The Censorship Game

Play this with me, please.

Read the indented paragraph below and think about what movie is under discussion. It seems to me there are many possibilities, but the reality startles. I think.
His chief worry was local censorship. A number of states insisted on specific sequences being removed, particularly those implying a more than tentative personal relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Jewish organizations, led by the B'Nai B'rith, specifically requested their members not to see the film, claiming that it treated Jewish authorities of the time of Christ with hatred and contempt. The film narrowly escaped being banned in England, where several cities (including London) had special ordinances forbidding the display of Christ's face in public.
A lot of films come to mind. I would probably have guessed Ron Howard’s very entertaining The Da Vinci Code from 2006 or maybe Mel Gibson’s nasty and violent Passion of the Christ from 2004 or even Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ which drew a lot of controversy when it was released in the 1980s.

However, had I guessed those films, I would have been wrong. The answer is Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings from 1928. The movie did not talk, but still it caused some worry.

This is something that always emerges for me when I do research for my historical work. We are arrogant, here in the space age. We tend to think ourselves advanced and special, perhaps even historically unique. But we are not. We are the same. I find that both a frightening and enriching thought. A caution as well as something to bolster me through those dark nights of the soul.

The more things change, right?

Oh, and here is the piece that quote is from.


John McFetridge said…
"Life, for him, was an immense test of Christian test of patience and endurance, which he sustained with true heroism."

This kind of hero worship always fascinates me. I mean, a movie director? When did Christians decide sex ws the big sin and greed was just fine?

I remember a popular topic when I was doing a history degree was the myth of progress. Caertainly many people are arrogant and feel quite special (and most people feel the way they're doing things is right, or they'd do them a different way), but many others simply see societies at different stages of the same journey.

The Books "Guns, Germs and Steel," put a lot of this in perspective, how almost all cultures go through the same stages in pretty much the same order and it mostly depends on their physical surroundings - availability of food and water, and so on. Civilation started in the fertile crescent where food was easiest to come by and spread out from there.

Okay, I can buy that, but once a culture is seperated from (or has a measure of control over) its nature, things get weird.

So, while London once, "had special ordinances forbidding the display of Christ's face in public," today you can draw the face in dogshit and show it in public.

I'll leave it to others to decide if that's a good thing or thing or not, but the question is, are we all headed in that direction? Will the cartoon images that cause riots and death today be no big deal tomorrow?

Personally I'd like to see no censorship at all. Of course, I'd also like to see the legalization of all drugs, so clearly, I'm a nutbar.
Hello? I wasn't saying that there should be censorship, but that -- hey! -- don't you think it's interesting that 80 years apart, directors would share the same concerns *about* censorship when making films on virtually identical topics.

So yeah: you could probably now draw the face in dogshit, but would that stop the stink?

Seriously, the point was this: side trips to various mythologies aside, we can pretend things change -- that people change, that humankind changes -- but we do not. Not in real and significant ways. The fact that movies released in 1928 and 2006 drew a similar response from the powers that frown is here provides the underscore. And dogshit art plays no part in that at all that I can see.
John McFetridge said…
It's funny what blog entries can do, isn't it?

No, I never thought you were advocating censorship. But I think there have been some significant (and not always good) changes in the last two hundred years. The dogshit art is like the canary in the coal mine. There's an ebb and flow to these things, it isn't a straight slope from total lack of expression to entire freedom. Different things get the attention of cultural police.

Some of those filmmakers' concerns are real, some of them are marketing ploys, playing on peoples' fears. Have our basic fears changed? Well, we're moving very slowly away from being pack animals, so sharing common beliefs isn't as important.

But, you know, a couple hundred years is too short a time, really, to measure any signifcant change.

What I find really interesting is how the lotives have changed. Artists used to worry that what they created might get them thrown in jail. Now the only fear is that it won't sell. Captialist censorship is way more effective, I think, in the long run.
Clea Simon said…
Very interesting post, though I think I'm with John on this one - bottom-up censorship (losing market share) scares me more than top-down (governmental) censorship. Democracy has become mob rule, grumble grumble grumble.
Oh, geez you guys. Gimme a break. Am I being that opaque?

Clearly *that* censorship debate has a place somewhere, but it doesn't apply here.

This is all I was saying: see, there was this movie, in the 1980s? And people said stuff about it. There were another couple a few years ago? People said the same shit. And then there was one a really, really long time ago -- like 80 years, whic by some people count is two generations -- and guess what? Same stuff said.

Now here's my point: isn't that really, really weird?
John McFetridge said…
Yes, that is really, really weird. ;)

I think you can find some of the same things that were said about Mae West have also been said about more recent stars.

(it's funny, I don't think the same kind of thing is true about men... maybe more research is in order)
larrym said…
The comments here, Linda, demonstrate that 'space age' humans aren't arrogant; they're myopic and self-centered. Regardless of the point being made, people will take it as an opportunity to drag out the spoon and pan and beat whatever drum they feel needs beating.

For what its worth, I agree with you that we humans haven't evolved very much in the last hundred years. Maybe that's our biggest social problem.

Cheers --- Larry
John McFetridge said…
"... myopic and self-centered." Gee, I thought we were just talking - went to the name-calling pretty quick there.

One thing that's changed is that Kitty Pangborn is the main character and for that I'm grateful.
It wasn't me! I didn't say it! I never, ever insult guests to my blog! (Well, you know, unless they throw dirt or something.)
John McFetridge said…
Oh, don't worry, Linda, we know it's not you! :)

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