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Censorship: Television and Film Decency for the 21st Century

spiritual warfare Apr 25, 2022

Do you ever wonder why we see the things we see on television… talk about adding to the degradation of society. Satan is out to destroy the American family, our freedom, and our faith. For me, it has never been more obvious than it is now. The easiest way for evil to enter our household is through our screens (television, laptops, cellphones, and gaming devices). Through these portals, he has access to every person, and knowing their weaknesses, he pounces ready to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10).


The first film to receive a copyright was created by Thomas Edison in 1894. It was called The Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (also known as Fred Ott’s Sneeze). Edison sponsored the second film directed by William Dickson titled, Carmencita. This film showed a female Spanish dancer twirling. It was not allowed to be shown in some places because when she twirled, her legs and underpants could be seen.


The first documentary and feature film was the Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight of 1897. It was filmed on 11,000 feet of film in Carson City, Nevada. This was the only state where prizefighting was legal. The 111-minute film was shown in ten cities across the United States. Seven of those states actually deemed the film illegal and imposed fines for those showing the film.


In 1907, Chicago hosted 115 nickelodeons, also known as 5-cent movie theaters which resulted in the establishment of an official censorship party. The Chief of Police had the power to issue (or not issue) permits for movies that met his standard.


In 1909, the Mayor of New York shut down 660 theaters because the films were considered “reprehensible.” This led to the creation of the National Board of Censorship.


In 1915, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Mutual Film Corporation vs. Ohio Industrial Commission. Chief Justice Edward White explained, “the exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit like other spectacles, and not to be regarded as part of the press of the country or as organs of public opinion within the meaning of freedom of speech and publication." This gave permission for an organization or a person to say a movie is allowed or not allowed based on some type of standard.


In 1922, the creation of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) employed William Hays, who made lists of things filmmakers should not do or should be careful with. His lists included men and women in bed together, methods of smuggling, ridicule of clergy, trafficking of illegal drugs, and white slavery. These efforts led to the Hays Code, also known as the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. This work gained leverage once the MPPDA collaborated with the National Legion of Decency. Originally known as the National Legion of Decency, the film rating system was started in 1934 by the Catholic church. Their goal was to identify objectionable content in motion pictures.


In 1965, the organization was renamed the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures. Their ratings started as C for condemned, B for partly objectionable, and evolved to O for morally offensive. In 1980, the organization closed up shop after providing ratings for 16,251 feature films.


You may have noticed that movie ratings today are not as enforced as they were in decades past. For example, Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957. He was filmed from the waist up because of his hip-shaking and gyrations. In general, censorship of previous generations was to uphold some sense of moral decency in the United States. In fact, the rule was that “no picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it.”


For the past ten years, there seems to be a lack of any sort of guidelines or code of conduct for television, commercials, or movies. Plugged In is one resource for families to check out as this ministry from Focus on the Family is guided by Colossians 2:8, which states:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.


Their ministry reviews movies, music, games, books, and YouTube channels. For example, my 13-year old son is currently playing Rocket League. This is one of the games Plugged In says is family-friendly. As a mom, this resource helps me to know if I can allow my children and grandchildren to spend time with certain games or television shows.


We must take responsibility to protect both ourselves and our families from evil. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” James 4:7 reminds us to “submit ourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” It is time to be vigilant. We must take action to safeguard our household. Comment below with tips on how you are taking action to reduce exposure to spiritual warfare.

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