The Hays Code and its Effect on Strong Women in Hollywood

Strong Women in Hollywood

Way back in 1934 Hollywood Instituted the Hays Code which had a deleterious effect on the portrayal of Strong Women in Hollywood that seems to have lasted almost to present times. A while back, I wrote about the demise of the Hays Code but I didn’t examine its long-lasting negative impact on strong women at that time. My thoughts on the Hays Code and its correlation with the lack of strong women in Hollywood came to my attention last night when I was watched a Pre-Code movie called The Silver Cord.

In the Silver Cord a woman scientist, portrayed magnificently by Irene Dunn, is married to a young architect. He is offered a job at a prestigious New York architectural firm. She is, from the first moments of the film, a strong woman. She is a biologist working in a lab and clearly skilled and intelligent. When she makes it clear she will accompany her husband to New York and take a position at a laboratory that offered her a position some time ago, her boss laments her leaving but tells her she is the sort of woman who must have both a career and a marriage, that it is not a choice of one or the other.

I don’t want to get too wrapped up in the plot of the movie and how Christine, Dunn’s character, proves time and time again to be not only a strong woman but also a woman. She likes being married and very much cherishes the idea of motherhood. This is the sort of character long absent in Hollywood. She is not just a stereotypical male protagonist being portrayed by a female actor but she is a strong woman in every sense of the word.

Did the Hays Code destroy this sort of portrayal of women? It’s hard to argue against the idea. In 1933 a woman was being portrayed as a scientist, a wife, and a potential mother. She stands up to her husband and tells him if he cannot cut the Silver Cord of his overbearing mother, she will move on without him. That she cannot stand to see his career and life stifled, that is not the sort of man she can tolerate. Her soliloquy is bold, strong, and independent.

It was claimed the Hays Code was implemented to protect We the People from the degenerate influence of movies but one suspects it was fashioned, part and parcel, from the fear of white men that ideas, good ideas, were promulgating and influencing us. How often do we see that same mantra when it comes to censorship? We must be protected, like children, by the politicians.

If the Hays Code had not existed, how many movies portraying strong women might have been made in the ensuing eighty years? We will never know. We can only see the damage such paternalistic rules engender.

The Hays Code did far more damage than anyone can really calculate. Generations of strong women were not shown examples that might have fundamentally altered their lives. Generations of men did not learn of the sort of woman who makes a perfect and equal companion. What a terrible crime.

Tom Liberman

AMC Theaters versus Universal Films

AMC Theaters

AMC Theaters just announced they will no longer showcase Universal Film movies. Why are they doing it? Because Universal released Trolls World Tour directly to home viewers rather than offering it to theater chains first. Universal did this largely in response to the fact most theaters are closed because of the Covid-19 situation.

The stated problem for AMC Theaters and their CEO and President Adam Aron is simply the release of the movie in a way that bypasses the theaters. There is some truth in this but I suspect the bigger reason for the decision is that this particular release generated over $100 million in revenue. A number that is similar to the projected take for a widescreen release. This is a frightening confirmation of something the movie theater owners and operators have long feared, the end of their revenue stream.

More and more people watch their media at home and on their devices. This is undeniable. Hollywood revenue has remained relatively stable for the last eleven years after having nearly doubled in the same period prior to 2009.

Universal released Trolls World Tour directly to viewers and this is not particular strange. Plenty of content providers are doing the same but not for what are considered Blockbuster Movies. For companies like AMC Theaters the blockbuster has become the heart of their revenue stream. Independent movies continue to thrive but generate far less revenue than blockbusters. Meanwhile, streaming services like Netflix, HBO, and Amazon are taking a bigger and bigger bite out of their potential content.

AMC Theaters wants to stay in business. Universal Films wants to make as much money as possible and those two desires are now in conflict. Thus, the strongly worded letter from AMC Theaters. That letter, quite amusing if you read the whole thing, has this little gem within: Incidentally, this policy is not aimed solely at Universal out of pique or to be punitive in any way…. I chuckle. It is absolutely done out of pique and is punitive in nature. That boldfaced fib alone is enough to make me take Universal Film’s side in this issue.

AMC Theaters has legitimate concerns and they are desperately attempting to slow the movement of media consumption away from theaters and onto devices. Perhaps they will succeed. Maybe Universal, and other content providers, will ignore the fact they made as much from a non-theatrical release as they would have from putting the blockbuster in theaters.

Of course, if AMC Theaters goes through with this plan, they are also eliminating a major studio from their theaters and thus a large stream of revenue.

Personally, I think the steady decline of people viewing movies at the theater will continue and AMC Theaters will eventually go the way of Blockbuster Movie Rentals. Perhaps I’m wrong. Time will tell. What do you think?

