Taking a step away from the weekly “good news” updates, I wanted to give a brief history of the city of Hollywood real quickly with a perspective on Hollywoods and its heavenly purpose.
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Hollywood, California (1877- Present Day)
◊ In 1877, Harvey Wilcox registered 160 acres of land for the purpose of starting a moral utopia for Christian artists where they could live free from the vices of the world called Hollywood.
◊ From 1903-1910, Hollywood was an independent city that had its own law enforcement, collected its own revenue, and was so prohibitionist that its laws required its neighbor, Los Angeles, to send any traders or individuals carrying alcohol to travel completely around its city limits.
◊ By 1910, the area of land was turned over to the county of Los Angeles for fear of inadequate water during a severe drought. Less than one year later, the first bar was built on what is now known as Hollywood Blvd. At the time the street was called Prospect Blvd. and Harvey’s wife, Daieda Wilcox, had promised free land to anyone who wished to build a church on the street.
◊ The city boomed under Los Angeles governance until the end of the roaring twenties when the Great Depression sent it into a crime-ridden spiral that it never fully recovered from until the beginning of the 21st century.
◊ By 1930, a motion picture production code had been signed and agreed on by all of the major studios in Hollywood due to the addition of sound to moving pictures. The document, known as the Hays Code, contains a statement that shows the responsibility film studios have towards “educators, dramatists, church authorities, and leaders in the field of child education and social work.” The exact language states, “No picture will be produced that will lower the moral 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” (Motion Picture Code, March 31, 1930).
◊ Obscenity, promiscuity, violence, drug and alcohol use, and the ridiculing of religion as well as anti-patriotism were banned or severely limited. All of the major studios at the time were signatories, including Paramount, Warner Bros., Fox, and Universal – all of which are still in business today. The only difference is that every one of these studios now has films and television shows with graphic portrayals of everything that was forbidden in the code.
◊ After the Hays Code was released, there was severe scrutiny by religious media watchdogs such as the Catholic Legion of Decency which was held in high-esteem and exercised influenced with Hollywood studios and producers. Furthermore, even non-studio made films were fined by state censorship regimes and could not be shown inside of the wide number of “family friendly” movie theaters.
◊ Over-time, however, especially after the MPAA ratings system was implemented in 1967, there was a proliferation of obscene and vulgar movies after the decision of what rating a film got was constrained to a board of 8-13 members who must have experience with parenting and is based in Los Angeles, California. The ratings system is a volunteer opt-in for all production studios – no matter the size. There is actually no Federal or even state legislation that requires any film studio to apply a rating to its film. However, theater chains – essentially the gatekeepers of the content made by studios united through an organization called the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO)- have policies that directly tie their ability to show a movie with a specific MPAA rating. If a movie is not rated, the film cannot be shown.
◊ The original ratings system contained only a few options – G for general, M for mature, R for restricted under 16, and X which required an attendee to be 16 or over. In 1972 PG was added, and in 1984 the PG-13 rating was added at the request of director and producer Steven Spielberg. Finally, in 1990 the NC-17 rating replaced an X-rating. The ratings have not really been changed or altered since 1990. The official standards for ratings are not made public and kept between the members of the Board, whose salaries are paid for by all the major studio’s involvement.
Obscenity and Profanity
◊ In 1925, the massively successful film “The Big Parade” contained the first on-screen curse “Goddamit!” In 1939, “Gone with the Wind” was the first film to include the curse, “damn”, which is universally recognized in one of the most famous movie quotes of all time, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” After that, most swearing appeared on television and subject studios to fines and discipline from the Federal Communications Commission (1934).
◊ Important to commercial, economic, and business regulation, the FCC’s powers and responsibilities include distribution of licenses to legally broadcast, yet contain no moral references or basis. For this reason, swearing quickly became taboo, yet worth the risk if ratings went up, and by the time the ratings system was founded in 1968, the most the FCC did was impose fines on those stations or broadcasters who pushed the envelope. Approximately 98% of stations have survived without having their license revoked – mainly because it is rarely an action that the FCC takes.
