Mike Gold: Defying Censorship

Condemned TCM

Whereas ComicMix comments on all popular media – geek culture, as Ed Catto says – this particular commentary is about comic books. However, let me warn you: it is phrased in the terms of motion pictures. It could be applied to all mass communications.

There exists, and have always existed, groups of people with their noses so high in the air you’d think they’d drown in a drizzle. These self-appointed moral police seek to prevent everybody from experience media that they find objectionable. Of course, having an opinion and sharing that opinion is our constitutional right and I have no quarrel about this. Sadly, these people often attempt to have those books, movies, magazines and similar folderol removed from stores, libraries and theaters. They have held and continue to hold record burnings – for the past sixty-five years they have focused on rock’n’roll and particularly rock performed by black artists… although when John Lennon flippantly remarked the Beatles were “bigger than Christ” a whole lotta Beatles records went up in self-righteous smoke.

One of the first nationwide organizations to try to regulate our popular culture is the Catholic Legion of Decency. Since 1933 the Legion has “rated” every movie they could lay their hands on, outing those they don’t like as morally unobjectionable, morally objectionable in part, or outright condemned by the Legion of Decency. They also have positive ratings, but that’s beside the point. In 1995 they helped organize the Parents Television Council to do to teevee what they’ve done to movies.

Once again, I have no problem with organizations offering “advice” to their members, and the Legion of Decency and its ilk are no different. But ever since our media became mass, these groups have gone well beyond an advisory role and tried to get what they don’t like banned so that no one could think for themselves.

As distribution methods became more ubiquitous and independent thinking spread, the effectiveness of these organizations began to wane. They’re still around, there are still censorship boards (non-government; I use the word censorship in its broader use) of all sorts, and people still lose their jobs for propagating such art. But the glory days of censorship are mostly behind us. Case in point:

This month, Turner Classic Movies is presenting a series highlighting movies found objectionable by the Catholic Legion of Decency. Lots of great stuff – pre-Code movies such as Condemned, M, and Babyface and later flicks such as And God Created Woman, Kiss Me Stupid and The Carey Treatment are among the 27 films being featured.

Equally significant in the “passage of time” sweepstakes is that these movies will be

hosted by film critic Sister Rose Pacatte, who also is the founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies. She can provide perspective for those whose upbringing was not influenced by the Legion.

Of course, history has taught us we must constantly deploy and defend out rights. Each week, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund http://cbldf.org sends out an email noting various acts of censorship across the world, and I know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Zealots – a separate entity from those who are religious – do not give up. Ever.

Nor can we.

Kudos to Turner Classic Movies and to Time Warner, its parent company. Such courage always is welcome.