Hollywood: The Work of the Devil
Musings on Movies, Myths and Dreams
“I am the lord, thy God, thou shall not have any false gods before me.” ~God
From its earliest days, many religious groups considered movies evil for various reasons, and often forbid their members from attending these abominations. Groups such as United Pentecostals, some Southern Baptist, and some Seventh Day Adventists still ban their flocks from going to movies. Even the Jewish sect, Haredi, banned movies, which is particularly ironic since immigrants Jews were mainly responsible for the invention of the Hollywood studio system. Many religious sects believe that, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” They believed, movies fell in this category. Extra time provided the opportunity for their souls to be corrupted by all the temptations embellished on the screen.
Lingering kisses, unseemly and flimsy costumes, and scandalous stories that were glamorized. Not only would this lead to temptations for the individual, but it would also insidiously attack the entire moral fabric of society. Indeed, throughout the twenties and early thirties, Hollywood movies pushed the moral boundaries of society. As result, there was such an outcry against the immorality presented by Hollywood, that the Hayes Commission was instituted to protect American society from a breakdown in morals and ethics of the times (There is no need to discuss the subterranean genre of pornography which began with the birth of film, since its negative effect is so obvious).
Today, we may find some of their bans and censorship amusing. Our spirit of the times (zeitgeist), our values, beliefs and culture are miles away from the standards of the twenties and thirties thanks in part to the relentless chipping away of the Hayes act’s “standards of decency”, by the new moral turpitude of Hollywood, especially from the mid-sixties onwards.
There were other people that were suspicious on this new technology early on that weren’t necessarily of a religious temperament. They were known as Luddites. They believe that there were many unknown dangers in this new invention. And while they weren’t necessarily religious, they often found support from the bible. Even some social philosophers were suspicious of the psychological influence film. They were alarmed because they thought film had the power to subconsciously influence, and motivate the audience, not necessarily in a moral direction. One such early genius was the Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein, who immediately understood the power of editing in manipulating his audiences. Some of these techniques he borrowed from the great American genius of film, D.W. Griffith, who in turn learned it from Edwin S. Porter, one of the original pioneers in understanding the language of film. But no one used the power of film to manipulate the audience for nefarious and insidious purposes than Joseph Goebbels. He twisted the power of film and turned it into an evil art of propaganda. Through the manipulation of film, Goebbels was able to galvanize most of the German masses into hatred of the Jews and other minorities with devastating effects. During WWII, Hollywood had its own propaganda mill. Of course, its propaganda was directed to moral crusades, such as defeating the Nazis and the “Yellow Race” through Frank Capra’s series, Why We Fight, along with many feature length movies that glorified the American effort. The power of film is a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, the only intent of propaganda films is to present a one-sided argument solely for the purpose of manipulating the audience to its side. There is no interest in presenting the other side, expect to make it look negative. There is no concern with truth or reality in this genre.
In many ways, for many people, movies have replaced religion. Going to movies takes on a major social function. The movie theater provides an arena for all kinds of social rituals: a place to take a date; an outing for friends; a place to get away from family or work. Ever since the thirties, it also provided a weekly babysitting facility, where parents could unload their youngsters at the theater for three hours of more of movie serial, triple features, and cartoons. It was a welcome release for the parents while the children became imbued with the whole movie culture, for better or for worse.
However, some social philosophers were suspicious of the benefits derived from movies. They found the whole concept of film to extol the virtues of illusion, of which the devil is the master. It was argued that the purpose of film was to deceive the audience into thinking they were witnessing reality in motion. In fact, the process of motion pictures today consists of 32 individual frames per second running through the projector to provide the effect of movement. It is the eye of the beholder that conspires with the movie projector to form the illusion of motion. All the great technological advances in the early 20th century combined and were coordinated in the invention of movies. The petrochemical advances supplied the film stock. Mechanical engineering supplied the projector. Optics supplied light and illusions, while audio advancement brought the appearance of sound to the pictures on the screen. Even the screen, at least until recent times, found its sources from silver mines, hence the term “the silver screen.” Today all these marvelous technologies are synchronized along with the amazing developments in computer generated images. Ironically, all these inventions in the name of progress are combined to produce one major effect: to deceive the audience. Perhaps the various religious sects, the Luddites, and social philosophers weren’t wrong in their appraisals of movies after all.
It’s something to muse about…