Record #316

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EDITORIAL COMMENT: Running through this is a clear class argument - that ""the average person"" is not represented by the membership of the court, who, like ""the highly educated minority, .. might find little taste for the type of entertainment which the less educated majority seek, and which, indeed, is the only entertainment within the range of their pocketbooks and, furthermore, the only kind they would appreciate.""(12) - which locates where this argument is taking place quite well. - argues that juries have consistently disagreed with Censor Board's application of ""immoral"" or ""obscene"" - and the claim of censors to be experts denies them the possibility of judging what ""the average person"" can see. Arguments against ""Legislation of a sumptuary character,"" which are widely resented and difficult to enforce - and further attacks on the FMPC. (19) Argument about the picture, which shows a scene in which the heroine is abducted to a road house and, presumably, raped - this is not shown but inferred. ""Everything is left to the conclusions of the spectator."" ""Assume then that the foregoing is susceptible of the suggestion that the one who entered the room had mistreated the girl while he was there. Does that make the picture immoral? Would that be any different from telling in narrative that the girl was mistreated by that man?"" (21) ""Concede that it would be immoral for a newspaper to print the sordid details by which the crime of rape was actually executed and consummated, it is clearly not immoral to use the term 'rape' or to state that such was committed, and yet the picture in question, positively does no more than to relate that this girl was mistreated."" (22) In any event, the narrative provides an instance in which good triumphs over evil - so the argument about the role of narrative is here asserted, along with the argument about the active spectator. There is, then, in this brief, a conjoining of several strains of our argument: it presents a class-oriented distinction between middle-class reformers arguing that incident/spectacle is damaging to the passive spectator, while Vitagraph are arguing that the less educated spectator is an active consumer of narrative, from which moral values are derived. It would be useful to know the outcome of this case - March 1927 - and also to be able to identify the film, which is set in pre-Revolutionary Russia. There's a 1928 case in De Grazia and Newman which suggests that these arguments probably weren't accepted by the Illinois Supreme Court.

This brief and argument of Vitagraph, which has been denied a permit to show a controversial film, musters all the resources of the anti-censorship argument.


Censorship (112) Show all keywords…


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Court hearings -- the Illinois ? Supreme Court decision in Block vs. City of Chicago determined that "The average person of ordinary intelligence knows the meaning of the words 'immoral' and 'obscene' and can intelligently apply the test to any picture presented to him, and that those words are their own definition." ... "to try to define further what concept that is, is to destroy the value of the concept itself." The Court has made inadmissible expert evidence as to what the average person is supposed to know. There is, in here, a wonderfully tangled web around the phenomenon of language -- the application of a law based on the presupposition that the word it enforces cannot be defined but is simply 'known'.Vitagraph's argument: "Theories of social welfare workers and students, are therefore, quite aside form the question here. Such theories are concerned with improving conditions are they are. To invest such theories with legislative backing, is to force upon the people the ideas of a few. Such practice is known as the paternalistic theory of government and is the type which identifies the governments of continental Europe and is often held up as the distinction between our government which does not follow the theory, and those governments which do. Indeed it is the basis of the oligarchical form of government by which the wealthy and highly educated minority enforce their notions and government upon the poorer and less highly educated majority. One finds many advocates of that form of government here, particularly among those of the rich who seek avenues for social and political activities among the unwelcoming masses, and it is safe to say, such would find ready sponsorship among the very many persons who are prominently active in seeking the uplift of the movies, but who seek to accomplish that by the arm of the law rather than by exemplary teaching and education." (p11)

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