How Censorship Affect the Development of Animations
How it works
“The Motion Picture Production code” (Will H. Hays, 1924), most American films published by major studios used such code between 1930 and 1968. It also known as the “Hays Code” These set of industry moral guidelines and rules called “The Don’ts and Be Carefuls” was entered into industry by Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDAA) which created to avoid direct government censorship and to satisfy public demand for morally acceptable movies in 1930. The acceptance of content for motion pictures produced was spelled out for a public audience in U.
S. Any film without the seal of approval could not be distributed. In the next following, there are few parts will be discussed, the operation of the production code, censored content and how it affected the development of animation.
The production code was founded according to the following concept: “If motion pictures present stories that will affect lives for the better, they can become the most powerful for the improvement of mankind” (Why is “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” considered the definitive German expressionist film, n.d.). Thus, there was three general principles that the code had to follow. The first, picture produced that will decrease the ethical standards of those who see it shall be abandoned (1929-1945: Depression & WW2, 2018). Secondly, it has to provide correct standards of living, subject only to drama and entertainment for the requirements. Thirdly, Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall express sympathy for illegal activities. Despite it were technically voluntary to stick with these guidelines, in practice the Hays Code guidelines were used by the major Hollywood studios as a convenient means of staving off pressure groups. Therefore, the Hays Code hugely influenced the content of almost every American film released between 30s and 60s.
Under the influenced of the Hays Code, not only films and audio were censored, but also numerous numbers of animated cartoons were censored by the code. “Betty Boop” (1930), “the first, renowned and sex symbols on the animated screen are different from other female cartoon characters of that phase.” (Betty Boop, Wikipedia, 2018) In days before the code, wearing short dresses, high heels, a garter, and her breasts were highlighted with a low, contoured bodice that showed cleavage is the popular image of Betty. Her alluring blend of innocence and worldliness through her oversized head and her voluptuous hips (Animation and the Hays Code, Luthien Tinuviel, 2015) made her unique in the animated market. Nevertheless, once the code went into effect in 1934, Betty’s sexuality was asked to tone down. As a result, Betty Boop had to change from being a flapper and her signature strapless short dress and garter was replaced by a more conservative dress, a long hem line, like an old-fashioned housewife skirt. Furthermore, the stories in Betty’s cartoons changed. Most of Bett’s cartoons focused on her escaping rape scenarios before the code adopted. However, the code explicitly discouraged this type of story. In this case, Betty became a housewife or a career girl who wearing a fuller dress of skirt. She faded into the background of her own cartoons. Because of this, Betty Boop lost her famous and she was no longer was the most popular star of Fleischer Studio. The censorship of Betty Boop was probably the most extreme example of the rigidity of the Hays Code which led to the ruin of her career.
Apart from the censorship of Betty Boop, as mention before, there was a number of animated cartoons got censored by the code. A kiss scene got censored because it is not considered good in an animated cartoon. Monsters that scare children are not approved for cartoons. Many of cartoons that including a satire, misconduct, nudist and criminal content were undoubtedly being censored. (Animation and the Hays Code, Luthien Tinuvel, 2015) The above evidence shown that the Hays Code seriously enforced on film products even in some small details.
It was not until the late 1960s that law enforcement became impossible due to the rise of television, and the Hays office had been eliminated. Those former guidelines were replaced by the “Motion Picture Association America (MPAA) film rating system.” Some underground cartoon features of the late 1960s were also targeted at adult audiences such as Bambi Meets Godzilla (1968), Escalation (1968) and Mickey Mouse in Vietnam (1969).
The influence of Hays Production Code has always been a controversial topic. Those people who are favour in the code claim that the Hays Code protects children keep away from the inappropriate content. In opposite, those people who against the code believe that the code is unnecessary and even hinder the creation of making cartoon. Taking into consideration from both sides of the argument, I am of the opinion that it is worth nothing that all those Hays restrictions did not stop anyone making entertaining cartoons but it definitely shifts the audience target of animated cartoons much younger. Before the code, animated cartoons were not intended to be shown to any specific age group, but occasionally contained humor that was directed at adult audience members rather than children. Yet, after adopting the Hays Code, it increased the loss rate of adult viewers obviously. “Betty Boop” is especially a vivid example under this circumstance.
To conclude, the censorship of Hays Code not only affected the whole film industry but also became an important turning point to animations. To me, in addition to promoting moral education to public, what is more fundamental is it changed target audience of animated cartoons. Furthermore, the censorship has simply moved from theatrical films to television, where cartoons traditionally have been extremely heavily censored due to the public perception of cartoons as children’s programming.