Turning the Century: Essays in Media and Cultural Studies

By Carol A. Stabile | Go to book overview
Pittsburgh exhibitors and others continued occasionally to resist the State Board of Censors and its desires, but the board remained firmly in control of the movies shown in Pennsylvania until early 1954, when a series of state supreme court rulings made it impossible for the board to proceed with its legislated duties. 76 Long after the board ceased its activity, debate continues, for the cultural process of arbitrating what we may say, hear, and see is central to the formation of our society and all societies. At the beginning of the twentieth century, movies, with their seeming potential for universal access, both thrilled and frightened a Progressive society that was looking for ways to communicate both the possibilities and pitfalls of a rapidly changing, industrialized culture. State censorship of the movies became the bureaucratic articulation of the desire to control such potent representations of this culture. As the twentieth century gives way to the twenty-first, the movies have become culturally (and technologically) intertwined with an increasingly complex, pervasive, and hybrid mix of media. This pervasiveness has raised the stakes and clouded the issues around the potential harm and value of each word, image, and sound as they are projected into our daily lived lives. Looking back at the structures of protection and repression set into motion by the powerful archetype of a growing mass culture may allow us to more clearly see the path ahead.
Appendix:
Standards of the Pennsylvania Board
1. The Board will condemn pictures, and parts of pictures dealing with "white slavery." The procuration and prostitution in all forms, of girls, and their confinement for immoral purposes may not be shown upon the screen, and will be disapproved. Views of prostitutes and houses of ill-fame will be disapproved.
2. Pictures and parts of pictures, which deal with the seduction of women, particularly the betrayal of young girls, and assaults upon women, with immoral intent, will be disapproved.
3. Prenatal and childbed scenes, and subtitles describing them, will be disapproved.
4. Pictures and parts of pictures dealing with the drug habit; e.g., the use of opium, morphine, cocaine, etc., will be disapproved. The traffic in habitforming drugs is forbidden and visualized scenes of their use will be disapproved.
5. Scenes showing the modus operandi of criminals which are suggestive and incite to evil action, such as murder, poisoning, house-breaking, safe-robbery, pocketpicking, the lighting and throwing of bombs, the use of ether, chloroform, etc., to render men and women unconscious, binding and gagging, will be disapproved.
6. Gruesome and unduly distressing scenes will be disapproved. These include shooting, stabbing, profuse bleeding, prolonged views of men dying and of

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