The church campaign against objectionable motion pictures is in full swing. Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergymen have organized a drive for enforced decency in the films, the stage, magazines and places of amusement. The inter-faith conference for this purpose was called by Mgr. Michael J. Lavelle, Vicar General of the Roman Archdiocese of New York. Pope Pius permitted the use of his name in support of this drive against objectionable films and gave the campaign his apostolic benediction. The Federation of Protestant. Churches was represented by the Rev. Dr. Walter M. Howlett, and the Jewish clergymen were represented by Rabbi Sidney E. Goldstein and Rabbi William F. Rosenblum.
Rabbi Goldstein was quoted as saying:
“As Jews, we are more interested than others in the endeavor to make sure that only wholesome pictures are shown in American theatres, since, as is generally known, so large a number of the persons in the motion picture industry are Jewish. If motion pictures are not kept unobjectionable, it is a species of national disgrace for us, in so far as Jews are responsible. We of the Jewish ministry are, therefore, particularly anxious to remedy present conditions.”
We do not agree with Dr. Goldstein that the Jews are responsible for these conditions and that it is “a species of national disgrace for us,” because certain Jews in the film industry are producing objectionable and unwholesome films. It is true that the motion picture industry has been built up to a great extent by Jews. It is also true that some of these Jews have not always displayed a sufficient sense of responsibility, or intelligence or decency in the choice of subjects and the manner of production of some of the films. But it should not be forgotten that a great deal of non-Jewish capital has made many of these objectionable productions possible. It should also be remembered that such films as “The King of Kings,” produced by non-Jews, perpetuated and disseminated certain phases of religious prejudice and thus caused greater harm than even some of the otherwise objectionable films.
The film producers, Jews or non-Jews, are chiefly interested in their productions not from an educational viewpoint, but from the standpoint of financial profit.
As I pointed out before, although the artistic standard of some of the latest films has been raised, there are many films that distort life and overemphasize the sensual and criminal for box office purposes.
While a way should be found to curb the money-making tendencies of the producers of immoral and indecent films, it is well to remember that censorship, church censorship or any other kind of censorship, is one of the most dangerous weapons in a democracy. There is no telling where such censorship may end once it is established. The greatest literary masterpieces, the finest plays, the most important books, may come under the ban of over-zealous or ill-informed censorship, however well-intentioned it may be.
This proposed censorship may also have the effect of drawing special attention to the objectionable films and thus making them even more attractive to the public, as forbidden fruit.
It is more important to organize a campaign of education in order that the public may become its own censor. That is the only safe and sane censorship in a democracy.
Years ago, in the course of an interview with Bernard Shaw, the great Irish dramatist related to me the following anecdote:
“When my play, ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession,’ was published in book form, I was afraid that stupid people might buy the book and, without reading it, send it to children as a Christmas present. People are genererally in the habit of doing such things. I labeled the volume ‘Unpleasant Plays,’ to prevent adults from giving it to the children.
“Imagine my surprise when one day a lady I know said to me: ‘Mr. Shaw, your book is a great favorite with my children.’ ‘What book is that?’ I asked. ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession,’ she answered.
“I asked her to tell me why the book was such a favorite with her children. She said they liked the story. When I asked her what they thought of Mrs. Warren, she told me that they considered her a very amusing and funny person who kept a fried fish shop. Thus, you see, they found nothing but purity in my play.”
And Shaw concluded:
“We should be careful as to what books we give to adults, for they may be corrupted, but children may read anything, without being corrupted.”
The demoralizing effect of certain objectionable films on adults is even greater than on the youth.
The best way of fighting filth in the films is by encouraging those who produce artistic and clean films. When the motion picture producers will discover that it pays to produce the better and cleaner films, the immoral and indecent pictures will cease to lure them. These pictures would thus be suppressed by the lack of public interest in them.