This week, Sally Silverscreen of 18 Cinema Lane is hosting A Blogathon to be Thankful For. She is hosting her celebration in honor of Thanksgiving a week before the actual holiday to avoid the busyness of the holiday week. I am joining this blogathon with two articles, one film review and one extra article. Today’s entry is not an entry in any of my series; it is just a tribute to the thing from the Golden Era of Hollywood for which I am most thankful, the Motion Picture Production Code.
Most of the people in my little “blogosphere” are classic film fans. There are many reasons why individuals appreciate the movies made in bygone years. The glamour of Old Hollywood appeals to many. The singing and dancing of musicals’ heyday is a draw for others. Some people love black-and-white cinematography. Still others appreciate the acting and story content of movies made during the “classic” era. Through Turner Classic Movies, Warner Archives, Amazon Prime Video, and more restoration services, classic films are now readily available in many media. Thus, they are gaining a growing group of fans. Whatever the draw, there are a lot of reasons to be thankful for the Code.
Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States to commemorate the Pilgrims’ successful harvest in the New World, where they were free to worship God as they pleased. The colonies which were founded in North America were the beginning of a wonderful new nation, where people would be free to speak their minds, bear arms, worship as they please, own land, and pursue happiness however they saw fit. This may come as a surprise to many, but I believe that the proper enforcement of the Code by the Production Code Administration (PCA) under Joseph I. Breen from 1934 and 1954 was very important for defending those rights.
One of the most common arguments against the Code is that it is censorship. The Code’s opponents often cite their support of the First Amendment’s free speech protection as their reason for disliking the PCA. However, the rights of Free Speech are taken much too far these days. Freedom of speech means that you have the right to speak your mind without fear of arrest or prosecution. There are certain limits, such as the rules against slander. It is very dangerous to yell “Fire!” in a crowded room, and there are many laces where loud swearing will not be permitted. My sister was scolded by a TSA officer for saying the word “bomb” in an airport. Recent cancel culture against people who have bravely, if unwisely, stated their opinions on social media shows that speech is only free if you say the right thing in the right place at the right time.
Under the banner of “free speech,” modern filmmakers are allowed to include any content they choose in films, justifying their actions by warning viewers through the rating system. Free speech really doesn’t offer protection for filmmakers to lambast the public with any horrific movie they can devise. It only gives a person the right to make any film he chooses and watch it in his own home. When he distributes it the public, it then becomes a product. Just as unsafe food and drugs are monitored and banned by the FDA, unsafe films used to be monitored and kept from the public by the PCA. It wasn’t censorship; it was industry self-regulation. It is very similar to the system of a newspaper or publishing company making a set of standards for the content it chooses to allow in its paper or books. Writers are free to create whatever content they want, but some standards are needed before that content is distributed.
Imagine a world in which the Production Code Administration never existed. For people who love modern films, that won’t seem like a catastrophe. However, other devoted classic film fans will know what I mean. Especially during difficult times, like the current pandemic, social unrest, and political upheaval, more and more people are turning to Golden Era Hollywood as a source of comfort and escape. Golden Era rarely means Pre-Code (1930-1934) or Shurlock Era (1955-1968). People are turning the wonderful movies of the Breen Era, even if they don’t acknowledge it as such. Whether or not they know why, people love the simple decency, honesty, justice, and wholesomeness of these movies. They are so therapeutic in contrast to the culture and “entertainment” the modern media are giving us.
For the last three Augusts, I have been declaring the month #AMonthWithoutTheCode. During this month, we try to not watch any American Breen Era films and encourage our readers to do the same. By avoiding Code films for a whole month, we hope to gain a greater appreciation for and understanding of the Breen Era. It is difficult for us, since Code films are our favorite movies! The second year, #AMonthWithoutTheCode65, we were able to watch a few Code films, since I had to watch weekly new Code films for my 52 Code Films series. This year, #AMonthWithoutTheCode2020, I watched enough new Code films in July that I vowed to avoid Breen Era films altogether during August. As we all know, this is a very difficult year. Many of the simple pleasures in life, such as eating in a restaurant, going to the mall, shopping at Macy’s, and even going to a theme park if you feel like it, are being denied us right now. When I then further denied myself the right to watch Code films, I got so depressed! Around August 20, I finally decided that I couldn’t take it anymore, so I started watching Code films for the remainder of the month. I have never before so keenly realized how thankful I am for the Code.
The modern world contains some very harsh realities and unpleasant factors, but we can still always escape to the beautiful world of the Breen Era. I am thankful for a world where “evil is wrong and good is right.” I am thankful for stories in which justice prevails and crimes are punished. I am thankful for movies about “one nation under God,” in which citizens are proud to be Americans, respect the flag, defend the Constitution, and look on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as their heroes. No matter what happens with modern Hollywood, movie theaters, and the entertainment industry, I am thankful that we can always enjoy the thousands of wonderful movies from the Breen Era.
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