A Brief History of Censorship
Alternately, this one could be titled “When was the first porno made?” The answer to that question would be, sometime immediately following the creation of the movie camera. Before film, people were taking “dirty” photographs. Cavemen painted “dirty” art on cave walls, as far as that goes. But we aren’t concerning ourselves with pornography, here, the purpose of the latter being nothing more pretentious than titillation. Rather I want to focus on censorship in the movie industry, when it began and the various forms it has taken.
Moralistic hand-wringers started worrying about the corruptive effects of movies as soon as movies started being created. Thomas Edison’s silent short THE KISS had such moralists foaming at the mouth—in 1896! Such well-intentioned imbeciles kept right on shouting for the government to step in and take control of the motion picture industry—such idiots ALWAYS want the government to step in and take control, right up until that same government starts infringing on THEIR rights, too, but such people are never prescient enough to see such an inevitability coming—but such an intrusion never happened, mainly because Hollywood decided to start policing itself with the creation of the “Hays Code” in 1934. Movies that were released before the purview of this code, and were thus more artistically free, include TARZAN, THE APE MAN (1932) with gorgeous Maureen O’Sullivan wearing some mighty skimpy duds (the film’s sequel, released two years later, would be the first major production to suffer from the plague of the Hays Code, having to excise a scene of Jane swimming in the buff) and DOCTOR X, also from 1932, featuring a cannibalistic, deformed killer who struck on nights of the full moon. Sexy nude women?! Cannibalism?! In the 1930s?!?!
The Hays Code gradually lost its influence, thanks in large part to television. The competition of the new medium put movie theaters all across the country out of business (back in the old days, it would have been hard to find any small town in the country that didn’t have a movie theater) and threatened to derail the entire industry. Hollywood knew it had to start offering audiences something they couldn’t get sitting at home. Also, movies from foreign directors were infiltrating the country, showing audiences what heights movies could achieve when freed from stodgy constraints. The Hays Code was replaced by the MPAA ratings system, still in use today. Rather than trying to restrict material altogether, Hollywood soundly realized that it would be better to simply make sure the adults got their adult entertainment, kids got kids’ entertainment, and parents got to decide where to draw the line betwixt the two.
The MPAA system would, however, continue to evolve. Next week I’ll catch you all up on how we ended up with the ratings for movies we have today, and reminisce about the good old days of my childhood when those ratings were largely ignored.
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!