...the rebirth of Doris Day's virginity.

A friend who means well told me about Hollywood's turn to more moral screenplays and suggested that if I wanted to make money in this business I should write books and films with "no sex, no violence, and no profanity."

Which sounds like a pretty narrow definition of morality to me.

But I know what she means. Americans seem, publicly at least, to want a return to the days when you couldn't ask Dad slicing the Thanksgiving turkey for a thigh or a breast, not without giving Mom the vapors.

In the interest of serving my reading public, both of you, I'm reprinting part of the Hollywood Production Code of 1930, often called the Hays Code. Because these rules, fellow writers, are what may dictate what gets published and produced in the near future.

As a fun exercise in prudery, you may want to pick the rule you like most and name a writer or movie that violates the bejesus out of it. For instance, I choose Rule 1.b. under Particular Applications and nominate The Passion of the Christ.

And yes, I know I'm going to hell.

Have fun, but not too much fun. Leave your pants on. And no swearing.

The Hollywood Production Code of 1930

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral 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.

2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.

3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

Particular Applications

I. Crimes Against the Law
These shall never be presented in such a way as to throw sympathy with the crime as against law and justice or to inspire others with a desire for imitation.

1. Murder

a. The technique of murder must be presented in a way that will not inspire imitation.

b. Brutal killings are not to be presented in detail.

c. Revenge in modern times shall not be justified.

2. Methods of Crime should not be explicitly presented.

a. Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc., should not be detailed in method.

b. Arson must subject to the same safeguards.

c. The use of firearms should be restricted to the essentials.

d. Methods of smuggling should not be presented.

3. Illegal drug traffic must never be presented.

4. The use of liquor in American life, when not required by the plot or for proper characterization, will not be shown.

II. Sex
The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.

1. Adultery, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be explicitly treated, or justified, or presented attractively.

2. Scenes of Passion

a. They should not be introduced when not essential to the plot.

b. Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.

c. In general passion should so be treated that these scenes do not stimulate the lower and baser element.

3. Seduction or Rape

a. They should never be more than suggested, and only when essential for the plot, and even then never shown by explicit method.

b. They are never the proper subject for comedy.

4. Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.

5. White slavery shall not be treated.

6. Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden.

7. Sex hygiene and venereal diseases are not subjects for motion pictures.

8. Scenes of actual child birth, in fact or in silhouette, are never to be presented.

9. Children's sex organs are never to be exposed.

III. Vulgarity
The treatment of low, disgusting, unpleasant, though not necessarily evil, subjects should always be subject to the dictates of good taste and a regard for the sensibilities of the audience.

IV. Obscenity
Obscenity in word, gesture, reference, song, joke, or by suggestion (even when likely to be understood only by part of the audience) is forbidden.

V. Profanity
Pointed profanity (this includes the words, God, Lord, Jesus, Christ - unless used reverently - Hell, S.O.B., damn, Gawd), or every other profane or vulgar expression however used, is forbidden.

VI. Costume
1. Complete nudity is never permitted. This includes nudity in fact or in silhouette, or any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture.

2. Undressing scenes should be avoided, and never used save where essential to the plot.

3. Indecent or undue exposure is forbidden.

4. Dancing or costumes intended to permit undue exposure or indecent movements in the dance are forbidden.

VII. Dances
1. Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passions are forbidden.

2. Dances which emphasize indecent movements are to be regarded as obscene.

VIII. Religion
1. No film or episode may throw ridicule on any religious faith.

2. Ministers of religion in their character as ministers of religion should not be used as comic characters or as villains.

3. Ceremonies of any definite religion should be carefully and respectfully handled.

IX. Locations
The treatment of bedrooms must be governed by good taste and delicacy.

X. National Feelings
1. The use of the Flag shall be consistently respectful.

2. The history, institutions, prominent people and citizenry of other nations shall be represented fairly.

XI. Titles
Salacious, indecent, or obscene titles shall not be used.

XII. Repellent Subjects
The following subjects must be treated within the careful limits of good taste:
1. Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishments for crime.
2. Third degree methods.
3. Brutality and possible gruesomeness.
4. Branding of people or animals.
5. Apparent cruelty to children or animals.
6. The sale of women, or a woman selling her virtue.
7. Surgical operations.

So there you are, the future of fiction. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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Of course, we can never go back again, but I'm reminded of listening to an older man telling me how he hitchhiked across the continent when he was a youngster and what a great time he had and what wonderful people he met. My thought was that one would not want to do that today. It raises the question whether literature/film can corrupt a whole generation. Have we become hardened and accepting of atrocities because they are common occurrences in what we read, watch, and see around us?

Crime novels need to deal with reality -- either of the harsh here and now, or of the time in which the action happens.
But even so I used to believe that one ought not to let the killer win. Then I started a Rankin novel with two protagonists: one a professional assassin with multiple hits on his "conscience," and the other a free-lance ex-policeman who is hunting him down. Strangely, the reader's sympathies are with the assassin. I think it's one of the better Rankin novels, and clearly he's manipulating our moral convictions. I would hope writers aren't kept from exploring such themes, but I have little patience for those who merely shock because it sells books.
An older man?! Sheesh, cut me to the quick. I hitchhiked quite extensively in my youth, from sea to sea twice and too many times to count up and down the eastern coast. Older man. I take umbrage.

OK, I'm over it.

Estleman was the first person I recall reading with a hit man as a protagonist.

As for the theory of fictional crime coarsening the culture, I don't know. I do know, however, that serial killers existed before our modern day, and where would literature be withold murder, sex, and betrayal? Genesis, Hamlet, MacBeth, and Lear all spring to mind with their fratricde, patricide, regicide and incest murking up the moral pool.

As long as you didn't show the inside of a woman's thigh, I guess it's OK.
LOL. You live dangerously, David.
I didn't have a lot of choice. I was broke and I had places to go. There was nothing I could do but hit the highway and stick my thumb in the air. I saw a lot of America and met some truly generous people. There were a few crazies along the way, too. OK, maybe more than a few.

I could tell you stories...oh, the stories.

Back in those days when you looked down the road and say a VW van headed your way, you knew you were getting a ride. It was an amazing time.
Aha. Those VW vans. We had one ourselves. A friend of mine still has a rusty specimen. And that makes your adventure at least 20 years later than the tales of the "older" man I mentioned.
Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

Well, there goes Richard Stark's entire career. And a big chunk of Westlake's to boot.

b. Brutal killings are not to be presented in detail.

c. Revenge in modern times shall not be justified.

And there goes mine. Damn.


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