were to allow them to attend the performances at the regular theaters indiscriminately. The only effective censorship is the registration of public opinion.
— The Press, Atlantic City, N.J., Oct. 14, 1915
There are indications of a wide awakening of the American people to the fact that puritanical interference with innocent amusements is a species of tyranny which they have too long endured. It is bound to become as extinct as the “Dodo.”
— The Morning Telegraph, New York City, Nov. 21, 1915
We see no reason why this censorship innovation should remain within the narrow confines of the moving-picture theater. There is a world of error to conquer. The press daily, or twice daily, pours forth its torrent of comment and report. Officials are subjected to criticism. Events which must stir the moral reprobation of the censorial conscience are minutely reported. Besides there are the books, the rostrum, and the pulpit–all of these constantly offend against the convictions and predilections, sentiments, and standards of the board of censors, who confine the safeguards of censorship to the humble and comparatively unoffending “movie.”
— Tribune, Chicago, Nov. 25, 1915
The bill creating Federal censorship of moving pictures, now in the hands of the House Committee, belongs in the category of avuncular legislation. The people won’t go far astray in deciding for themselves what is proper and what is improper in filmdom. Uncle Sam has taken the trouble of regulating morals on more than one previous occasion, and he has proven himself a conspicuous failure at such work.
— The Times, Pawtucket, R. I., Jan. 3, 1916
In our so frequent discussions of the ethical side of entertainments, and especially in regard to the moving pictures, a great deal is said about “the protection of the children.” But there will always have to be discrimination on the part of the parent, and no public censor can ever take place of that.
— Journal, Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 8, 1915
The censor rejects merely because he personally does not approve of the picture. He approves for the same reason.
The pulpit was almost unanimous in commending the film pictures of John Barleycorn, yet it contained more drinking scenes than any other photoplay made.
Local or national censorship fails. At present no two people will agree, city will not accept the judgment of the State, nor the State that of a Federal comment.
— Gazette, St. Joseph, Dec. 15, 1915
The idea which had the public morals as its basis when the boards of censorship were formed has proven a boomerang to public officials. This kind of thing seems inherent in the practice of censorship. When the government dabbles in private morals condemnation is sure to follow. Censorship should not rest with any small group of people.
— Review, Fort Collins, Colo., Oct. 23, 1915
Really the best censor is a calm public mind reinforced by the shrewd sense of the amusement purveyor.
— Times, Brockton, Mass., Sept. 24, 1915
If censorship is good in principle it should properly be extended to include every variety of amusement.
— Portland (Oreg.) Journal, Nov. 1, 1915
Pennsylvania and Ohio movie censors cut out Romeo and Juliet, because Juliet is a girl in her teens conducting herself in a most unmaidenly fashion, and the play abounds in kisses and passionate love scenes. Having thus eliminated the great dramatist’s art, the censors passed, without question, modern society dramas showing elopements, assignations, murders, and suicides. The censor is a rare animal.
— Republican, Hackensack, N.J., Dec. 16, 1815 [I suspect that year is a misprint]
Hail to the Ohio board of censors! We would like to say for the sake of alliteration the board of sensible censors. But to call the Ohio board of censors sensible would not be true. We fear the board needs the broadening influence of travel and the education that goes with it.
— Reflector-Herald, Norwalk, Ohio, Oct. 18, 1915
That sums up the arguments he cited made against film censorship. Then he opted to make arguments of his own.
The police power is the power of the State to regulate the public health and morals. It is a power Congress does not possess except when used as a legitimate incident of some other existing power.
The power to regulate interstate commerce is a national and not a State power. Yet bearing these simple propositions in minds, the Supreme Court, in the Mutual Film Co. case, decided that a State regulation of the exhibition of motion pictures by means of a State censorship board, including the imposition of a State tax upon the inspection of films which originally came into the State as interstate commerce, was not an interference with interstate commerce and consequently was not beyond the authority of State enactment. How, then, can any court be expected to hold when Congress passes the same kind of an act, solely for the purpose of preventing exhibitions of pictures within the several States, that the character of the legislation, although identical, becomes changed from a statute which regulates the police power, to one which lawfully regulates commerce?
It is clear no such jugglery may logically be permitted.
When the States passed a censorship statute, the Supreme Court said it did not interfere with interstate commerce and that it was a lawful exercise of the police power of the States.
When the States passed a censorship statute, the Supreme Court said it did not interfere with interstate commerce and that it was a lawful exercise of the police power of the States.
If Congress passes a censorship statute, can the courts be expected to hold that the act is passed pursuant to this power to regulate commerce and that it is not a police measure? We think not.
The police power is exclusively a State and not a Federal power.
