Hollywood's Role: Public Discourse

Figure 1.--

The question of Hollywood's role> in poltical debate is a very difficult one. The American approach has been primarily to grant film makers the same rights as jourmalists. Here wehave two issues to consider. One is the role of film nakers in normal times. The other is the role of film makers in national emergencies.

Early Films

Early films had no real political content. The first film two films that I know of with political content were D.W. Grifith's "Making of a Nation" amd "Intolerance".

World War I

Nye Investigation of Hollywood

Isolationist Senator Gerald Nye attacked Hollywood. He accused Hollywood of becoming "the most gigantic engines of propaganda in existence to rouse the war fever in America and plunge this Nation to her destruction". He persued a [rove of Hollywood seeking to epose a pro-war bias. Now it is true that Hollywood strongly favored Britain, but "gigantic engines of propaganda" compared to NAZI propaganda seems a bit of an over statement. And of course not having Britain as an ally would have done a great deal to "plunge this Nation to her destruction". For effect Nye intoned that the movies were "not revealing the sons of mothers writhing in agony in trench, in mud, on barbed wire, amid scenes of battle or sons of mothers living legless, or lungless, or brainless, or sightless in hospitals." Nothing resulted from the Nye investigation. He was forced to admit that he had never viewed the films which he labeled as "war propaganda." Hollywood miggt be also accused of not agressively enough confronting Fascism. The films Nye listed were B films, not major productions.

Socialist Reality

The arts in the early Soviet Union were largely free. No obvious political criticism was tolerated, but artidts, writers, and musicians were free to express themselves. This change with Stalin and the application od Socialist Reality. This of course had nothing to do with reality. The principle of Socialist Reality was that artists, film makers, writers, and others should produce works that promoted the Party Line, what ever it might be at the time.

World War II

President Roosevelt established the Office of War information (June 1942). The Bureau of Motion Pictures set up film guidelines. There were deven factors to be considered. Two of them were: 1) Will it help the war effort? 2) Does it speak the truth?

Press Freedom

Even during World War II there was press freedom. The press was free to criticise the conduct of the War. The vociferous criticism by the isolationists stopped immediately after Pearl Harbor. There was no debate as to whether the War was needed. It was obvious to most Americans that the War was necessary. I am not sure what would have happened if the War had gone wring.

Movies and Press Freedom

Movie makers tend to believe that they should have the same freedom of expression as accorded to the press. This is largely the case. Butvthere are differences between the press and movies. Journalists have and obligation to speak the truth. Now of course not all journalists fo so. But if in the coirse of debate they are found to be inaccurate or misleading, their reputation as journalists suffered. Movie makers seem to feel no real obligation to tell the truth. Movie makers commonly make changes, often saying that it is needed for dramatic affect. But others simply like novel writers seek to make political and social statements. And for many Americams, the movies and television is one of their primary sources of information on history.


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Created: 4:13 AM 11/27/2006
Last updated: 4:13 AM 11/27/2006