Moral Nostalgia and the Movies
This post was inspired by A teenager speaks on new movie standards.
In her recent discussion of the current state of movies, and particularly award winning movies, Camila B. states that she is concerned about “movies throughout the decades and the negative changes that I have noticed.” She then goes on to lament that “the corruption viewed daily by millions of people is disgusting.”
The remainder of her post is pure nostalgia for the “good old days” when “movies portrayed beautiful messages, filled with great acting and baroque orchestral pieces that penetrated deep in to your core. These movies brought laughter with wit and romance with subtlety; they brought morality. It saddens me that we have lost that throughout the years.”
She closes with “My only request is to come out of a movie theater without feeling awkward, confused, and dirty. I would love to feel refreshed and glad to have watched something that has inspired me for once. For now, Ill just stick to the movies of previous decades until something new comes along.”
After reading her post, I am left to wonder, 1) should I really believe the word of a teenager about what was or wasn’t true in the world of movies and entertainment “throughout the decades,”, 2) is moral nostalgia part of human nature, or is it more a function of social and religious conservatism, 3) really, no uplifting movies in the past 5-6 years of her short life, and 4) what is about the movies that gets Mormons all tied up in knots?
What is moral nostalgia? It’s simply the view that life and society was more moral in the past than it is today. Unfortunately, moral nostalgia simply isn’t true. It’s not true of society in generally, and it’s certainly not true when applied to Hollywood.
Movies have always pushed the boundaries of what is socially acceptable even the 40s and 50s, those days of social conservatism that so many Mormons wish they were still living in.
Consider the following list of movies, all of which were nominated for best picture in the 40s and 50s (winners in bold, controversial themes in parentheses):
All About Eve, A Streetcar Named Desire (homosexuality, nymphomania, and rape), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (homosexuality, frank sexual dialogue),The Apartment (adultery, suicide), A Place in the Sun (murder, using sex to advance ones social standing),From Here to Eternity (beach sex scene), Anatomy of a Murder (rape/murder).
All of these movies were controversial to some degree or other, because of content that was felt to be outside of social norms. Yet, today they are considered fairly mild, even by Mormon standards. In 1939 censors even pushed to change the line, Frankly my dear, I dont give a damn. Yet, Camila and other Mormons forget this, because the movies appeal to their sense of what is moral, at this time.
A few years ago there was a great discussion here about the nature of sex and violence in the movies (Rated R ‘just for violence”). And just this week a discussion about the use of F-word in The King’s Speech at Wheat and Tares (The Kings F#!$@ Speech). While these discussions don’t rely upon moral nostalgia to make any points, they do reflect the importance of movies in society. As well as the importance of choosing the movies we, and our children, subject ourselves to. They simply reflect how movies affect us in the here and now.
That’s the beauty of movies (and other art); no matter when they were created, they can have an effect upon our present. And that’s what’s wrong with moral nostalgia and the movies, we project our current morals and standards on movies of bygone eras and say, “Look! These movies are uplifting and contain nothing objectionable. Why can’t they make movies like that anymore?” But we forget that morals and standards have changed, and that in 50 years people will look back at The Black Swan and say, “They don’t make movies like they used to, do they?”
(n.b. Kuri, a frequent commenter here, posts his own rebuttal of Camila B. as well.)