The above link is to the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. This was also known as the Hays Code and I mentioned it in the previous blog. The first two things it says are: “If motion pictures present stories that will affect lives for the better, they can become the most powerful force for the improvement of mankind
A Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchronized and Silent Motion Pictures. Formulated and formally adopted by The Association of Motion Picture Producers, Inc. and The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc. in March 1930.”
I think it is funny that the code talks about how, “White slavery should not be treated,” and that, “The use of the flag shall be continuously respectful.” So I’m guessing that you could show black slavery, but you dare not show any disrespect towards the nation’s flag while that slavery is underway.
There are all kinds of absurdities in this document. Again, this was 1930 so the times have of course changed. Most of the things that were discouraged in motion pictures back then are now pumped into peoples’ homes on a daily basis.
David Milch, which I alluded to in the last blog, talked once about how the idea of the western hero, the man of few words, was created because of this code. I’m going to paraphrase a good bit here. Basically what he talks about is how the heroes in westerns were prevented from talking like they often would in lawless towns of the 1800’s. In the movies they couldn’t swear or say many other things that are and were part of regular everyday dialogue. So in order to have them not speaking in clean and unmanly terms, the filmmakers of that era just decided to not have them speak much at all. That is how a sort of mythic American hero came to be. He didn’t come out of history, but out of a set of rules governing pictures during a time when a lot of the templates for films were being created. Again, this is largely me paraphrasing, but you get the idea.
I’m against censorship of any kind. Just like with this code, often you will get absurdities in what gets censored and what does not. We often see this now on TV where swearing is censored on mainstream television (less and less all the time of course), but someone can kill a hundred people in an action film and no one will bat an eye. Often what is censored depends on who is in power.
That being said it is perfectly legitimate to have a conversation about what is worthwhile viewing and what damages the culture at large. I see a great deal of reality TV as promoting casual cruelty and meaningless consumerism. Basically things that make the world go round. I would never want to see any of this stuff censored, but I feel that it is ok to talk about how this kind of programming debases the humanity of the people participating in a lot of these shows and also desensitizes the viewer to absurd behavior.
It’s easy to get angry at the participants of these shows. But most of the people in these shows are just trying to survive by making a quick buck and aren’t very smart to begin with. It’s really the TV executives and people that prosper far greater than the participants that make sure that even when one of these shows fail that there is another one to replace it. They are cheaper to produce than a lot of other programming and make too much money when they are successful. They also function much like the modern day versions of the Roman Coliseum. Give the people bread and circuses and they will be entertained enough so that they can escape the drudgery of their daily lives. There is less likely to be rioting in the streets this way.
I’d be lying if I said that some of these shows aren’t entertaining on a base level and that I never watch them. It’s all too easy to occasionally get pulled downstream by a fast current. However, I do try to keep that thing to a minimum. I don’t do this because I have any kind of intellectual or moral superiority over anyone, it’s just that I know that I’m as susceptible to giving thumbs up or down in the entertainment coliseum as anyone, so I try to keep my distance. I’d probably get addicted to cocaine if I ever tried it, so I just don’t.
Meanwhile a show like Deadwood, which features a great amount of swearing,nudity, and violence, can only be shown on pay cable. However, I would argue a show like this could teach someone more about American history than many of the shows on the History Channel. It deals with how a society structures itself. It also deals with the powerful forces that shaped American culture. This show was cancled after three seasons, but American Idol goes on.
Although many people on the right and left disagree about what is causing it, most agree that there is some kind of decline in our culture that is going on. Although there are some things that can’t be shown in mainstream TV, or said on the radio because of decency standards, there isn’t much anymore. This is because the only thing that seems to really matter anymore is what makes money and what doesn’t. The right wing religious people and the PC left can rage all they want, but if something makes a buck it will eventually make its way onto the airwaves in one way or another. Until we decide as a country that money isn’t the thing that matters most, the floodgates will remain open. The only vote that counts anymore is one that is made with the almighty dollar.