I've been watching some pre-production code films, namely a great Greta Garbo 'biopic' of the Queen of Sweden, Queen Christina, and the Barbara Stanwyck vehicle, Babyface. Babyface was a central movie in the move by Will Hays to try and get more teeth into the production code, and the resulting process really took a lot of the nuance and complication out of a medium that was already running short on subltly. Ironcially, the discussion of Nietzschean philosophy that was forced cut from the film by censorship boards is actually itself a common misreading of Nietzsche's work, The Will to Power, completely missing the nuance of a very complicated philosophical tome.
Anyway, it occurred to me just now that this may be a huge part of the reason that reactionary politics is so fond of a manichean worldview of us vs. them, good vs. evil. It's embedded in the films we watch, especially commercial Westerns, War films, and Action/adventure stuff. Obviously, that's not uniformly true, and the recent Dark Night films at least partially explore a more complex psychology. It is true that mainstream films still greatly reflect the tenets of the code that a film's sympathies must never be with an antihero or a criminal. The resulting films were never allowed to explore the undercurrents of criminality or sexuality with any real depth without running afoul of the Hays Office.
I do believe that American sexuality has long been perverted by the pruriant standards of the code, and that the vastly huge pornography industry is a result of a failure to really have an open and honest dialogue through art about sex. That may be stretching things a little, but I also feel that films' cut and dried approach to morality gives people a skewed conception of the complications naturally inherent in human life. It's certainly a part of the problem. Couple that with a Television and internet based culture where attention spans are brief and context is rarely sought or provided, and you get the insanity of modern American politics.
It's really a shame, and the thing is, I believe the Production Code may be at the root of a lot of our trouble seeing and understanding complexity. I don't know that you have all those John Wayne movies if Wilder, Hawks, Lubitsch and the rest had to contend with such a regressive process of censorship. I guess I'm overreaching a little, but I do feel like the artistic history of film was warped in a very unhealthy way by the overt censorship of the Hays office, the precursor to the modern MPAA rating system.
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