Pornography and the “Hays Code” of Ethics

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A Letter from a friend …

Dr. Savage,

Once again, you nailed it with your timely discussion on Friday about the impact of pornography on society. Nobody in talk radio has the courage to tackle that topic. And, you’re absolutely right that porn has morphed from the seedy smut houses to mainstream movies—and even TV. Someone once said, “It took 50 years for films to go from silent to unspeakable.”

Here’s what’s fascinating. The original Hays Code of Ethics (introduced in 1930) is a real eye-opener. The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America originally defined basic standards that previously governed the production of all films released by Hollywood. One of the overriding principles of the original production code stated:

“No picture shall be produced which will lower the standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the
side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.”

Imagine that! A number of other provisions in the code would send our modern crop of “Follywood” producers into cardiac arrest:

• The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld.

• Methods of crime shall not be explicitly presented.

• Illegal drug traffic must never be presented.

• Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationships are the accepted or common thing.

• Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embracing, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.

• Seduction or rape should be never more than suggested . . . they are never the proper subject for comedy.

• Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.

• Pointed profanity (this includes the words God, Lord, Jesus, Christ—unless used reverently—Hell, S.O.B., damn, Gawd) or other profane or vulgar expressions, however used, is forbidden.

• Indecent or undue exposure is forbidden.

• Ministers of religion . . . should not be used as comic characters or as villains.

Some might argue that there’s no way a movie could be made that would have any commercial value if they followed these guidelines. Ironically, this Code of Ethics was in effect during the Golden Age of Hollywood when many of our timeless classics were produced!

Thank you for what you’re doing to raise the bar. Have a happy and blessed New Year! Warmly, Bob DeMoss

** The Hays Code, written by a Jesuit priest and Catholic publisher, was designed as “a code regulating the moral content of feature films, designed so that Hollywood could police itself and thus avoid or minimize outside censorship. It began as “advisory at first, but quickly became more obligatory thanks to outside pressures.

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