State censorship is not an interference with interstate commerce and is a lawful exercise of its police power in so far as dramas are concerned. How, then, can a Federal censorship bill be held to be the regulation of interstate commerce and not an exercise of police power?
The guaranty of our Federal Constitution and of the constitution of every State in the Union has been in substance that every man shall have the right to express and publish freely his thoughts and sentiments, being responsible both criminally and civilly for the abuse thereof.
It is to preserve this principle inviolate in its application to the exhibition of motion pictures, particularly to the exhibition of the news and the so-called serial motion picture, for which we earnestly contend.
We are obliged to recognize the power of Congress specifically to prohibit the introduction into this country of a film which depicts a prize fight […].
The enactment of this statute, however, involves no question of the right of the Federal Government to censor films by the exercise of the police power, and that case is no authority for the enactment of a censorship statute by Congress.
It is not pretended that Congress has any power to enact this statute other than the power conferred by the so-called commerce clause of the Constitution. And this function would be fully performed by the enactment of a law forbidding and penalizing the transportation of immoral and indecent films in interstate commerce.
The insertion of the words “motion-picture film” in an appropriate place in […] the Criminal Code of the United States would at once exert and exhaust the entire power of Congress over this subject.
If thereafter any such film was transported in interstate commerce, long before its exhibition the sender and the receiver would be amenable to the Federal criminal law.
If the film so shipped was of the prohibited character, the ordinary enforcement of the criminal law would punish the wrongdoer.
The censorship principle is said to be involved in and to underlie the Federal statutes which regulate the importation and transportation of foods and drugs […], and the protection afforded from the importation an transportation of infected animals and meat established by the Federal meat inspection law […], and other similar statutes.
But no such principle is involved in any of these statutes.
Impure food, habit-forming drugs, and infected cattle, dead or alive, are dangerous to human health in and of themselves, and inspection of such supjects is not a censorship of them.
Whether food is impure and consequently dangerous to health, whether certain drugs contain opium, morphia, or poison of prohibited character, and whether a particular cow has or has not an infectious disease are all medical facts, the existence of which is susceptible of accurate determination by competent inspection of substances already in existence. But the same result can not possibly be achieved by the censorship of a drama or of a motion picture.
There is admittedly nothing inherently dangerous from the standpoint of morality in contact with the physical substance of the films, and whether or not a particular picture when exhibited to the public, either as news, as a periodical, or as a drama, will or will not impair the morals of the community is not susceptible of specific determination except in very gross and plain cases. Such matters involve honest differences of opinion, different standards of morality, each in many instances equally good, and different ideals. One community learns a lesson and derives a benefit from the exhibition of a certain picture, while another audience in a different location may obtain no benefit from the exhibition, and might even be injuriously affected by it. But these are not proper matters for determination by any one commission for the benefit of a country of 100,000,000 people. The only legitimate censor of thought expression is the community in which the thought is expressed.
If a thought is expressed which offends the moral sense of the community in which it is published, there are ample existing remedies to redress the wrong; but it is impossible to accomplish the suppression of an exhibition of undesirable pictures by providing for their national censorship. Who would seriously suggest that an author should submit his manuscript to the Librarian of Congress for his approval and censorship before he might copyright his literacy production? Who would seriously suggest that a clergyman should submit the manuscript of his sermon to some legalized censor who had the privilege of determining the right of the clergyman to deliver the sermon to his congregation?
Who would seriously suggest that the press of the country submit its galley proofs to a national board of censors for review prior to publication?
A play or drama can not intelligently be compared to a piece of infected meat. Neither can the newspaper, the magazine,nor the sermon. And so we confidently assert that none of the statutes to which we have referred contain the slightest analogy in principle to the bill here proposed to be enacted.
We conclude from what has been said that Congress is without power to enact any bill based upon the principle of censorship of motion pictures.
Section 5 of the proposed powers the Federal Motion Pictures Commission stated:
That the commission shall license every film submitted to it and intended for entrance into interstate commerce, unless it finds that such film is obscene, indecent, immoral, inhuman, or depicts a bull fight or prize fight, or is of such a character that its exhibition would tend to impair the health or corrupt the morals of children or adults or incite to crime. The commission may license any film subject to such excisions, amplifications, or alterations as the commission may direct and require to be made. The commission may by unanimous vote withdraw any license at any time for cause shown.
Seabury would make a statement going against this very section of this power for the commission-to-be:
What number of commissioners is required in order to pass the film in the first instance and to license it, and for what “cause shown” may a license once granted be withdrawn upon unanimous vote?
And how, may we ask, is it humanly possible for the commission or anyone else to determine whether a film is “of such a character that its exhibition would tend to impair the health or corrupt the morals of children or adults or incite to crime”?
