COMMENTARY: Production Code

Dr. Larry Burris


COMMENTARY: Production Code | Dr. Larry Burris, production code, MTSU, Murfreesboro news, NewsRadio WGNS

87 years ago this week, March 31, 1930, the famous, or infamous, Movie Production Code went into effect. More from MTSU Professor of Journalism Dr. Larry Burris...

Devised by former postmaster general Will Hayes, the production code was designed to fight off government regulation, and was written in response to the public's growing concern, not so much about movie content, but about off-screen drug abuse, murder and other assorted forms of Hollywood immorality.

In other words, the public wanted to control movie content because of the private lives of people in the movies.

Somehow, though, I don't think the code made as much of a difference as its supporters thought it would. For instance, the code did force cartoonists to put a longer skirt on Betty Boop, prohibited the use of expressions like "hold your hat," and limited the length of an on-screen kiss to 6 seconds.

But movie producers still found ways around the code, and a whole string of movies produced by Howard Hughes and starring the likes of Heddy Lamar and Jane Russell rankled censors and pushed the code to its limits, and often beyond.

Eventually the simply proscriptive code gave way to the more descriptive rating systems we have today: codes that give audiences at least some minimal information about the content of the films, music and television programs.

Of course, what also happens here is that none of the codes actually prohibit or ban most of the material some people, perhaps many, will find offensive.

But that's ok. After all, no one is forcing anyone else to view or listen to any media content. Whether the message is from the government, a religious leader, a legitimate news or entertainment source, or just the local crackpot, the choice of paying attention is up to you.

So, get as much information about your medium of choice as you can, then, make your own decisions.