Archive for February, 2011


Since the beginnings of film production the extent of censorship on motion pictures has been debated. For a large period of the film industry’s history many state courts did not grant the freedom of speech to films. Censorship boards in multiple states had the authority to chop up movies multiple times or ban them altogether if they believed a movie was not morally fit to be viewed by the public. An important case that clearly outlines the courts’ early reasons for not granting the film industry such rights was Mutual Film Corporation v. Ohio Industrial Commission in 1915, the result of which was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that state censorship of motion pictures was constitutional. To understand the Supreme Court’s decision, it is important to note the reasons for Mutual Film Corporation to bring the case against the commission.

Mutual sought to restrain the enforcement of an act of the general assembly of Ohio, which was passed in 1913. The act created a board to censor movies that was overseen by the Industrial Commission. Mutual saw three major problems with the law. First, the statue imposed an unlawful burden on interstate commerce; second, the law violated the freedom of speech outlined by the First and Fourteenth Amendment as well as an article in the state Constitution of Ohio; third, the law attempted to delegate legislative power to censors and other boards to determine the application of the law without fixing a standard by which the board would be guided in its decisions.

The Supreme courts disagreed with these contentions. The commerce argument was struck down because the court determined that before the movies can be viewed they must be seen by a board and censored; they might come from another state, but there must be some point when the films are subject to the laws of the state that they entered. Basically, if it is consumed the state has control over what channels it has to go through. In addition, the courts saw no harm in one more exchange of hands before movies reached theaters.

The statue stated, films of a “moral, educational, or amusing and harmless character shall be passed and approved,” and the courts determined while some films may seem to fit this criteria they could still be used for evil and have detrimental effects on the gatherings of people that viewed them. The court argued that while the content of films may seem harmless, they have the power to entice undesirable acts, such as sexual activity. The court immediately felt the argument of extending free speech to films was wrong because, they said, the judicial sense supported the common sense of the country, and listed a plethora of previous cases where censorship of films was upheld by courts. This argument continued on stating that the film industry is one conducted for profit. Thus, the courts concluded that films are definitely not an organ of public opinion, and the attractiveness of movies can create immoral exhibitions.

The objection to the last contention—that there are no concrete standards for censorship—was that the law itself furnishes no standard of what is educational, moral, amusing or harmless, and hence leaves the decision to arbitrary judgment. The judgments passed by the board “gets precision from the sense and experience of men.”

The obstruction of commerce argument is not that strong. Films did take more time to reach audiences due to the fact that they had to be reviewed and cut up multiple times before they went to theaters, but whether the law put a burden on companies ability to make stable profits is questionable. I believe Mutual knew this was their weakest argument. The argument by itself is logical, but they most likely knew it would be easily struck down, and that’s why it was their first contention.

Warning: Causes Immoral Acts

American society has largely changed since the ruling of Mutual Film Corporation v. Ohio Industrial Commission. The courts based their decision on the movies ability to encourage certain frowned upon acts of the time. Many of these values came from Christianity. I strongly believe in the separation of church and state, so what is depicted in movies should have this separation from religion as well. I have also never been one for censorship, whether in the press or in music. It hampers creativity, which is one of the worse affects on society possible, at least in my mind. As our society’s openness expanded the powerful religious groups and other concerned authorities that pushed for films to be censored lost power. Films, however, are no longer educational unless they are documentaries. They are also not regarded as a form of press. I can see how people may have wanted such censorship in the past, but I do not agree with it.

The court’s argument against the last of Mutual’s contentions goes no farther than to simply say the procedures under which the boards acted were fitting for the statue. The experience of men was surely different from state to state, but certain religious values were spread equally no matter what region of the country a film might be in. Thus, censorship of films was probably similar in multiple states. It would have made more sense to define what the boards should look for, but I can see why the courts left the details out: it gave more power to the censorship board.
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A role of film

The role of film in our country’s society has been substantial since its conception, but whether films have as much impact or meaning as they once did is debatable. The film industry is enormous. It employs writers, artists, gaffers, musicians, actors, special effects technicians… The list goes on. It also creates media in other communications fields, such as magazines exposing the exploits of Hollywood’s finest to television shows where cameramen are paid to stalk actors at restaurants and airports. I feel the obsession Americans have with movie stars is unhealthy. I would much rather live in a society where people hold H.G. Wells and Ernest Hemmingway in higher regard than George Clooney, but I digress.

