Hollywood, the Dream Factory: An Anthropologist Looks at the Movie-Makers

By Hortense Powdermaker | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
Taboos

EVERY PART of movie production is circumscribed by a very specific Code of taboos. We know all societies, from primitive ones to modern Hollywood, have their "thou-shalt-nots." In the South Seas they are a way of dealing with the supernatural to avoid certain dangers and to insure success, particularly in those situations in which luck or chance play a part. In Hollywood they are also a technique to escape dangers which, although of this world, are so fearful as to appear almost supernatural; and here too they are part of a formula for trying to make success more certain.

Among Stone Age Melanesians in the Southwest Pacific there is a taboo on sex relations before a fishing expedition, to insure a good catch. In Hollywood there is a taboo on portraying in a movie any indication that a marriage has been consummated, and for the same reason: to prevent hostile forces from interfering with the catch -- at the box office. The most important and universal taboo in all primitive culture is the prohibition of incest far beyond the limits of the immediate family; in some places half the females are forbidden to the males, and vice versa. If individuals are caught in an incestuous act, they either commit suicide or are killed by their relatives. The breaking of this taboo is thought to endanger the very life of the society in some terrible but indefinable way, and the death of the violators serves as a kind of appeasement. In the Hollywood production of movies, there is an equally important taboo prohibiting any reference to the biological nature of man or other animals. There can be no dialogue, serious or farcical, about the mating of men, elephants, horses, moths, or butterflies; even a wet baby in need of being diapered is absolutely forbidden. Violators of these taboos do not commit suicide

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Hollywood, the Dream Factory: An Anthropologist Looks at the Movie-Makers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Contents *
  • Introduction - Why an Anthropologist Studied Hollywood 3
  • Chapter I - Habitat and People, Mythical and Real 16
  • Chapter II - Mass Production of Dreams 39
  • Chapter III - Taboos 54
  • Chapter IV - Front Office 82
  • Chapter V - Men Who Play God 100
  • Chapter VI - Lesser Gods, but Colossal 111
  • Chapter VII - The Scribes 131
  • Chapter VIII - Assembling the Script 150
  • Chapter IX - The Answers 170
  • Chapter X - Directors 185
  • Chapter XI - Acting, in Hollywood 205
  • Chapter XII - Stars 228
  • Chapter XIII - Actors Are People 254
  • Chapter XIV - Emerging from Magic 281
  • Chapter XV - Hollywood and the U.S.A. 307
  • Index 333
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