Self-Censorship in the Movie Industry: A Historical Perspective on Law and Social Change Douglas Ayer, Roy E. Bates, Peter J. Hermian
Everyone recognizes that the movies have grown up. But not everyone agrees about the causes of this phenomenon. Often as not, the credit, or blame, is assigned to law and, specifically, to the "leniency" of the courts. The popularity of this explanation probably stems from the fact that the issue of movie content usually arises in a debate over public policy. If the question is what government can do to control what we see at the movies, the attitude of the courts toward censorship laws is of course central. The context of the debate, however, obscures the social setting within which movie content is determined.
Much more important than the role of public agencies in deciding what will or will not be seen by movie audiences is the role of private decision-makers within the movie industry. Far more pervasive than any scheme of public regulation is the industry's own system of private control. Self-regulation has always been instituted out of fear of governmental censorship, and we shall give attention to the latter insofar as it is necessary to explain the former. But our focus will be primarily on the industry's self-censorship efforts. We shall call this sort of regulation private ordering or private lawmaking, as distinguished from governmental regulation or public ordering.
Even those who recognize the important role of private ordering still tend to give undue credit to law in accounting for the weakness that this nongovernmental form of censorship has exhibited in controlling movie content. The destruction of economic power concentrations within the industry, attributed to an antitrust decision in the early 1950s, made pos-