But perhaps the most extraordinary power sought to be conferred by the act is that which assumes to authorize the commission to license any film subject to such “amplifications or alterations as the commission may direct and require to be made.” This authorizes the commission to direct a manufacturer to make perhaps several thousand feet of film solely for the purpose of “amplifying” and of exploiting some idea of the commission. The commission is given the authority to determine what shall be emphasized by way of illustration or what less shall not be conveyed by the picture, and what shall be suppressed, curtailed, or entirely eliminated. In other words, the arm of the Federal Government becomes the manufacturer of motion pictures on the capital and at the expense of the producer. It dominates and controls and determines what shall be produced and what shall not. In other words, it censors pictures.
Why, may we ask, is the commission directed to make an annual report making “recommendations to importers and producers of films and to the public regarding the educational and recreational use of motion pictures”? This is only a specimen of the paternalism evidenced by the bill. We have already shown that by directing the commission and empowering it to require amplifications and alterations to be made in the film the Government in reality becomes the producer; not, however, on the capital of the Government, but upon the capital and money of the producer.
And, moreover, it is apparently contemplated that the commission shall indulge in a species of public exhortation, regarding the education and recreational use of motion pictures. Thus it will give publicity and the weight of its sanction and approval to certain films which appeal to the members of the commission, while others equally good, but which, as a matter of taste, do not appeal to the members of the commission, will be condemned by silence.
Many of the suggestions in this new censorship bill are supposed to have emanated from the Famous Players Film Corporation, the Jesse Lasky Co., producing companies which distribute their product through the Paramount Picture Corporation, which also supported the new bill, the World Film Co., the Equitable Film Co., and the Metro Pictures Corporation.
The unexpected support of Federal censorship in any form from these companies is clearly only a shallow attempt to appear before the committee in a “holier than thou” attitude, since these companies stand alone in their position and are opposed by every reputable concern in the industry.
Only those who wish to come as near the line of obscenity and impropriety as possible without incurring liability to heavy fine and imprisonment in the penitentiary welcome the immunity from Federal criminal prosecution which Federal censorship would afford. If, in the rush and pressure of business, or after the commission has been liberally educated in the “moral lessons” taught by some immoral plays, an improper film could be put through the Federal censorship commission, so much the better from the standpoint of those who haunt the border line of impropriety.
The enactment of the Federal censorship bill would not prevent the enactment of other censorship laws in each State in the Union, in each city, in each town, in each village; so that in the course of time, if the principle of Federal censorship is recognized, the industry would be inevitably censored out of existence.
The only excuse for any censorship is a desire to afford children extreme protection. But, if censorship is to benefit the children, each play would have to be censored from the standpoint of the child, so that only children’s pictures would thereafter be exhibited. This would destroy the industry. If this is not the type of censorship which would result from the creation of this Federal commission, the censorship would fail entirely in its purpose and would be worthless and unnecessary.
[…] The local conditions which have resulted from existing State censorships are cited as an argument in support of the bill. We urge the same argument for its defeat. We pointed out what happened to “Virtue” in New York and in Pennsylvania. The argument it presents is irrefutable.
In New York State there is no censorship which involves examination of the prepublicity type. In Pennsylvania a full-fledged censorship law exists.
In Pennsylvania the board of censors prohibited the exhibition of “Virtue” on the screen. An appeal was immediately taken to the court of common pleas and the ruling of the board of censors reversed and authority given to exhibit the picture, and the picture was exhibited in Pennsylvania.
In New York City, where the future exhibition of “Virtue” was extensively advertised, so that its character was known without the necessity of prepublic examination, the commissioner of licenses of the city of New York notified the exhibitor that the exhibitor’s license would be revoked if he exhibited the picture.
The exhibitor was immediately placed upon the offensive. He secured a temporary injunction to restrain the commissioner of licenses from revoking his license; but, upon the final hearing of the injunction, and before, as we are informed, the picture was exhibited at all to the public, the temporary injunction was dissolved and the ruling of the commissioner of licenses upheld, and the picture was not exhibited in New York.
This illustrates conclusively the complete and absolute inefficiency of any censorship of the prepublicity type. It illustrates that in Pennsylvania, where the people are burdened with censorship, a questionable picture is publicly exhibited notwithstanding the prohibition of the censors, while in New York, where no prepublicity censorship exists, the picture is not shown.
I haven’t been able to locate the film Virtue. For all I know, it has been lost to the ravages of time, with no copy left in existence.
No argument against censorship would be complete without a brief reference to the ludicrous manner in which it has been enforced wherever its vicious principles have been enacted into law.
