Where Are My Children?

High Fidelity

“The subject of abortion shall be discouraged, shall never be more than suggested, and when referred to shall be condemned. It must never be treated lightly, or made the subject of comedy. Abortion shall never be shown explicitly or by inference, and a story must not indicate that an abortion has been performed, the word “abortion” shall not be used.” No, that’s not an excerpt from Texas State Senate Bill 1. That’s a December 1956 amendment to the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC), the Hollywood studio system’s internal playbook for strictly regulating content until 1966. The amendment was a clarification of, and addition to, a prior amendment from March 1951 which was a bit more direct and concise in its stance about representing abortion in the movies: “Abortion, sex hygiene and venereal diseases are not proper subjects for theatrical motion pictures.” I find this older quote more interesting, for it not only tells us about what moral gatekeepers thought of the subject of abortion, but also betrays the MPPC’s perspective of the limited utility of movies as a whole: as both a means for light escapism and affirmative moral pedagogy, but not a forum for discussing serious (or, rather actual) issues and situations. The history of abortion in American movies is, not surprisingly, largely a history of absence. But what is perhaps a bit surprising is how little American movies have referenced abortion since the quoted amendments descended into obsolescence. This despite the fact that the ratings system, New Hollywood, and […]

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