Freedom of speech remains the reason why people around the world consider America and other Western societies leaders in human rights. I would feel trapped if I were unable to voice my opinions openly from time to time. With numerous films revolving around controversial issues this freedom is imperative. Freedom of speech allows the presentation of characters from all walks of life. For example, movies allow people to watch poverty stricken individuals carry out acts most would consider atrocious, but through circumstance deeper meaning can be given; films such as “City of God” and “Gladiator” come to mind. Films can teach audiences about significant historical events as well. However, turning the Watergate trials or the Vietnam War into a moneymaking venture is a mistake in my mind.

The 1952 reversal of Burstyn v. Wilson stays in my thoughts. If expression was hindered in films they would not have the influence they have obtained over the decades.  It took a substantial action by the courts to grant these guarantees to movies, as ideas can be expressed more freely through visuals allowing moviegoers to emote and relate.

Movie censorship is closely related to print censorship: powerful religious organizations, such as the League of Decency, sought to rid the country of what they considered improper. This had happened with the press shortly before the emergence of film, and it had been happening with literature for thousands of years. As society expanded and different ideas that broke Christian fundamentalist’s aims gained precedent, however, the artistic merit of movies began to matter more than censorship. I have never been one for censorship, and I am glad movies are protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Population hyper growth is a main factor in the depletion of the resources our society relies so heavily upon. Drawing on Malthus, the author agrees with the clergyman that unconstrained human population will grow exponentially while food supplies will grow only arithmetically. Therefore, the population is now faced with strict and inevitable natural limits. Further examined is how the oil age created an artificial bubble of plentitude for about one hundred years, which is not much longer than a human life. Thus, Kunstler asserts, “As oil ceases to be cheap and the world reserves arc toward depletion, we will indeed suddenly be left with an enormous surplus population that the ecology of the earth will not support.”

Overuse of fossil fuels by this enormous surplus population has created environmental devastation. As a result, numerous species are becoming extinct. Kunstler uses statistics to support this stance. For example, each year 3,000 to 30,000 species become extinct, an all-time high for the last 65 million years.

Another by-product caused by our nation’s overconsumption is global warming. Global warming increases the risk of flooding for tens of millions of people. Climate change caused by global warming could aggravate water scarcity. According to Kunstler, it will increase the number of people exposed vector-borne disease, and it will obviate the triumphs of the green revolution and bring on famines. Lastly and possibly most startling of his claims, it will prompt movements of people fleeing devastated and used up lands and provoke armed conflicts over places that are still surviving off subsistence. Kunstler is sure to mention the important fact that global warming is no longer a theory being disputed by political interests, but an established scientific consensus. Important institutions that agree on the dangers of global warming include the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The cheap oil age, Kunstler argues, created miraculous defenses against age-old scourges of disease. Medicines such as penicillin, sulfa drugs, and their descendents briefly gave the notion that diseases caused by microorganisms could be systematically vanquished. The notion, however, was short-lived as new drug-resistant strains of old diseases are now back in full force. He interestingly states, “In response to unprecedented habitat destruction by humans, and the invasion of the wilderness, the earth itself seems to be sending fourth new and much more lethal diseases.” In his mind a major growing menace is AIDS. Wealthy nations have created the illusion that it is a manageable chronic illness, but its cases are doubling every two years around the world. This fits with Kunstler’s notion of the long emergency because a disease epidemic could paralyze social and economic systems, interrupt global trade, and bring down governments.

The last component of Kunstler’s argument I will elaborate on is his views of complex derivatives. In terms of economics, a derivative obtains its value from an underlying variable asset. He essentially outlined that the commodities countries trade are being based on abstract vehicles of investment. Rather than expanding enterprises in return for earnings or dividends these speculative trades carried out by corporations at such huge increments are undermining national currencies and economies. Under globalism the profits of a generation of speculators will be converted into costs passed along to future generations. The costs come in the form of lost jobs, squandered equity, and reduced living standards.

For the majority of Kunstler’s points I find myself in agreement. We face a harsh reality in the future, a “long emergency,” which many American citizens have yet to notice. As oil becomes a scarce commodity only the wealthy can afford, what will the middle class of suburbia do to combat these changes? Certainly, they will have to adapt or fail trying. Whether or not the crisis will actually delegitimize our national government, however, is questionable in my mind. Many Americans, in fact, like helping others. As a result, it seems unlikely to me that the nation will break up into autonomous regions who depend upon their own production to survive.

