Last week, I wrote about the negative reaction to the revelation that Harper Lee’s new book Go Set a Watchman portrays former hero lawyer Atticus Finch as a racist segregationist. Upon further thought, I think that much of the dismay revolves around the need and desire to have “good whites” in stories about racism.
Once upon a time, a female journalist with a taste for history and erotica broke her leg and decided to spend her downtime writing a novel that could combine her two interests. The end result was a long, somewhat maudlin soap opera detailing the tempestuous love affair between two abusive, angry drunks. After being rejected by dozens of publishers, our heroine finally managed to get her opus published, where it was an instant success. Not only did this work conquer the bestseller lists, it was also adapted into a highly successful film that swept the 1940 Oscars and became even more of a pop culture icon than the original book. Alas, success was short-lived for our heroine, and she was killed roughly ten years after the release of the movie based on her only published work.
This past weekend, an awards show took place in Hollywood bestowing honors and awards on those movies that were so richly deserving of being recognized for their artistic contributions. I speak, of course, of the Golden Raspberry Awards, the “anti-Oscar” ceremony for bad movies. In a move that surprised no one whose been paying even the slightest attention to pop culture, Kirk “Banana fallacy” Cameron’s underwhelming tour de force Saving Christmas swept the Razzies, winning four Golden Raspberries: Worst Film, Worst Actor, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Combo (the combo being Kirk and his over-sized ego).
The Catholic Legion of Decency was formed in 1934 to combat what it perceived to be immorality in the Hollywood film industry. Although there was already a secular set of guidelines for what could and could not be shown on film known as the Hays Code, this was not enough to assure the Catholic bishops that their flock wasn’t being exposed to morally objectionable content. Using a mixture of dogma-based peer pressure (parishioners took oral pledges during mass not to see a “bad” movie or even patronize a theater that had ever shown such a film) and an appeal to the authority of the hierarchy, the Legion ensured that no movie could be made that offended its sensibilities. Then as now, the Catholic church was the largest religious organization in the United States, meaning that the removal of Catholic audiences from a movie was a guarentee that said movie would bomb. Consequently, the Catholic church effectively controlled Hollywood until the 1970s, when most American Catholics decided that they were capable of making their own decisions about what they should and shouldn’t watch.