Conservatives opposed film-making in the early 20th century for several reasons. First of all, film held incredible power during this era because Hollywood had its “golden age” from the 1930s to the 1950s. Film is powerful because people respond emotionally to it and everything in the film is more intimate than watching a play or a stage performance. Film also helps with the historical imagination; viewers can put themselves in the shoes of those in the film setting.
The power of film can best be seen in the two historical events that film helped: the civil rights movement and the Cold War. Hollywood helped Americans change their views on civil rights and race because film helped stop racial fears. Hollywood also helped America in the Cold War because film showed Soviet countries the affluence and freedom of the average American. Stalin tried to censure all American movies but censorship was too hard because VHSs could be shared by friends and neighbors.
Secondly, film became part of the modernist culture. Filmmakers overturned the Victorian culture of the previous generation through new innovations. Time became relative because directors could speed up or slow down the amount of frames per second. Since film uses still images, film is actually an illusion.
Thirdly, the art of film-making held a religious aura that made many conservatives uneasy. Many films were shown on Sunday nights so people went to the movie theatre instead of church. There was also a sense of hypocrisy in movies because actors were portraying something they were not, and most actors had messed-up personal lives. The content and plot of the films was a problem from the beginning. Film also relied heavily on the visual which could be vague and ambiguous, whereas a written text was clearer.
After the Fatty Arbuckle scandal in the 1920s, people started to clean up Hollywood. The process started as self-regulation. Hollywood hired a Presbyterian minister to set up a committee to check films for content (the Hayes Committee). In the 1930s Hollywood created a standard code for movies. Catholics responded by creating the League of Decency, a ban list of movies that Catholics should not watch. Finally in the 1970s Hollywood produced the modern rating system of G, PG, PG-13, etc.
Overall, conservatives prefer a print culture because the medium is the message. Film-making is too emotional. Film is also visual so the impact is greater than a textual influence. Film is often cryptic and ambiguous because the directors include a subconscious message under the main theme. Film-making is also not absolute; truth is relative to the producer and director who make the film.
– Hannah S. Bowers