Film censorship in the US

Reading The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, a book about  the telecommunication industry in the US from the telephone onwards, I learnt something about censorship in Hollywood. Between 1930 and 1968, the film industry imposed a set of moral guidelines known as the Motion Picture Production Code on itself, out of fear of regulation. Among the forbidden things were swearing, “Any licentious or suggestive nudity – in fact or in silhouette,” White slavery, and Miscegenation.

There was also a list of topics that were to be treated very carefully, such as “Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc. (having in mind the effect which a too-detailed description of these may have upon the moron),” Sympathy for criminals, Attitude toward public characters and institutions, and The institution of marriage. The industry also enforced the code itself.

It is fascinating that this was official policy. Of course it should come as no surprise that some things were not exactly right in the US of that time. As regards film censorship, Norway has also set itself up for some serious ridicule (in 1980!).

2 thoughts on “Film censorship in the US

  1. Invisible Mikey

    The history of what they called here “the code” is indeed fascinating. It didn’t really go into effect until mid-1934, and individual producers challenged it in a film-by-film revolt beginning in 1960. There was an overlap with the blacklist, a period of political witch hunting lasting from 1947-1960.
    Sometimes these restrictions inspired great creativity in dialogue, including a lot of innuendo and symbolism. Some films recorded the speaking parts at increased speeds, to get past censors. Many directors filmed “bait” scenes (more violent or sexual in nature) that they never intended to retain in the completed films. These fake scenes would draw the censor’s attention and ire, allowing filmmakers to keep other important scenes that subverted the code’s rules.

  2. Pingback: Monthly book roundup – 2015 April | Ø-blog

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