In short pieces of prose and verse, Dorothy Parker, Ben Hecht, and Wallace Irwin (among others) protest the “prohibitions, inhibitions, and illegalities” in a nation then subject not only to Prohibition (which banned alcoholic beverages from 1920 until 1933) but also to the first rumblings of what would become the Motion Picture Production Code (which restricted depictions of sex in Hollywood movies from the 1920s until the 1960s) as well as other forms of censorship covering everything from radio broadcasts to “food... politics, baseball, diversion, [and] dress”. This list is borrowed from Hecht (1893–1964) — the legendary screenwriter responsible for Scarface, His Girl Friday, and other cinematic classics.
You will find no sympathy here for censors. “Their viewpoint is already amply set forth”, Putnam justly says: “Moreover, likely they would not be amusing.” Fortunately for us, most of the writers here remain amusing even a century later. The sheer absurdity of what was considered outrageous in the early 1920s struck them then as being just as absurd as it seems to us today. “The sight of a woman making baby clothes is not generally considered a vicious spectacle in many communities”, the journalist Heywood Broun writes with restrained frustration, “but it may not be shown on the screen in Pennsylvania by order of the state board of censors”. Ample proof, to Broun’s way of thinking, that a censor is a person who “believes he can hold back the mighty traffic of life with a tin whistle and a raised right hand”.
September 8, 2020
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