Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Glittering New Frontier

By the early 1920s, men like Carl Laemmle, William Fox, and Louis B. Meyer came to control and dominate Hollywood and movie making for decades to come. Amazingly, a few individuals would now have the power and influence to create movies for the entire American population and the world. They would decide which films would be made and which ones would not, which ideas would be expressed and which ones would be discarded. They would decide what was important and what was not. Never had so much power been placed in the hands of so few men.

In the 1930s, Louis B. Meyer, President of MGM, viewed America as a glittering new frontier, decent but tough-minded, full of God-fearing but gun-slinging Americans who were shrewd, unpredictable and unbeatable but also open-hearted and family loving. And he depicted this view in the movies he produced.

Meyer and his fellow movie moguls offered a vision of America that people wanted to believe and were willing to accept. It made us feel good about ourselves. Meyer understood that it was good for business. The majority of studio heads had no political or social agenda. They were interested in one thing and one thing only—making money. Was their view of American life realistic? It offered no racism, prejudice or social injustice. It defined America as a land of opportunity, champion of individuals, and defender of the poor. It offered no insight into how Americans really lived their daily lives.

The moviegoer saw no instances of alcoholism or domestic abuse in family lives. In Meyer‘s world, good always triumphed, and evil was punished. Every family embraced moral values and practiced faith and patriotism. The cowboys were good, and the Indians were bad. This view of America has perpetuated itself to this very day. We think of the 1930s through the 1950s as the ―good old days. In some ways, Hollywood had no choice but to reflect these views because that‘s what Americans wanted to believe. This was reinforced by a production code, which was imposed on filmmakers by both Protestant and Catholic churches.

We came to view ourselves by what we saw in the movies in the 1930s and 1940s and television programs from the 1950s, including shows such as Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, as a representation of the real America. But in reality it is a mythology created by Meyer and his fellow studio heads that created a version of America that only existed in the movies. This is evidence of the power of media—that we are willing to accept a lie over the truth because the lie makes us feel better about ourselves. It raises the question of what else are we willing to accept as the truth.

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