[…] we were favored by the Photo Play Magazine with the advance sheets of an article by Mr. Channing Pollock, in which the facts which demonstrate the ridiculous absurdity of censorship in practice were effectively portrayed.
Mr. Pollock said in part: Considering that it is 40 years since first she (Carmen) mouthed her mad love to the music of Bizet, Carmen might have expected the deference due old age. Beautifully filmed and beautifully acted by Geraldine Farrar, she came as a bolt from the blue to shocked and surprised boards in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California. Her ancient kiss, that inspired the first big press-agent story, was ordered cut to 5 feet. “Just a little love, a little kiss,” warbled the Buckeyes, and nothing more than a yard and two-thirds of affection came within that allowance. “All love scenes showing embraces between males and females” were ordered measured and trimmed, leaving the cigarette maker to give her life for a purely paternal peck from the bashful bullfighter, Escamillo.
Come to think of it, however, Carmen wasn’t permitted to give her life, either in Ohio or in California. A local board in the latter State objected to the killing of a woman by a man, though there is no opposition to the killing of men by women. After all, girls will be girls! It is only the male who must not be encouraged! Pennsylvania banned the little set-to between Carmen and Frasquita, and the duel between Morales and Don Jose. All this had taken place dozens of times in the opera in Philadelphia, without appreciable effect upon the police records; but apparently the censors were comforted by the reflection that no one knows what an opera is about anyway. “Camille” is forbidden in England, but there has been no ruling against “Traviata.” Young persons who weep to the strains of “O Parigi, O cara” probably do not suspect themselves of sympathy with a courtesan!
Ohio prevented poor Carmen’s smoking one of her own cigarettes, and, in one State or another, the majesty of the law raised the level of her decolletage, restrained from her baring the shoulder of her rival and interfered generally with her artless displays of temper and temperament. “Carmen,” as amended and expurgated, must have borne a striking family resemblance to “Elsie Dinsmore.”
If I have failed to keep my promise, and be “excruciatingly funny,” you will admit that the censors are making it up to you. “The Scarlet Letter” was passed, after considerable argument, but no children were permitted to witness it in Chicago. To the contention that minors might read the book, answer was made that “a child of simple training and pure thoughts could read The Scarlet Letter, and, because of the purity and delicacy of its style, have no idea of its real meaning.” Charming prospect! To go through Hawthorne’s masterpiece from cover to cover without understanding a word of it!
At least, no “child of simple training and pure thoughts” would be likely to see in any picture what the censors seem to see. Few children are nasty-minded. A large section was cut from a photoplay called “The Warning” because there was a bed in the room adjoining the scene of action. Of course, a bed could have none other than an immoral purpose. How stupid of the producer not to have exchanged this obscene piece of furniture for a denatured divan. In the picturization of a celebrated play objection was made to a title covering pantomime in which a capitalist told a woman that he would employ her husband. The title read: “I’ve got a proposition to make to you.” It was cut. The censors couldn’t imagine a business proposition.
“Do you mean to say,” the board’s attorney thundered at me, “that you do not recognize this as a brothel?”
I admitted that I didn’t.
“The censors do,” said the attorney.
“Which only goes to prove,” I replied, “that the censors know more about brothels than I do.”
One of the members of the committee indicated that he had in mind the possible advisability of the classification of motion pictures–some for adults and some for children; and it was suggested that such a segregation might be desirable. Our response to the suggestion is that that is one of the matters which, if left alone, will be worked out satisfactorily, first, by the parents of the children who attend motion picture theaters, and second, by the exhibitors themselves, and finally by the local authorities. Certainly this can not be a proper matter for Congressional enactment.
It is said that the repeated depiction of crime in the motion pictures incites to the commission of crime. We remind the committee that we know of no motion picture which, in exhibiting the commission of crime, fails to exhibit its rigorous punishment. Whether such an exhibition teaches a desired lesson, or whether it may tend to incite weak-minded persons to the commission of crime, we are unable to determine.
We believe that this question, like the others, can only be satisfactorily solved by the local communities in which the exhibition of motion pictures is forced upon an unwilling public. There are no exhibitions which must be seen by the public. The public are required to pay for the privilege of seeing them. If the exhibit is distasteful to the public it is certain that it will not pay its money only to be displeased by the exhibition. So the whole matter of proposed regulation of what shall and what shall not be seen, in so far as it deals with matters of taste, sentiment, and opinion, is a matter with which no legislative body can have legitimate concern.
The substance of the argument presented showed that in reality while the terms “immoral picture,” “indecent picture,” “impure picture” were frequently used, what these proponents of the bill really wished to control were matters entirely within the domain of opinion, taste, and individual judgement. The sentiments were freely expressed by these persons that there were too many drinking scenes, that there were too many scenes of adventure and hair-breadth escapes, and that the baneful cigarette was too much in evidence.
