The First Amendment and the Code

When post people think about the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, they think about censorship which violates the First Amendment. I want to disprove the idea that supporters of the Code do not support the First Amendment and the free speech it guarantees. The First Amendment guarantees protection against government restriction of speech, press, and thought. I stress the word government. This was given an unusual specification in 1915 when a Supreme Court Justice ruled that motion pictures were not protected by the First Amendment, since they have a range of impact larger than any speaker or writer could ever have. State and city censorship boards were erected, but they were unsuccessful because all the boards had different standards based on local ideas about morality and propriety. Thus, there were multiple versions of every film which was not entirely wholesome. This was awkward, inefficient, and disturbing to the production studios, who had no desire to see their films clumsily edited and ruined by censorship boards. They realized that there had to be one body which reviewed all films. It seemed that the perfect solution had been found when the six major studios adopted the Motion Picture Production Code in 1930. They were afraid of impending government censorship, so they liked the idea of a Hollywood office which reviewed all films before release. Films showed no change in content, however, during the next four years. This was because the writers and directors ignored the Code, and the Studio Relations Committee, which reviewed the pictures, had no power to enforce it. In 1933 the Catholic Legion of Decency was created by the Catholic Church as a response to the growing concern about the effect of prurient films upon America’s youth. If the Legion condemned a film, it was considered to be a mortal sin for a Catholic to see it. Hollywood immediately realized that this would mean that twenty million American Catholics would not attend their top films. In response to this, an amendment to the Code was passed, requiring every film released on or after July 1, 1934, to be approved by the Production Code Administration. Joseph Breen was appointed as the administrator, and Hollywood changed immediately. For the next twenty years, very few films successfully violated or ignored the Production Code.

I agree that it would have been a violation of the First Amendment for the government to have appointed a federal board to enforce the Code and review films. The Production Code Administration did not violate the First Amendment right of free speech. It was not a form of government censorship in any way; it was a privately run organization which supervised and maintained the standards of the film industry. The Production Code Administration was like a quality control board for medicine. Such a board reviews every type of medicine manufactured by its companies. It must ensure that each product complies with the organization’s code of standards. Its job is to protect both the customer and the manufacturers. If medicine is sold which does not comply with the code of standards, it might be toxic and harm the customer. This could result in a lawsuit and the besmirching of the entire medicine industry’s reputation. This was the Code’s purpose in Hollywood.

Under the Code, anyone of any age could see any film. There was no need for rating or censorship, since the PCA guaranteed that every film released with the seal of approval was suitable for individuals of all ages, positions, and beliefs. This amazing concept is attainable once more. We can reinstate the Code and erect the New Production Code Administration to effectively enforce it. We will not be violating our First Amendment right to speech; rather, we will be exercising the often ignored sister right, the right to silence. An individual, an organization, or a business is not violating the First Amendment if he or it chooses not to say something immoral or offensive to others’ sensibilities. Please join us in our attempt to show Hollywood that America wants to rise above lewd films which must be rated to protect the youth. If we reinstate the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, anyone of any age will be able to see any film without any harm.

Follow us to bring back the Code and save the arts in America!

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