Monday, September 24, 2007

Can Religious Leaders Force Hollywood To Clean Up Their Act?

Marcia Segelstein, guest columnist with writes a column which might easily be dismissed as a little bit of nostalgia and wishful thinking. However, it bears a careful and thoughtful reading.

Is it really possible to get Hollywood to clean up its act? Read Marcia’s column [appears below] and think hard about her message. There’s some very interesting history about Hollywood that Marcia brings to light. When she asks Christians to fire up their moral outrage, she’s really pointing in the right direction.

She also notes a crucial second factor in changing Hollywood’s status quo.

“We should ask our religious leaders to lead the way. Public outcry helped change the course of Hollywood history in the 1930s. There's no reason why it can't be changed again with enough public support. Time to fire up your moral outrage.”

Christian leaders are key to cultural and social change. And the “ordinary” Christian must not only pray regularly for leaders but also be vigilante in keeping them accountable. Like pushing the natural body to greater ability and endurance through exercise, this vital aspect of the Christian’s responsibility makes for a stronger spiritual Body.

If we are to see societal change in the area of respect for all human life, Christians must fire up their moral outrage and communicate to their leaders in the strongest possible terms that the status quo is unacceptable and MUST be changed. This will not happen without a significant degree of personal repentance and conversion but when those elements are present Christian leaders will be seriously impacted and change will begin to happen.

Now back to Hollywood.


Perspectives: Hollywood -- Clean up your act!

Movies with no nudity, profanity, and ridicule of religion? Believe it or not, it used to be that way ... and it took no government intervention -- only public outcry. It can happen again.

Many years ago, my first job out of college was working as a secretary for the Department of Program Practices at CBS. (It was essentially the censorship department, but nobody used that term.) My duties included typing up instructions for the Programming Department regarding what objectionable language had to be cut from various movies that would air on the network. The editors I worked for also had to keep track of instances of smoking, drinking, and if I'm not mistaken, use of phrases like "Oh my God" and other potentially offensive content. In those days, at least, there was concern on the part of the networks -- not only CBS -- about airing material viewers might find inappropriate.

Since it was long before cable, and the networks had licenses that had to be renewed, TV was pretty innocent. Early evenings were considered family viewing time, and the programs reflected that. The fact that children might be watching was taken into account. Guidelines for standards and practices existed and were enforced.

And believe it or not, there was a time when moviemakers also followed a code of content. Starting in the 1930's, the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (which later became the Motion Picture Association of America) adopted the Hays Code. Some of its general principles read as follows: "No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it .... Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented."

The Hays Code also included some specific restrictions: nudity was prohibited; the ridicule of religion was forbidden; specific language was banned; the sanctity of marriage and the home had to be upheld; and "excessive and lustful kissing" was to be avoided.

Sounds positively idyllic, doesn't it ... and like an impossible dream now.

And guess what prompted it all? Public outcry. Public outcry over perceived immorality in the movies and in the lives of Hollywood stars. In a nutshell, the public wanted Hollywood to clean up its act. Will H. Hays, who headed up the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association, set out to project a positive image of the movie industry. The Production Code (which became known as the Hays Code) was written, and for eight years Hays tried to enforce it, with little effect. But public pressure continued from organizations such as The Catholic Legion of Decency which declared certain films "indecent" and encouraged boycotts. Finally an amendment to the code required all films to obtain a certificate of approval prior to release. So for the next 30 years, up until the 1960s, virtually all movies made in the U.S. adhered to the Hays Code.

It's remarkable to think that such standards once existed, and perhaps even more remarkable to think that public pressure was the driving force behind them. Amazing also that the government had nothing to do with it all. In fact, Hollywood studios adhered to the self-regulation in large measure to avoid government censorship.

My, how the world has changed. Take the current movie, The Ten. According to a write-up in WORLD Magazine, the film is a series of ten vignettes in which characters "find new and creative ways to shatter the commandments." (So much for not ridiculing religion.) In one, a librarian vacations in Mexico where she has an affair with Jesus. Yes, that Jesus. In another, a doctor murders his patients "as a goof," and ends up in jail as another inmate's "wife." That's where coveting comes in apparently. Enough said.

Today, not only is there no self-regulation, there's no cohesive pubic outcry to motivate self-regulation. Occasionally I hear outrage expressed from religious groups over films they consider blasphemous and blatantly anti-religious. But why don't religious organizations do what the Catholic Legion of Decency used to do and encourage boycotts of "indecent" films -- films which lower our moral standards? Surely religious leaders across the spectrum could take the lead in raising public outcry.

Our expectations have been lowered to the point where we expect crude language, immorality and disrespect for religion and family. We're surprised when a good film is made that doesn't contain anything offensive. We no longer expect films to be uplifting or to reflect our values. We've bought into the lie that "there's no going back."

We must raise our expectations, speak out against films that further coarsen the culture, and demand once again that Hollywood clean up its act. We should ask our religious leaders to lead the way. Public outcry helped change the course of Hollywood history in the 1930s. There's no reason why it can't be changed again with enough public support. Time to fire up your moral outrage.


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