Finally, we say let there be a cessation of governmental interference with the duties and obligations of parents. The responsibility for the welfare of the child rests primarily with the parents, and that responsibility can not successfully be assumed by Congress, nor can the burden be taken from the shoulders of the parents and placed upon those of any branch of the Government.
For all the reasons given, we respectfully urge the defeat of the bill.
That’s the last entry from Seabury, but there would be one more from Wilbur Crafts in support of the bill. Some of it is repetition from statements made earlier. Plus an argument about how censoring films is not the same as censoring stage plays.
The plea that if Federal censorship is applied to films, it should be applied to dramas, breaks down at several points. Dramas travel in memories of actors, not in commercial cans, and vary as rendered by different actors and in different places. Theaters need censorship, but it should be local censorship connected up with some bureau of information and warning. The film cans are as much an interstate matter as the cans of beef to which the Federal Government wisely applies “prepublicity censorship.”
That, and an mention of how the commission would work in terms of rejection of a film, which not only bears resemblance to the more modern MPAA, but also to online video platforms such as YouTube.
If any film is rejected, the commission must clearly set forth what part or parts are objected to and why, and the film may be presented again for license if these parts are removed.
Ultimately, this revision to the Smith-Hughes act didn’t come to pass. But it did serve as a severe warning as to how bad the backlash of the wild west film industry would be, with pressure from the churches, and from the government. Primarily in the name of protecting the children, by a desire to force standards of decency onto producers.
What fascinates me is how this attempt to amend the Smith-Hughes Act isn’t all that known to this day. And yet it set the groundwork for most, if not all, of the arguments to be made for and against film censorship. Arguments still made to this day. The event is significant not just because of the prevention of what almost occurred (though in hindsight, it ended up delaying what would later occur), but the statements made for and against. Not to mention a giant fucking dose of Orwellian propaganda thrown in there.
There is one other thing worth pointing out about this event. At two different times during the discussion for the act revision, it is stated that D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation is historically accurate and worth watching for educational purposes. Another indication that people back then weren’t as educated as they should be, and thus more prone to propaganda meant to divide and inspire contempt for the fellow citizen. The thing is, that can work both ways. Failure to educate on other subjects that films falsely depict can carry similar consequences. Like with Remember the Titans. Or even Braveheart.
Firstly, the historical movies have a greater appeal than objective scholarly books and articles, or well-researched popular history books. Most people do not read academic history texts and engage in the research. Neither do I expect people to start doing so. Yet many people rely on history to inform them about their own identity, as well as cultural choices or preferences.
Thus, if people can be influenced to make purchases, and think about themselves, based on what they saw in a movie that presents untruths, then historical inaccuracies are very dangerous indeed.
There’s too many men
Too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can’t you see
This is a land of confusion.
This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and lets start trying
To make it a place worth living in.
— Genesis, Land of Confusion
So many would worry about the status of the United States today. What was once a mainly Christian-Conservative nation (which did have its own share of flaws, but plenty of upsides), is now transforming into a socialist/globalist nation. Mainstream media vilifying anyone deviating from such political views, open borders, and being anything but straight and white. Radical groups going after anyone challenging the change. And only a few strong-willed individuals fighting against what seems to be a losing battle.
This is not something new. This has happened before. The biggest example would have to be the Red Scare. Many would argue this was primarily about the Cold War, and the paranoia over Communist influence. How Senator Joe McCarthy went after 80+ people unjustly with no grounds for his claims regarding them being Communists that pose a danger to the Democratic-Republic form of government. How much of the red scare wound up being false flags, and much of the paranoia stirred up from people like McCarthy was simply a case of chasing one’s own shadow. And McCarthyism would be a term used from then to now, continually demonizing the man’s name to this very day.
Like how many demonize people like Donald Trump for claiming there’s a crisis at the border, that there is a serious issue with the crime rates due to illegal immigration, much less the voter fraud. How others point out that this is part of some conspiracy fueled by people like George Soros who want globalism to happen, by putting in as many “refugees” as possible from chaotic third-world countries into first-world countries, bringing them down to their level. Because once all major countries are in chaos, they will become easy pickings for corporate/communist/socialist/totalitarian overlords. And anyone who challenges this threat becomes broken down and demonized themselves.
The similarities can be summed up with this quote from the novel Blacklisted By History:
To see the changing nature of the issue, we need only scan the report on domestic Communism compiled in 1930 by the Fish committee. For its time a comprehensive wrap-up, this found the CPUSA to be a militant revolutionary group, mostly headed by alien leaders and drawing on a membership base heavily weighted to recent emigres, many of whom could not speak English. That a Communist Party so led and constituted could penetrate the civilian ranks of the federal government–or make serious efforts to do so–occurred to practically no one.
