Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Russia, political correctness, and movie censorship

  • George Weigel: Taking the "long view" on Russia. Queried about the Holy See’s less-than-vigorous response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, senior Vatican officials are given to saying (often with a dismissive tone, as if the question came from a dim-wit), “We take the long view.” Exactly. What I've been calling the big picture. Being pro-Russian because I'm Catholic. They're not Communist anymore and we don't trade with them, so just keep an eye on them but leave them alone. I hope Putin's another Constantine for them.
  • Political correctness is not just good manners. The temptation to it is understandable; it's a Christian heresy as I like to say. For where niceness is concerned with protecting a social order concerned with community, PC is concerned with protecting a social order that is explicitly anti-community... PC is therefore a direct competitor to mere niceness; both seek the protection of a social order, but the social orders they envision are irreconcilable.
  • My reading: Movie Censorship and American Culture, a collection of essays (mostly liberal, of course) published in the mid-1990s. Interesting points. The culture war partly played out over the movies goes back to the late 1800s (a reaction to industrialization and the start of consumer culture, and Protestant attacks on alcohol and live theater), and the writers note the similarity between the Protestant women moral crusaders trying to "mother the movies" to protect "the children" and political correctness. Progressivism is a Christian heresy and has long appealed to women, from censorship to pacifism to Prohibition to criticizing the free market with its profit motive. (Or the world needs nice ladies to tell it what to do.) "A secularized or 'progressive' version of Protestant values" is American culture. (The writer uses that to describe mainstream Protestant social morality in the '20s.) Jews, latecoming, smart followers of the German "Enlightenment," take to it like a duck to water. One problem with early attempts to censor movies is the Protestants, including the mainline already becoming more liberal, couldn't agree among themselves about standards. The movie industry, of course interested in making money, opposed state censorship, wanting to police itself instead, presenting itself as the best compromise between state oppression and offending public order, the go-between with statism on one hand and small-town prudery on the other, trying to minimize damage from both. (Fearing a backlash from small-town Protestant America.) The movie moguls found an ally in American Catholics, likewise moralistic but, a minority, not wanting state censorship either, realizing it would really be Protestant. Also, because the church has clear teachings, Catholics were easier for them to work with. So, in a sign of the immigrant church's new clout in America (before Vatican II ruined it), Catholics (the Legion of Decency) wrote the Production Code of movie self-censorship in effect from the '30s to the '60s. (An industry largely financed by Protestant bankers, operated by Jewish studio executives, and policed by Catholic bureaucrats.) And in that environment, such as in the Cold War, the church was in a good position to show how much it shared with the best of American culture (the natural law the "Enlightenment" founding fathers believed in) vs. the divided Protestants. So in a way we took to American culture too, without compromising until the Sixties. Moviemakers bent over backwards to be inoffensive about European ethnicities in the '30s because of the international market (make fun of Italians and you get protests at home and lose the market in Italy). The courts ruled that freedom of speech didn't cover a commercial product such as the movies but changed their minds. And of course protests left and right backfire; it's publicity, free advertising, that boosts box-office. Jerry Falwell meant well but a political solution probably isn't the answer. Fallen human nature is too big a problem for a "Clean Up America" campaign. And anything that puts the message first and the art second will be bad art (Christian pop music: "You're not making Christianity better; you're making rock'n'roll worse!"): In the mid-1930s the WCTU produced its own films, with titles such as The Beneficent Reprobate, which purposefully showed the worst results of drinking and smoking to dissuade people from engaging in those activities.

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