Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Sins of Hollywood

In 1922, a bestselling book, The Sins of Hollywood, was one of the first books that branded Hollywood as a source of moral degradation in America. The book viewed Hollywood as the devil’s incubator. In the 1920s, the anti-Hollywood sentiment was fueled primarily not by the content of the films but by the actions and lifestyles of the filmmakers, producers and actors. Scandalous behavior of film stars like Fatty Arbuckle and Mary Pickford fueled the Church’s resentment against the entertainment industry. By the late 1920s, the church was threatening to shut Hollywood down. And during that era, the Church had the power to do that. With strong political connections, they could make Hollywood walk the plank. Hollywood was still in the process of developing a business model that would guarantee profitability. The last thing they needed was a long and protracted war with the protestant and Catholic Church.

Faced with the growing threat of government censorship and the ongoing pressure of church leaders, the motion picture industry realized they would have no choice but to agree to a self-censorship program. In fact, since the early 1920s, the industry already had a loosely-rendered list of 13 prohibitions that included nudity, crime, gambling, and illicit love.

In 1930, Martin Quigley and Daniel Lord both from the Catholic church developed the moral guidelines for filmmakers, which would become known as the Hollywood Production Code. Part of the code governed depictions of sexuality and crime. Films would be required to affirm religion and promote patriotism. By 1933, the code became a reality when the Catholic League of Decency threatened a new economic boycott unless the code was rigorously enforced. In fact, in Philadelphia alone attendance in theaters fell by 40% when Catholics called for God, the Pope, the bishops and the priests to a united, vigorous campaign for the purification of the cinema, which had become a deadly menace to morals.

Hollywood hired Will Hays, the former National Chairman of the Republican Party, who also was a Presbyterian elder, to oversee the enforcement of the Production Code. The Production Code became known as the Hays Code when Joseph Brene, a Roman Catholic newspaper man with deep ties to the Catholic church, was hired as the new Production Code administrator. Now both the Protestant church and Catholic church had direct and indirect influence and control of every film Hollywood would produce from the 1930s through the 1960s.

The Code contained 12 principles that guided the production of filmmaking. The first principle set the tone for all twelve commandments. “No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence, the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of wrongdoing, evil or sin.” The eighth commandment is also noteworthy because it says, “No film or episode may throw ridicule on any religious faith.”

Hollywood had capitulated for its own survival and accepted a form of censorship. You can only imagine how they must have felt. For the most part, the films that Hollywood produced in the 1920s and early 1930s contained virtually no nudity, violence, sexuality or graphic violence. What were they being punished for? Perhaps the lifestyles of a few directors and actors created a backlash against Hollywood. Can you imagine if Hollywood told the Church what they could preach and proclaim in their pulpits? Do you think we would protest? Consider it an injustice? Whether we like to admit it or not, the Body of Christ imposed censorship and control on Hollywood.

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