Before There Was Slime

Posted: 01/04/2010 in Films, Media Literacy, Television

“You ain’t heard nothing yet.” The year, 1927. The film, The Jazz Singer. And, with those words, singer/actor Al Johnson ushered in the era of the “talkies”—talking motion pictures. His statement has proven to be prophetic.

It’s hard to believe what we’re hearing—and seeing—in popular films and on television today. Someone once said, “It took 50 years for films to go from silent to unspeakable.” I couldn’t agree more.

Just how far has Hollywood—and, in turn, we consumers—drifted from their original standards of decency?

Introduced in 1930, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America defined basic standards of “good taste” and a list of do’s and don’t’s that previously governed the production of all films released by Hollywood.

By July 1, 1934, strict adherence to the code’s provisions were enforced. Few producers wanted to risk the wrath of the MPPDA and forfeit the Production Code Seal of approval—a sure bet your movie would never be shown on television, too.

One of the overriding principles of the original production code stated:

“No picture shall be produced which will lower the standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.”

Yes, the original code used the “S”-word. Or how about this doozy:

“Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embracing, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.”

I bet the following 10 additional provisions in the code would send our modern crop of “Follywood” producers into cardiac arrest:

  • “The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld.”
  • “Methods of crime shall not be explicitly presented.”
  • “Illegal drug traffic must never be presented.”
  • “Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationships are the accepted or common thing.”
  • “Scenes of passion should not be introduced when not essential to the plot.”
  • “Seduction or rape should be never more than suggested . . . they are never the proper subject for comedy.”
  • “Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.”
  • “Pointed profanity (this includes the words God, Lord, Jesus, Christ—unless used reverently—Hell, S.O.B., damn, Gawd) or other profane or vulgar expressions, however used, is forbidden.”
  • “Indecent or undue exposure is forbidden.”
  • “Ministers of religion . . . should not be used as comic characters or as villains.”

How many movies can you name that stick to these guidelines today? Here’s what’s interesting: these were the prevailing guidelines during Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” Don’t tell me a great picture cannot be made unless it’s covered in slime.

If you’ve been feeling like your TV is really a deviant life form from another planet spewing garbage into your home, what’s stopping you from pulling the plug?


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