History: The Hays Code



Any time a new media appears a controversy shall immediately surface that appears to have good intentions and noble goals. This crisis shall inevitably be used to control this new media for the next 30 years by those professing to solve the problem. You get these bandage solutions, self-censorship moments, and power grabs by everyone involved because there is power (and money) in being the gatekeeper in the world of new media.

Yesterday, it was films and books. Today, it is streaming services and entertainment delivered over the Internet.

Case in point, the Hays Code in 1930, or officially the Motion Picture Production Code was created by movie studios to fight the growing power of state film censorship boards.


Film censorship.


History is a bitch and too difficult for us to understand, so that's why they don't teach it anymore. I liken the Hays Code to be that generation's ESRB and video-game rating system, an industry "let's regulate ourselves" created set of guidelines and ratings that are meant to avoid government intervention. You see the eye of government turning on game-developers these days with the whole "loot box and gambling" crisis where the industry pushed their revenue generation too far and the outcry for government regulation grows and legislatures get involved.

And I wonder if this will end up with non-loot box treasure chests in single-player adventure games such as Diablo III being subject to some law where the distribution of random rewards and junk items must be in-line with government rules and regulations.

Don't laugh. They will go there. Most people know nothing about government and the volumes of regulations it writes, even upon the entertainment we enjoy and how it is delivered to us. I suggest you learn about these issues and vote. If you care.

So we ended up with the Hays Code, and there were stories which could not be told. For a while, limits were placed on the entertainment we enjoyed and the outrage subsided. The industry regulated itself, and one could argue that was a far better outcome than having government come in and inspect every film frame-by-frame for the current administration's appointed morality boards and censors telling us what we could or could not see in a "free" society.

As much as I dislike the Hays Code and how it silenced a generation's film makers, it was at the time, I feel, they best they could do. I wish it never had to exist in the first place though.

I am currently watching the films in a wonderful collection put out under the Warner Archive Collection called Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 1. In this, are fully-restored (to the best of what is available) collections of Hollywood movies filmed and written before the Hays Code was enforced. Now, these aren't porn-films and they would barely scratch what a PG rating would even touch these days, but what they are filled with are dangerous ideas.

A woman sleeping her way to the top.

A woman dealing with the stigma of prostitution.

A woman dealing with slut-shaming by high-society.

Wait, what? I though the dames in old movies were these June Cleaver types who were saints and angels, arm candy for leading men, or these strangely antiseptic "femme fatales" that talked the talk and dressed in black but really did nothing too bad beyond hamming it up with dialog, and slapping the leading man before he kisses her and makes everything right.

The code was abandoned in the late 1960s, but you could still see the lingering effects - even today. For thirty years stories relating to the struggles of women in a modern world could not be told. You want the original #metoo moment in Hollywood? There it is.

I can't blame anyone, not even the code itself. The country wasn't ready to hear these stories, and I feel two or more generations of women struggling with issues with sexuality and their role that sex and sexism plays in a modern, post-industrial society can't really be told. You look at 50 Shades of Grey and it is this watershed cultural moment where we realized that stories like this can be told again, discussed again, and have meaning in our lives again. Not just as porn and titillation, but as the strike-point for a discussion about women in the world, what roles sex plays in a woman's career, and the struggle between being a good worker and a creature who enjoys her simple and more basic pleasures.

How does what we are inside mix with who society expects us to be?

It took like what, 80 years of waiting from 1931 to 2011 to get here? We got shame heaped upon us, like these stories should not be told, and thus, we should shame ourselves for even thinking about them or seeking literature discussing them. Either that, or these stories placed under the trashy stigma of exploitation films and porn, and shoved into the back room.


No one was, or still is, ready to hear this. At least on film.

But in erotic fiction? With books? The 50 Shades moment was profound, and it opened the floodgates into a world where almost anything could be explored and discussed. It makes me a happy reader and writer to be alive in a time like this, a Wild West golden age of the freedom of expression and ideas of exactly those stories the early 1930's filmmakers and actresses were trying to tell.

We get to explore what it means to be the female creature in this world, expected to act like a male in the world of business, but wrestling with the suppressed feminine urge inside that world - and outside of it. What it means to spread our feathers like a majestic peacock, to ooze our sexuality, and to let those brightly colored plumage shine to attract a worthy mate. How we must hide those feathers when we are expected to, in the professional world where using sexuality to "get ahead" is frowned upon.

Or is it?

It happens after all.

Even today. Believe it or not.

Like Barbara Stanwyck in the film Baby Face she is in it for one person and one person only, herself. She uses men like paper tissues, going from one to another as she climbs the corporate ladder. But, at what cost success? The film takes a turn and she discovers something more than herself, and we are allowed into that moment to see her moment of realization.

Was it all worth it?

At what price her soul? At what price...the souls of others?

That. For thirty or more years we were denied that. There were films undoubtedly between now and then which touched a little on this conflict I am sure, but nothing like what we see in the world of books today. With nothing hidden from us, with all secrets told. What does it mean to be woman?

Other films too, Jean Harlow in Red Headed Woman. You hear about these silver-screen legends and never understand why they were who they were until you watch these films. The stigma of a woman who sleeps her way to the top and is rejected by the families and society around her. The devastation she causes. The slut-shaming she endures. The love, while true and opportunistic at the same time, and how she wishes for that perfect world of her+him which she shall never have.

And her escape from this world and the damage she leaves. Yet, she must still find happiness.

And finally, the romance between a World War I prostitute played by Mae Clarke and a young soldier from a rich family in the film Waterloo Bridge. She cannot escape the stigma she places upon herself. Even when his family figures out who she really is and finds forgiveness in those terrible circumstances for all involved (for country and person alike), she cannot escape her mental prison. She slut-shames herself out of happiness and a better life.

And it is her ultimate downfall and fate.

This is not porn.

Real, literary meaningful adult stuff. Adult in theme and exploring what it means to be a mature person in this world. Today, we live in a world where corporations push the idea of adult-children consumers, 50-year old men still buying like they were 18-year old teenagers. That is where the money is. The comic-book movies. The fandom. The video-games. The nerd culture. I don't mind it and I am a fan of some things myself, but there are times when I want to be an adult.

And treated like one. But, the world forgets to treat us like mature, responsible adults. Our stories are mass market, safe for overseas audiences, crafted not to offend, populist, cause-on-the-sleeve wearing, mass-market CGI fast food which does not nourish nor does it satisfy the diet of maturity and adult, not as in porn, diet and discussions we should have to fully participate in this world.

That is what we lost because we simply were not ready to hear it.

Or possibly, we did not want to.

It is easy to live like someone in their youth, told what to do, where to go, what to watch, and how to act all day. There is a power in being the ones who tell others how they should think and what they should enjoy. Those in that "school of thought" are those enslaved to a way of thinking and a way of living. But you are free to leave that way of thinking and acting at any time.

You are free to have grown-up tastes at any time.

There is this self-actualized, personal power which says, "I have tastes for things more mature and refined, things which have meaning, things which start discussions, and things which challenge and advance us as an understanding and better-meaning whole."

As a society open to discussion.

Not closed to division, and tricked by those who profit into opposing sides locked in ever-war.

Not censored into shame.

Not silenced.

But a society open enough to say, "Some stories should be told for the betterment of us all."