A Sprig of Parsley With Your Movie-Viewing?

Monday, August 22, 2005

A Sprig of Parsley With Your Movie-Viewing?

The Rev. Rod Parsley is a rising star within the ranks of the Religious Right. He and his Ohio-based followers have played an instrumental role in helping to take the Buckeye State, whose political system was once relatively balanced in Dem-GOP terms, and turn it jungle red.

These days, of course, achieving full status in the political pundit, talk-show world requires a hard-hitting, tough-talkin’ book. Earlier this year, Parsley had such a book published — “Silent No More: Bringing Moral Clarity to America … while Freedom Still Rings.”

In it, Parsley has a lot to whine about. At one point, complaining about Hollywood’s vulgar values, he tells readers that there used to be something called the Hays Code, a voluntary code initiated in 1930 to ensure that immoral films didn’t make it to moviehouses. Over time, the Code was largely disregarded by movie producers.

Parsley shares several excerpts of the Hays Code and presents them as common-sense standards that would work well today if only Hollywood obeyed them. But when I reviewed a full transcript of the Hays Code, what I found was a far lengthier document than the mere excerpts that Parsley cited. The Code not only forbade all of the things that Parsley mentioned, but it also declared, for example:
The use of liquor in American life, when not required by the plot or for proper characterization, will not be shown.
and, my personal favorite:
Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden.
Perhaps Parsley didn’t include the latter item because he didn’t want his readers to consider that when you place movies, art and other forms of expression in the hands of the Morals Police, they often draw the lines in some incredibly cruel, repressive and bigoted ways.

In this same chapter of his book, Parsley cited a long list of acclaimed U.S. movies that he said complied with the Hays Code standards. He wondered why Hollywood couldn’t simply abide by the tenets of this Code. But Parsley didn’t mention the following successful films — many of them nominated for Oscars — that never would have reached the screen in their present form if the Code had remained in force:
Gone With the Wind (1939) – Rhett Butler’s famous parting line (“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”) definitely violates the Code’s rule: “Obscenity in word, gesture, reference, song, joke, or by suggestion … is forbidden.”

From Here to Eternity (1953) – The passionate, horizontal, lip-lock embrace on the beach by Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr clearly runs afoul of the Code’s rule that seduction “should never be more than suggested … (and) never (be) shown by explicit method.”

Footloose (1984) – John Lithgow played the minister who fought efforts to allow a prom dance in his backward small-town community. Such a portrayal violates the Code: “No film or episode may throw ridicule on any religious faith.”

Out of Africa (1985) – This film is based on the book about Karen Blixen (played by Meryl Streep) who lived in Africa, adored the landscape but not her philandering husband, from whom she contracted syphilis. But the Code said such storylines are an absolute no-no: “Sex hygiene and venereal diseases are not subjects for motion pictures.”

Philadelphia (1993) – The Code’s declaration that “[s]ex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden” definitely disallows gay characters or relationships.

Longtime Companion (1990) – ditto.

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