In 1968, the American film industry stopped censoring itself. After operating for almost four decades under the regulatory control of the self-imposed Production Code of 1930 (otherwise known as the Hays Code), Hollywood decided in 1968 to put its code to rest and transition over to a ratings system which would, in theory, grant filmmakers more creative license since they would no longer be pigeonholed into making films that were “suitable for all audiences.”
Though there are certainly ways in which the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings system continues to propagate a market brand of censorship to this day — if a film is rated NC-17, for example, it will be forced into a significantly more limited theatrical run than if it can work its way down to an R — it is still clearly the case that mainstream Hollywood movies made since 1968 contain far more sex, violence, drugs, nudity, profanity, blasphemy, and other forms of controversial content than the movies produced under the code. This, according to many moral conservatives for obvious reasons, is a bad thing. I agree with these moral conservatives, though my reasons for doing so may be a little less obvious.
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UT forum this week
Nora Gilbert and Greg Lukianoff, the authors of these two articles, will be among the participants in the Free Speech Dialogues at the University of Texas. The discussion, focusing on artistic expression, will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday in Room 0.128 of the College of Liberal Arts Building. The event is free and open to the public. Find out more at freespeechdialogues.org.
Nora Gilbert is an assistant professor of English at the University of North Texas, specializing in the areas of nineteenth-century British literature and classical Hollywood film with particular research interests in gender studies and the intersection of law and culture. She is the author of “Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films, and the Benefits of Censorship” (Stanford University Press, 2013).