Although I believe censorship is a potential danger to the First Amendment's protection of free speech, I find myself wistful for the bad old days of the Motion Picture Production Code of the 1930s and 1940s.
The Code was in response to Catholic groups that formed the Legion of Decency in 1933 because of movies like "Cleopatra" in which Claudette Colbert sat naked in a tub, "The Vamp" with half-dressed seductress Theda Bara, Mae West's blatant personification of sex in "She Done Him Wrong," and others.
Headed by Joseph Breen (1888-1965) the Code required that all films released after July 1, 1934 be subjected to the prohibition of:
Profanity, including the words, God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, hell, damn
Sex between the white and black races
Ridicule of the clergy
The use of firearms
A woman selling her virtue
Rape or attempted rape
A man and woman in bed together
Sympathy for criminals
Technique of committing murder by whatever method
Theft, robbery, safe-cracking
Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishment for crime
You would think that all that censorship would cripple films, but it turns out that the opposite was true. Without being able to use sex to titillate and shock, writers, directors and producers were forced to be inventive, resulting in a renascence of imagination, creativity and quality in films and in matters of sex. In "Gone With The Wind," Clark Gable carried Vivian Leigh up the stairs and Leigh was seen the next morning in bed smiling in obvious post-coitus pleasure. Imagining her hoop and layers of petticoats and pantaloons and skirts coming off one by one, the scene is sexier than today's graphic intercourse. "It Happened One Night" showed Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in separate beds with a blanket hanging between them. With witty dialogue their only connection, the scene couldn't have been sexier. In one of the greatest love stories on film, "Wuthering Heights," Merle Oberon and Lawrence Olivier kept their clothes on all the way to the end with Kathy's heartbreaking death, Heathcliff at her side.
But, in spite of that success, over the years Hollywood has managed to chip away at the Code until we have come full circle to the uncensored pre-Code time. There's the smarmy sexualization of "family" sitcoms and the suggestive advertising using sex to sell. The fact is, the once-shocking Playboy magazine is now almost mainstream.
Soft- and hard-core porn blanket the internet, available with a click to dangerous sexual predators, children, and untold numbers of men like Anthony Weiner whose repressed erotic fantasies find sick expression online, destroying careers, reputations and families.
It's as if the culture of Walt Disney, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Caroline Astor has become tacky. Four-letter words have lost their power, commonplace even to 8-year-olds on the playground. We communicate in texting language that is not language. Lives are on public display as social media provides anonymity and opportunity to those seduced into becoming exhibitionists. Creating an internet persona may offer temporary respite from life's vicissitudes, but the real world waits in the wings where we can connect with actual voices, bodies and friends and remember what it is like to be human.