Sometimes, dreams do come true. The dream of ingenuity fixing the major problems facing the globe—global warming and overconsumption of oil—will not triumph. The “Jiminy Cricket Syndrome” is likely caused in large part by the media. Americans in particular are watching more TV than ever. According to Nielsen Co.’s “Three Screen Report,” referring to televisions, computers, and cell phones, the average American now watches more than 151 hours of TV a month. That’s about five hours a day and an all-time high, up 3.6 percent from the 145 or so hours Americans reportedly watched in the last year. The commercials people tend to watch are those depicting innovations in vehicles, in medicine, and in technology. If these astonishing consumer products continue to pop up it should be possible to create technologies that can fix our most urgent of problems. The reality, however, is that while technologies currently being developed may postpone the long emergency they cannot prevent it from happening all together. I would also argue that the dreams of many Americans do not involve fixing the planet’s persisting problems. Rather, they are dreaming of their ideal homes, sports cars, and flat screen TVs. All of these add to the American trend of overconsumption.
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The bleak and dismal future proposed by Kunstler in The Long Emergency, in my mind, is not that hard to believe. He paints a picture of a future-dystopian American landscape quite well by discussing everything from microorganisms to globalism. In addition, he draws from great minds of the past, such as the English country clergyman Thomas Robert Malthus and the discoverer of penicillin Alexander Fleming, to support his stances, which in the minds of some are radical. I do believe most of Kunstler’s claims hold some merit, but I am not quite sold on the impact of the situation he examines. I would like to see him elaborate on a number of the claims made in the first chapter to be further convinced. He writes of the dismal future proposed in the book as if it is approaching society at the speed of a meteor hurling toward earth. The book was written in 2005, and while I do believe the ails of earth and the humans who inhabit it have become more apparent over the last five and a half years, the problems discussed remain illusive to a large number of the American population. I suspect it will remain this way for a number of years to come despite ongoing ecological catastrophes.

Central to Kunstler’s argument and the entire book is what he refers to as “the long emergency.” He claims in the opening pages of the book, quite accurately I believe, that the current American way of life, which is virtually synonymous with suburbia, can run only on reliable supplies of dependably cheap oil and gas.

Oil and gas is utilized to power nearly everything the American public uses. Also, it is used for producing and manufacturing the majority of products our society uses. It is through this usage of copious amounts of fossil fuels that the author asserts that the world, America in particular, is living much past the point of global sustainability.

He states, “We can be certain that the price and supplies of fossil fuels will suffer oscillations and disruptions in the period ahead.” The period ahead Kunstler is referring to is the long emergency. As a result, daily life will be restructured around authentic local communities based on balanced locale economies, purposeful activity and the culture of ideas consistent with reality.

While Kunstler states it is imperative for citizens to imagine a hopeful future to make any of this possible, he is sure to note that the claims in the book are more about what is likely to happen, and not what he hopes or wish will happen. In fact, he believes that in the decades to come the national government will prove to be so impotent and ineffective in managing the dire circumstances the nation faces that the U.S. may not survive as a nation state, and that it could transform into a set of autonomous regions. He does not welcome such an outcome, but he finds it plausible.

The “Jiminy Cricket Syndrome” further perpetuates many social problems. The wonders of technological progress under oil’s many uses have tricked us into a false mentality. The syndrome has led a large number of Americans to believe that anything we dream up will someday be possible. The wishful thinking that comes along with such thought can only hurt our society in the long run by further pushing aside emerging problems. Kunstler points out that while replacements, such as hydrogen and solar power, may relieve some of our overconsumption of oil the transition will not be so smooth. New technologies take decades to develop. Innovative technologies have emerged over the last few years, but figuring out how to utilize them in a sufficient manner is a hurdle that needs to be overcome as well.

In the author’s mind, the long emergency will become apparent to us once it has already been in progress for some time, and we will then be forced to deal with it.

The reason more people aren’t acting now is that there are “wildly differing” opinions about our energy future. The first group Kunstler refers to is the “cornucopians.” The faction asserts that humankind’s demonstrated technical ingenuity will overcome the facts of geology. Some even believe that oil is not fossilized, liquefied organic matter but rather a natural occurring mineral substance that exists in endless abundance at the earth’s deep interior. It is easy to see why many Americans feel this way. We have advanced rapidly over the last century, so what’s stopping us from advancing beyond these problems using new technologies? In this way, much of the public has trouble entertaining the thought that new technologies will not be developed in time, or at all.

The “die-off” crowd embodies the other side of the argument. They believe that the carrying capacity of the globe has already exceeded peak sustainability, and that we have entered an age that will lead to nothing less than the end the human race. Unlike the cornucopians, the die-off crowd has no faith in the ingenuity of man to overcome the problems of the future. To them, the end of oil is the end of everything. Economics will begin to break down with the decline of renewable resources and nothing will be able to reverse it. Believing that we face an unparalleled period of difficulty in the twenty-first century, Kunstler places himself somewhat between the two factions of thought. To him the pattern of human existence cycles through success and failure. He asserts that humans should be able to carry on, but some dark times lie ahead.

To Be Continued…

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