What’s wrong with the modern American cinema? Out of the top twenty films in 2015, why were twelve rated R, six rated PG-13, and not one rated G? The reason for these depressing statistics is a simple oneThis is the opening passage from a post on a blog begun in 2016 called the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, originally written as a research paper by the blog’s creators, Tiffany and Rebekah Brannan. I first heard of the blog a few months ago, when I saw some bloggers taking part in one of the Brannans’ blogathons. The subject was the Hays Code, one about which the sisters know plenty: the bulk of their paper discusses the origins of the Code and its effects on Hollywood.
The Brannan Sisters are on a mission to not only educate their readers about the “benefits” of the Code on the American film industry, but to try to bring it back. They have a petition with which they hope to lobby modern Hollywood into making today’s movies more like those of the 1930s and 40s. To further quote them, “With films getting worse every year and the immorality in America rising to terrifying heights, something must be done to regain order. If America is going to change, Hollywood must change first.”
Friends and neighbors, I’ll be blunt. These women are severely misguided and wrong.
|Before the Code, movie stars like Mae West|
got away with a lot of behavior in film
considered risqué for the times.
Even with this first paragraph, the Brannans have a problem with defining their terms. “Obscene” to whom? “Shocking” how? Which “morals”? And what do they mean by “decent”? I’ve looked and looked, but this doesn’t resemble an Onion-style gag site. Would that it was. The Brannans appear to be real, and serious in their goals.
What they fail to understand is this: culture evolves as times change. Just like genetic evolution, ideas best suited for their environment are the ones that stick around while the ones less suited fall out of favor and die over time. That’s how evolution works—gradually, over the long haul.
For example: with the advent of sound, the movie musical, both originals and ones adapted from the stage, became highly popular and thrived for years, but over time, as the environment (read: the movie industry) changed, originals, like Singin’ in the Rain, became less suited for their environment and adaptations, like Les Miserables or Cats, stuck around. These days, original musicals are more likely to be animated, like the Frozen films, because animation is much more profitable than at the dawn of the sound era. Once in a while you get an outlier like La La Land, but not at the same rate as 70 or 80 years ago. The musical genre adapted to suit the times.
|Post-WW2, Baby Doll got approval from the Production|
Code Administration despite a vigorous Catholic boycott.
To suggest that ideas, memes—in the sense that big thinkers like Richard Dawkins define them; put the crazy lady yelling at the snarky cat out of your mind for a moment—such as the movie musical or the superhero genre or any genre, can evolve in reverse, as the Brannans propose, runs counter to the very concept of evolution. In 1999, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett wrote about cultural evolution and made this observation:
...The memes that proliferate will be the memes that replicate one way or another--by hook or by crook. Think of them as entering the brains of culture members, making phenotypic alterations thereupon, and then submitting themselves to the great selection tournament--not the Darwinian genetic fitness tournament (life is too short for that) but the Dawkinsian meme-fitness tournament. It is their fitness as memes that is on the line, not their host's genetic fitness. And the environments that embody the selective pressures that determine their fitness are composed in large measure of other memes.
|By the late 60s, with the Vietnam War on the nightly news,|
films like The Wild Bunch upped the violence quotient.
In other words, the Code had its day, but it’s done now, and it’s simply not reasonable to expect it to come back to the degree the Brannans want. Yes, great movies were made while the Code was in place, but I would argue that was in spite of the Code, not because of it.
The content of modern movies is “shocking” to the Brannans? Well, wait till they turn on the six o’clock news. Art has always reflected society: sometimes to expose an injustice, other times to laugh at the silliness of it, and good and bad are not as simple as the Brannans would have it. In this 2016 article that appears to blame Hollywood for “declining morals,” a media psychologist is quoted as saying violent antihero movies like Deadpool and Suicide Squad do not lead to copycat behavior on the part of their audiences—this was proven once again weeks ago with Joker—and she added this:
"There is a gray area between good and evil... We are having a huge amount of social conflict precisely because people are trying to make things binary. The world is messy and complex." [emphasis added]
|In the early 70s, it was possible for an adult movie|
like Deep Throat to go mainstream.
Tiffany and Rebekah, if you truly find modern movies offensive, well, I sympathize, but if you think turning back the clock to an earlier stage of development in American cinema is the answer, I suggest a much simpler solution: don’t watch them. Stick to Fred & Ginger and Shirley Temple and Charlie Chan. The rest of us will be over here in the 21st century, enjoying the diversity of movies being made, from Moonlight to Wonder Woman to The Irishman to Brittany Runs a Marathon and many more.
But don’t you fucking dare try to impose your values on us.