◊ The President signed legislation to strengthen the FCC’s efficacy in 2006 with the “Broadcast Decency Act.” However, since then the proliferation of cursing and swearing in media has rapidly increased. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the FCC’s power to limit freedom of speech involving swearing and cursing was “unconstitutionally broad” and in the five years following profanity in media increased 69% – including the television show “South Park” using a curse-word over 150 times and the film “Wolf of Wall Street” using the f-word over 500 times or 3.16 times per minute.
◊ Scientific research published in Pediatric Journal shows a strong correlation between profanity and aggressive behavior in middle schoolers.
Promiscuity and Nudity
“The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home should be upheld” – Motion Picture Code
◊ Just five years after Hollywood joined Los Angeles, its studios made the first widely-released American film with on-screen nudity. Audrey Munson, a model and actress from New York, came to California to make it big. Her portrayal in the film, Inspiration, opened the door to the trend of vulgarity and sexuality in major films. What is not known, however, is the horrible nightmare that Munson’s life became. Accusations of her having an affair with a married man tarnished her career. Not long after, the same man’s wife was found murdered. The husband was found guilty and hung himself in his jail cell. This was just the beginning. Munson moved back to New York where she began telling people she was engaged to a man who was a wealthy Baron. The Baron, and marriage, never manifested and in 1922 Audrey Munson tried to poison herself. The result was a media investigation into her life and engagement only to discover she had fabricated the entire thing. By 1931 she was a recluse, but a series of mysterious barn-burnings in her town aroused suspicion and a judge sentenced her to an insane asylum for the next 65 years. She died, still incarcerated, at age 105.
◊ Nudity paved the way, of course, to full on sex-scenes in American cinema. The first on screen graphic depiction of sex from a major studio was in “Midnight Cowboy” in 1969, just a year after the previously mentioned Motion Picture Production Code was revoked.
The drastic rise in vulgar and damaging content in motion pictures is always linked to changes of voluntary ratings and codes that the major movie studios agree to. These major studios are, essentially, at the mercy of their audiences. but the audiences are at the mercy of the MPAA as to how they judge whether content is vulgar or not. In this way, a board of 8-13 people unilaterally decide how 318.9 million people understand and relate to a 38 billion dollar industry. This board of decision-makers is non-transparent and their exorbitant salaries are paid for by the studios they are supposed to be critiquing and checking. The United States Government has had little to no real interference in film content and ratings and there are few to none other independent watchdog organizations who have influence on the ratings system which leaves total ratings control with the MPAA. Until there is a system similar to our Federal System involving direct input and influence by everyday film viewers, families, parents, and children as well as a greater role in rating and interfacing with major movie studios for the purpose of upholding and promoting moral and ethical values in movies by theater chains and religious organizations, we will continue to see a rise in inappropriate content and a degradation of morals in our media.
• The MPAA board can open up and become more transparent, revealing its full budget, salaries of its members, and the amount of money it receives from studios and other backers.
• The MPAA can expand itself to join with fellow organizations similar to who the Motion Picture Studios saw themselves as accountable to in the 1930’s such as religious organizations, educators, social workers, actors, directors, producers and other artists.
• The ratings system needs to be updated to take into consideration anti-religious and occult messaging, degrees of moral and ethical turpitude, and more detailed explanations of the range of subtle to blatant suggestions of evil based on The Bible.
• The MPAA must have stronger standards surrounding profanity, sexuality, and violence who will help contract and work artistically with content producers to help uplift films rather than ban or pass the material by slapping a simple rating on it. This may result in less movies being released each year, but quality – in this case – is far more important than quantity.
• Studios must be encouraged to build and develop relationships with individuals and organizations who are deeply studied and are sincere practitioners of moral, ethical and religious codes. Just as certain films have chosen to bring on consultants with wiccan or scientific expertise, those with moral and ethical expertise should be encouraged to be on set and help with the entire production process.
• Rather than the threat of censorship, the incentive to bring moral and ethical progress to filmmaking must be seen as artistic co-creation between all involved parties.
• Screenwriters and content creators must take oaths and, if necessary, drug tests to prove what they write is not the product of drug use, occultism, or other illegal activities under the laws of our land.