In the next few years, however, the conditions recorded by the Fish committee, both in the Communist party and in the nation, would be altered in drastic fashion. By the middle 1930s, the party would undergo a complete makeover in public image and at least a partial makeover in composition. In the age of the “popular front,” the comrades shelved much of their violent, revolutionary rhetoric; the cause would now be depicted by party boss Earl Browder and his agents as old-fashioned Americanism updated for the modern era. In pursuit of this notion, the party adopted a stance of cooperating with other leftward and conventionally liberal forces for reform and social justice, peace, and other noble objects.
Simultaneously, and no-doubt aided by this tactic, there would be an influx into party ranks of native-born Americans, many fresh off the college campus, some from Anglo families dating back for generations. The new arrivals gave the party a different kind of cadre, and cachet, that would be useful to it in numerous projects. Foremost among these was the entry of party members into posts of influence in many walks of life, including academic and media jobs and government work for those inclined in that direction.
Aiding the infiltration process were the pell-mell methods of the First New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt, who came to power in 1933 in the early stages of the Great Depression. As is well known, Roosevelt and his advisers tried multiple panaceas to deal with unemployment, bank runs, a collapsed stock market, farm problems, and other economic troubles. Subsidies, regulations, and new programs abounded. This hurly-burly meant a lot of federal hiring. It also drew into its vortex all manner of self-stylized planners and reformers anxious to get in on the action. And nobody at this time was bothering to vet the new recruits for anti-Red credentials.
As a result of these conditions, a sizeable corps of Communists and fellow travelers would wind up on the federal payroll, together with a host of others susceptible to recruitment.
While the Communist threat didn’t do as much damage during that time period, up through the 60s at least, as many like McCarthy feared they would, damage was done. And it is still being felt today. Consider how many media/news sources demonize Catholicism Christianity and Capitalism, compared to Communism (either Russian or Chinese) from the 70s to the present (hint, there’s a curve). How many demonize America for its involvement in Vietnam, compared to the havoc wrought by Ho Chi Minh and the Vietcong. How many demonize Republicans and Conservatives, compared to Democrats and Liberals and Socialists. The condemning of the former tends to overshadow any condemning of the latter in each case. And it’s not because true history is on their side, and not because it goes along with the facts, and not because it’s for the moral good. It’s because many in power don’t want individualism and freedom to thrive. Because individualists and those with freedom are more difficult to control. And every Communist/Socialist nation needs control over the populace, so that those who rule can maintain a firm grip on their power. Every Corporation wants to control and/or eliminate all potential competition so that they can remain on top.
The ironic thing about all this is that those in charge are themselves individuals, with their own needs and wants, with their own flaws and strengths. Because it is human nature to desire wealth and power. Wealth can be gained by earning it from your own work and being given it willingly from others, or by forcefully taking it from others. Same thing applies to power. The more wealth/power there is in the world, the more the most ambitious in the world will see for the taking. The more technology advances and the more the world population grows, the more power/wealth there will be. With technology that ends up making the world smaller by making travel and communication faster, it is only inevitable that the world will transform from those factions who each rule a nation, to a faction that rules the world.
Ooh superman where are you now
When everything’s gone wrong somehow
The men of steel, the men of power
Are losing control by the hour.
This is the time
This is the place
So we look for the future
But there’s not much love to go round
Tell me why, this is a land of confusion.
— Genesis, Land of Confusion
Is it possible to fight the good fight and win out in the end? To have sense and compassion win out in the end? Or will we succumb to what some consider to be the inevitable? The downfall of once-great civilizations, the scattering of a once unified populace, only for the process to begin again? The way I see it, populations are running out of places to run to. The world isn’t as wide and open as it once was. The cycle has to break, a sense of unity and progress has to be maintained. Because if not, then it will be humanity that breaks.
They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I say we only get so many repeats before it’s game over. Those who won’t hear others out, who won’t be reasonable, who won’t compromise, who won’t think critically of events, who don’t question much of what they hear, will inevitably lead everyone into bloody conflict. At this point, I don’t see any way out of this but through war. And it could very well be the last war anyone fights, one way or another. And if it doesn’t come down to war, then it comes down to being willingly and cumulatively poisoned to death. There is a red scare. And there will be blood to make the scare red. It has already been shed. It’s just a matter of how much more there will be until it ends.
We may not live long enough to allow science to progress to allow the human civilization (let alone Americans) to live on when the planet fails. And if that is to be our fate, then all I can say is, “Well, it was good while it lasted.”