Is AMC going to succeed in their threat to pull all Univeral Films?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Tom Liberman

Nobody Thought they were Truman Burbank before Television

Truman Burbank

There are a number of people who think they are the subject of a Reality Show much like Truman Burbank from the Truman Show. They are delusional, certainly, but what is undeniable is that no one had such a mental delusion prior to the invention of television. Even after the invention of television it was not a heard about mental problem until after the Truman Show became part of the public conscious. What does that tell us about the human mind?

It wasn’t until H. G. Wells wrote the War of the Worlds that people began to see aliens and UFOs. No one saw a leprechaun until they read, or were told, about them first. This is reality, a concept from which the people who suffer these delusions are somewhat divorced. But then, aren’t we all? Our memories are faulty, our senses unreliable, and our confirmation bias on high alert most of the time. It’s no wonder people think they are the subject of a reality television show.

I have a friend who, despite being apparently sane, intelligent, and rational, firmly believes he is the subject of an alien experiment where he is the only “real” person on the planet and everyone else is part of the research. Is he insane? Or is his delusional normal? Is everyone delusional to some degree or another? Is he Truman Burbank?

We are, undeniably, the center of our own universe, just like Truman Burbank. When someone I know moves to a location beyond my ability to sense them, they essentially disappear. I have no idea what they are doing or how they are conducting their life until I see them again. We are, equally undeniably, not the center of the real universe. We are not the subject of alien experimentation or the star of a television show in which the rest of reality is an illusion designed to fool us.

What happens that causes people like my friend, or those with the Truman Delusion, to lose their grip on reality? If they continue to function in normal society, is it really that damaging? Do we not have functioning drug and alcohol addicts around us every day? If they can manage to keep their delusion, or addiction, from putting them in a mental hospital, what harm is there?

I’m not going to write a dissertation on these many questions. I think the problems of mental health and self-delusion are complex and not easily addressed. I’ll try to sum up my thoughts in a reasonable way.

I think we should all strive to do a better job of being critical thinkers. I am not Truman Burbank and neither are you. Don’t believe what you want because it boosts your ego, trust what evidence shows is the most probable truth. Be a critical thinker.

Take this attitude toward all things in life. What car to buy. What food to eat. For what politician to vote. What novel to read.

Tom Liberman

Great Movie Monday – Rollerball

RollerballI’m sometimes accused of being a bit of a downer and I can see how my relentless Libertarian, Randian opinion along with all my philosophical rhetoric might become a bit tiresome. I thought I’d break things up with Movie Mondays for a few weeks at least and list some of all-time favorite movies.

Of course, I can’t be completely frivolous and I’ll talk about why the movies I enjoy often have a Libertarian spirit. We’ll start with my absolutely favorite movie of all time and one that is right up the Randian alley of objectivism.

Rollerball (the 1975 version). I prefer to pretend the remake never happened. There was a remake? Really? Never knew that. Was it any good?

Rollerball tells the story of Jonathon E, played by James Caan. It is a dystopian future in which corporate entities have taken over the world and brought peace, health, and comfort to the masses at the expense of freedom. One thing about the movie I find interesting is while it promotes the ideas of Objectivism and Ayn Rand it is a world that is exactly the opposite of what she feared in 1950’s communist leery America. She feared communism not corporate corruption although she certainly recognized that thugs could take leadership roles in place of true people of achievement.

In any case, the point of the game of Rollerball is to show the futility of individual action. This is demonstrated by the sheer difficulty and violence of the game in which one man cannot excel long without being incapacitated by opponents. Jonathon E is the exception to this rule as he has become the one true superstar as he leads the Houston (Energy) team to victory. It is decided that Jonathon must be stopped and the movie is about the corporations trying to make that happen in various ways.

It is a raw film. In one scene a woman is sent to Jonathon as a lover but she is truly a spy and agent of the corporations. Before he leaves for the Tokyo game where the rules have been changed to promote more violence and hopefully the death of Jonathon this woman tells Jonathon that she is “supposed” to go with him. He throws her down and slashes her upper cheek with the spike on his Rollerball glove. This sort of violence against a woman is both shocking and telling about Jonathon. He is a man who will take enemies on without subtlety. Then, fearing that his private helicopter is sabotaged he flies with the team to Tokyo.

Eventually the corporations try to bribe Jonathon with his ex-wife and she pleads with him not to play in the final game because the rule changes have ensured that everyone will be maimed (no time limit to the game). She argues for the corporations with this line:

But comfort is freedom. It always has been. The whole history of civilization is a struggle against poverty and need.”

Jonathon replies:

No! No… that’s not it. That’s never been it! Them privileges just buy us off.”

Clearly a marker of the world we live in today.

Jonathon understands that individual achievement is what drives a society forward. One man or one woman with drive, spirit, and ideas. Sure, they form alliances and teams but it is the power of the individual that makes it all possible. Jonathon realizes that and so he goes on.

In the end Jonathon emerges triumphant by doing the one thing that can win the game. I’ll leave it to you to see the movie.

Tell me your favorite movie, and why, in the comments!

Tom Liberman