I wont be coming home tonight
My generation will put it right
We’re not just making promises
That we know, we’ll never keep.
Now this is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and lets start trying
To make it a place worth fighting for.
This is the world we live in
And these are the names we’re given
Stand up and let’s start showing
Just where our lives are going to.
— Genesis, Land of Confusion
Evans, M. Stanton. (2007) Blacklisted By History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies. New York, NY: Crown Forum
Oh I suppose it began when I was a child. I used to get under the table and listen to my father and his friends talk about the battles they had been through in their struggles. First these impress you deeply. […] You know, when you’ve heard your father fighting day after day, night after night, and having nothing to eat but parched corn. A group of people fighting desperately against great odds. Great sacrifices. Suffering. Death. It was a great struggle, a great story.
— D.W. Griffith
1914, The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) begins to lobby aggressively for government regulation of films. The WCTU claims that films are “addictive,” that they glorify war and violence, and that they cause crime, delinquency and immoral behavior. They were one of several religious organizations that began to rally against films for their content.
The motion picture has entered every city and town of the country. It makes a widespread and subtle appeal to people of all ages and all degrees of mental development. In the short period of fifteen years it has established itself beside the book, the school, and the church as an instrument for moulding opinion.
— Orrin Cocks
The issue of censorship gained even more steam in April 16, 1913, when the state of Ohio passed an ordinance that allowed them to enforce censorship of films released in their state. This formed an organization which stated that their objective “is to improve the moral quality of motion pictures.” A fee had to be paid by film distributors in that state in order for it to be under consideration by the Ohio state commission, who would determine if the film should be released theatrically (the only way films could be seen at the time) in the state of Ohio. If the commission deemed the film unfit or immoral for audiences in their state, it would be illegal for the film to be released there. And any attempt to release the film in the state without approval would result in the arrest of the film distributors.
Nearly every man who develops an idea works at it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged.
The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.
— Thomas Edison
Carrie Nation, a radical feminist and member of the temperance movement (against alcohol before prohibition), went about busting up saloons in 1900 for a few months in protest of alcohol; she usually did this wielding a hatchet. A year later, Edison would capitalize on her popularity with the film Kansas Saloon Smashers. It’s only inevitable that films would cover topical subjects outside of boxing. Carrie Nation would later die in 1911, with her last words being, “I have done what I could.” In 1919, her dreams of national prohibition would be realized. One year later, women would be given the right to vote.
So a while back, listening to the Slaughterfilm podcast (again), Forrest Taylor brought up the subject on how many were bitching about “the death of cinema.” And Forrest basically stated that these complaints are nonsense. Well, this instigated a multi-step response from me over the course of a few of their podcasts. Below I list each entry I made in response to each podcast.
“Where’s this ‘death of cinema’ coming from?”
You’re looking at it the wrong way. Financially? Nuh uh. A film can be the highest grossing film of the year, and still be a piece of shit, which dumbasses who are easily entertained with money to spend go and see. For example, in the year 2000, the highest grossing film of the year was Mission Impossible 2. As another example, in 1979, the highest grossing film of the year was Moonraker.
The point being, just because a film does well financially doesn’t mean, long-term speaking, it’s going to do well culturally (ex: March 1990, Pretty Woman did better financially than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, yet it’s the latter that had the bigger cultural impact). And that’s where people are coming from when they state that cinema is dying.
Television shows, whether on network television or on streaming services, are doing far better from a cultural impact standpoint than films are. And before you get your feathers in a ruffle over that statement, I’m aware of The Last Jedi (which is coasting on the cultural impact setup by the original and prequel trilogy) and the Avengers films (or any Marvel film in general, which have been coasting on Iron Man and The Avengers’ cultural impact since 2012), and their cultural impact (which is about as negative as it is positive in some cases). But the problem with those films is that they are a glorified series. They don’t stand on their own. You are required to see previous episodes/movies for the sake of understanding what is going on a good portion of the time. They’re not movies, they’re a glorified episode of an ongoing series.
The bigger cultural impacts come from shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, Last Man Standing, The Big Bang Theory, Vikings, House of Cards, etc. People know more about those, and are more inspired by those, than they are with films in theaters.
For more on this, I suggest viewing this 10 minute YouTube video that primarily discusses how a remake should be done, but delves into the death of cinema too for a respectable length:
Well, I wouldn’t say everyone loves Marvel films. The amount of people starting to hate on them has been growing since Captain America: Civil War (yes, that includes me as one of the haters). And I mean a consistent growing hate across all their movies. It’s small now, most would consider insignificant. But, by the time the Captain Marvel movie hits (at the earliest), or after the 4th Avengers film comes and goes (at the latest), this hate won’t be insignificant anymore. It will be for reasons I’m sure you find silly and childish. However, if you feel strongly enough about it (which I doubt, considering the “not giving a shit” attitude you tended to have with regards to Star Wars), I’m willing to debate the subject. But be warned, when I debate, I do it aggressively and methodically.
In any case, I’m ready and waiting for Hollywood to fall down, while the Independents swarm in to help pick it back up, like they did throughout a decent portion of the 90s and early 2000s. I expect this fall to be the biggest one since the Hay’s Code went away. I hope for a semi-film revolution the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 70s. I will be disappointed if this doesn’t happen within the next 5 years (I calculate this will happen no later then 2043; just hoping it happens a lot sooner than that).
Regarding where I got that date from, it’s an estimation based on how long the Hay’s Code lasted. The Hay’s Code was put into place in 1930, but wasn’t fully enforced until 1938. Basically, between 1930 and 1938, more and more films became more and more self-censored by adhering to the Hay’s Code during that time until it came to a head in 1938, when it remained in full effect until 1967 where it thematically (but no less officially) died with the release of Bonnie and Clyde. If we state that the whole thing started in 1930, then that’s a lifespan of 37 years.
I predict 2043 to be when the film industry goes through an independent reformation because I suspect this current trend of safe PC liberal films began around 2006, possibly earlier. But there are 2 factors that make me believe this reformation will occur sooner than that.
1.) This trend likely began earlier than 2006.
2.) The Internet, where much information is spread about the state of things at a far more rapid rate than was possible in the 30s-60s. Which makes it possible for things to change faster.
But it’s like Cory said, there are so many films and shows being made that it’s basically impossible to track them all, let alone know which ones are supposed to be good. And social media sites like Letterboxd, and various sites where so-called film critics review films, and Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, were initially meant to not only track/rate/review all these diverse films, but to also allow one to know if it is something that would appeal to them or not.
But that has now, heavily. Letterboxd has largely become an echo chamber for liberal-minded PC viewers (they greatly outnumber alternative voices, who are never the most popular reviews, and thus are largely ignored unless you search hard enough for the good ones). Film critics are either paid off or just as liberal-minded. And Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes have become a joke like IMDB. As a result, as things stand now, even if a non-liberal, non-PC film was released that appeals to those of other political/social/cultural tastes, those sites and critics will do everything in their power to bash it to pieces, or even worse, attempt to silence its existence by ignoring it.
So because of those factors, while it is possible for the reformation to happen sooner, the masses who have been brainwashed by teachers and critics, and spend most of their time in safe-spaces where group-think is not only encouraged but mandatory… That could make the reformation happen later rather than sooner.
I warned you about this, and gave you hints about this with my bashing of The Last Jedi. And to be honest, I’m more worried that society will fall before the counter-culture grows big enough and gains enough influence to even matter. And at that point, awaiting good films to be made will be the least of our worries (though it is a symptom of the overall problem).
The key word is culture.
Hey! You! Hey you! Where Do You Go?
So after thinking on the subject for a while, I decided to do a study on film culture. My initial intent was to simply study the Hays Code, its rise and fall, and what we could (or should) learn from it. Lessons we should have learned from it since then, yet showcasing evidence of censorship to conform to some government/corporate/religious view the eerily mirrors that of the Hays Code era. If nothing else, it would give me a better idea on how to predict events, and form superior arguments more prone to swaying opinions.
However, I didn’t expect to find elements during and prior to the Hays Code that end up being more relevant to the time period we’re in now than the Hays Code period. As if we’re not so much as living in an era similar to that of the Hays Code, so much as living in a time period similar to the oncoming rise of the Hays Code. And that is something I find more unsettling than what I thought we were currently dealing with.
There is too much information to condense into just one single post. So I will be presenting my findings over a series of posts. I intend to showcase events and speeches that occurred around a century ago, and how they mirror events similar to this day; demonstrating that we are regressing from free, liberated, artistically independent film-making culture, to a film culture controlled by politics and religion (sometimes religion disguised as politics). You may find them fascinating at the least, terrifying at the worst (or is it ‘best’ in this context?).
I currently don’t have all of the articles done. But I have enough of them done to feel comfortable to start releasing each of them now, one by one, on a weekly basis. You may find them not starting out all that exciting. Stick with them. By the time they get to the year 1915, you’re going to be in for some heavy-hitting stuff. And just when you think you’ve seen the craziest most controversial stuff, just when you think you know everything about that time period, it will get even more insane. The more I uncovered, the more I knew I had to write about this.
The next entry will hit on Sunday. And I will try to aim for the releases from each Sunday after that. Until then, here’s some older posts I made that should hold you over until then: