Veritable Copying Machines

Why were social, political, and cultural elites anxious about cinema?13 Clearly there exists a longer history of elite concern about the effects of culture, stretching back at least to Plato's call for the banning of poets from the perfect state. A struggle over culture and cultural space is, indeed, virtually a defining feature of democratic societies, which almost inevitably involve a complex negotiation between public authority and the dissemination of facts, ideas, and representations in public. Ever since the commercialization of leisure in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, elite groups have increasingly expressed concerns about the effects of "cheap amusements" on the maintenance of public authority and have accordingly developed mechanisms for regulating culture. Critical negotiations over the disposition of cultural objects and spaces gathered pace in the United States, in particular, with the rise of popular fictions, drama, and journalism in the 1850s.14 The center of attention extended in the late nineteenth century to vaudeville, burlesque, dance halls, popular sports (for example, prizefighting), lotteries, and the dissemination of "obscene" or "indecent" material— including "literature"—in the mail.15 Moving pictures and nickelodeons emerged in the context of an ongoing process of cultural contestation.

Even so, the regulatory response to the proliferation of nickelodeons from 1905 onward was tied to precise historical contexts and evidenced a clear intensification and refocusing of concerns, so much so that moving pictures became the only medium of communication subject to systematic legal prior restraint in the United States. Let me suggest three principal reasons for this intensification of regulatory concern: (1) nickelodeons established cinema as effectively the first form of mass entertainment and culture for an emerging mass public, attracting audiences, particularly lower-class immigrant groups and women, because of the low cost of admission;16 (2) experiences at moving pictures in nickelodeons were regarded as particularly dangerous, principally because of the realism of moving pictures, because images were seen to be linked closely to imitative responses from "suggestible" audiences and because the ill-lit space of the nickelodeon provided what the Juvenile Protective Association of Chicago described as "a cover for familiarity and sometimes even for immorality";17 (3) new audiences, experiences, and spaces emerged in the context of the wider intensification of reform and state concerns about moral, social, and political stability that historians have characterized as a "search for order" in the face of the forces of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration around the turn of the century.18 A sense of social dislocation and disorder pervaded the period, these historians suggest, linked to widening class divisions and the creation of a large industrial proletariat in the context of capitalist modernity, to profound transformations in the topography of public and private spheres, to migratory or immigratory movement as a consequence of increased geographic mobility, and to a widespread belief that traditional forms of "social control," such as the family, church, and community, had lost their grip. Looked at in this way, the heightened anxieties about both the new "troublesome" mass public audience associated in particular with cinema and the experiences and social interactions contained there were enmeshed with a broader contested regulatory space. Cinema thus became one element— although at times a privileged one—among other regulatory issues subject to increasingly intense public discussions and governmental interventions on the cusp of modernity.

Looked at closely, a series of distinct but overlapping regulatory contexts were evident in the Tribune's fairly typical crusade. Immediately apparent was the focus on the child audience, visible in other reports and investigations into moving pictures and nickelodeons in the period and to discussions of the effects they were having on the "impressionable minds" and "moral codes" of children and on the "degradation" of the "tone of future citizenship."19 Here anxieties about child audiences were informed by broader discourses about childhood and child development circulating in the period. On the one hand, an anxiety about the effects of cinema on children was linked to a growing sense of the innocence of children, to what sociologist Viviana A. Zelizer has termed "the sacralization of childhood," principally among the middle class in this period, through which children were invested with sentimental, as opposed to economic, value in a process that, in turn, positioned them as innocent and vulnerable.20 On the other hand, the discursive positioning of children as citizens-in-formation, or as tabulae rasae for the imprinting of values, behaviors, and ideals of what the Tribune called "good citizenship," led to intense anxieties about the socialization of children and the sustainability of social order. Labeled by psychologist James Mark Baldwin "veritable copying machines," children were here positioned at the confluence of the intense anxieties about socialization and citizenship that were pervasive in the turn-of-the-century period.21 The so-called child-saving movement was formed in this context. Hence, the creation of a Children's Bureau by the federal government in 1912 and the rise of municipal playgrounds, public schools, and national organizations such as the Boy Scouts (1910) and Girl Scouts (1912) reflected a sense both of sacralization and of the need to manage the socialization of young people.22

Very closely linked to the necessity of managing socialization and citizenship was the intensification of discourses about "juvenile delinquency" in the late nineteenth century. The creation of special judicial and correctional institutions, such as juvenile courts, for the labeling, processing, and management of "troublesome" youth around the turn of the century brought attention to—and in doing so helped "invent"—new categories of youthful misbehavior that reflected anxieties about social order.23 Part of the concern that fed into the establishment of juvenile courts, which emerged in the United States in Chicago in 1899, was about the development of a criminal underclass. The superintendent of the Illinois Reform School, for example, reasoned that since it was the aim of the criminal class "to undermine the confidence of the community and to weaken the strength of the Commonwealth," crime could be reduced by "stopping production" of criminals and regulating the upbringing of children who had criminal propensities.24 Such propensities were frequently found, commentators suggested, among lower-class immigrant groups. "[I]t is not at all unlikely," one penologist wrote, "that juvenile delinquency of the most serious kind in the United States is in some measure to be set down to the boundless hospitality of her shores."25 Late-nineteenth-century social scientists and cultural commentators regarded juvenile delinquency as a failure of adequate "socialization" and cast the delinquent in a synecdochic relationship to a population that threatened various forms of disorder, linking delinquency to a complex articulation of discourses on youth, class, ethnicity, gender, urban unrest, and modernity.

Located in this context, moving pictures and nickelodeons were frequently linked to anxieties about delinquency, widely seen as both causing delinquency and as antisocial spaces providing "hang-out places for delinquent boys and girls."26 A common trope here was the characterization of cinema as "a school for crime" or as a "training school of mischief, mockery, lawbreaking and crime," especially troubling to elite groups because of the great weight placed on public schools as molders of "good citizenship" and national identity (see figure 1).27 Investigations by the Juvenile Court Committee in Chicago in 1907 and the Juvenile Protective Association of Chicago in 1909 and 1911 confirmed the links between cinema and juvenile delinquency, as did the countless case studies of what psychologist William Healy called in his 1915 book, The Individual Delinquent, the "strength of the powers of visualization" in producing delinquency.28 Over and over again nickelodeons and moving pictures were seen as "an insidious breeding ground for a debauched citizenry" and were positioned as sites of danger within the social body in conjunction with the wider concerns


Figure i. "Young America and the Moving-Picture Show." Puck, 9 November 1910. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographic Division.

about the governance of a mass public in early-twentieth-century America that underpinned the rhetoric on delinquency.29

Class conflict suffused the period, linked by historians to broad conditions of industrialization and capitalist modernity, cycles of economic depression, labor, socialist and radical organization and activism, and definitional concerns about a "collar line" widening with distinctions between physical and nonphysical work.30 Laborers and their kids watching movies of burglary, of violence against police authority, and of strike action in the potentially autonomous and oppositional public sphere of the nickelodeon was clearly regarded as troublesome by middle-class elites—a situation only exacerbated by the perception that those laborers were also apparently "foreign."31 Investigations of nickelodeons in urban centers commonly focused on those located in working-class and immigrant neighborhoods such as the Bowery and Park Row in New York City or Milwaukee and South Halstead in Chicago, and there was a widespread sense that audiences were predominantly immigrant, that exhibitors and later producers were also drawn from immigrant groups, and that the moving pictures shown were also primarily foreign.32 Conceptions of cinema as in some respect foreign or un-American were buttressed by a nationalist discourse that intensified in the years nickelodeons spread from 1905 to 1906 in the context of the increased number of immigrants arriving from southern and eastern Europe and as a consequence of a commingling of nativist and racist discourse central to a racial science that positioned these particular immigrant groups and African Americans at the bottom of a "natural" hierarchy of ethnic and racial difference.33 Linking fears about delinquency, class conflict, criminality, and public order with discourses on immigration, ethnicity, and race—those laborers were foreign and part of a developing "criminal class"—the conception of the audience as working class and foreign tapped into the fears of social dislocation and disorder central to widespread anxieties about class cleavage and the establishment and maintenance of national identity.

Concerns also arose about nickelodeons and moving pictures because they symbolized for many the broader shifts in the topography of public and private spaces characteristic of the turn-of-the-century period, especially with regard to the changing social role of women and to an intensification of discourse on sexuality. Historians have shown how a heterosocial leisure sphere and "culture of consumption" and "abundance" gathered pace in the early years of the twentieth century, effectively altering women's—and particularly working women's—participation both in the world of commercialized amusements and in the broader public sphere.34 The redefined relationship between public and private and the emergence of a mass cultural public sphere presaged for many an apparent breakdown of social and moral order that was usually figured in terms of sexual immorality by commentators steeped in the patriarchal Victorian ideology of separate spheres.35 Ill-lit nickelodeons, many suggested, were seen as ideal "recruiting stations" and "breeding places of vice," where "mashers" and "vicious men and boys . . . take liberties with very young girls."36

Also troublesome in this context were the films themselves, for they seemed to project new and different ideologies of sexuality and were consequently seen as particularly damaging to girls and young women, taking the former away from "playing with dolls" and both groups from domestic space and ideals. Extending their voyeuristic freedom and "optical omnipotence" to survey sights of the public world hitherto unavailable to them and better contained within the private sphere, such films were linked to a formation of delinquency that for young women was invariably coded in terms of sexual immorality.37 Cinema was a problematic space and a site of fantasy.

Linking concerns about class, ethnicity, race, and gender, elite anxiety about cinema and its effects on vulnerable and dangerous audiences should be seen as part of the broader efforts to shape and govern the social body that characterized the elite response to modernity. In this sense, regulating and shaping cinema was enmeshed with the broader "panoptic" projects of modernity, those epistemological and institutional practices that effectively centered on a "policing" of bodies and populations, characterized by increased surveillance, analysis, and codification aimed ultimately at ensuring a productive, effective, loyal, disciplined, and "governable" citizenry that embellished the stature and "health" of the nation.38 In this context new forms of governmental rationality developed, aimed at fostering citizens' lives and state strength, forms that were simultaneously individualizing and totalizing in their reach and disciplinary and productive in their effects. This context—in which a governing of bodies and populations informed and shaped the policing of the medium—is crucial to our understanding of the regulation of cinema in early-twentieth-century America. Censorship and regulation of this fledgling industry were connected to the broader project of governing a mass public.

Here a brief definition of what I mean by policing will be useful. I use the term in a way similar to that of philosopher and historian Michel Foucault and historians William Novak and Christopher Tomlins. Looking to describe new forms of governmental rationality, Foucault revives an older and broader conception of "police," derived from "policy," the aim of which was to "foster citizens' lives and the state's strength."39 A similar concep tion of "police" is central to the way both William Novak and Christopher Tomlins describe the emergence and scope of what Tomlins describes as "an institutionally inchoate ideology of collective responsibility for the reproduction of the well-ordered community" in the United States.40 Indeed, the "police power" abrogated to the individual states in the Constitution was defined as a "principle of self-preservation of the body politic" that extended, some of the legal decisions I will examine in the following pages decreed, "to the making of regulations promotive of domestic order, health, morals and safety" and so could be defined as "a chief function of government."41 Like Foucault, Novak, and Tomlins I use police in a broad fashion both to capture the sense of the productivity of power structures to shape discourses and material realities and, more specifically, to describe the work of state and nonstate institutions that acquire cultural authority and public power by defining "social problems" and claiming expertise in managing populations.

A regulatory focus on the conduct, well-being, and public decency of the "masses" in the United States developed throughout the nineteenth century and fed into such varied developments as the aforementioned emergence of juvenile courts; transformations in the prison system; the creation of new knowledge about medicine, education, and demographics; the intensification of urban planning; public hygiene; the design of an interventionist social science; and the increased surveillance of urban space.42 Together these developments can be seen as part of the "invention" of "the social," the historical formation of a sector of expertise about the causes of problems such as delinquency, crime, prostitution, and poverty, along with a set of institutions like charities and government bureaucracies formed to address these problems.43 The turn-of-the-century period in particular, frequently labeled by historians as "the Progressive Era," witnessed a proliferation of social-reform movements that allied with an increasingly activist judiciary and (temporarily) diminished tenets of localism and laissez faire to produce a transformation in the traditional understanding of the scope of legislation and the locus of public power and a corresponding remarkable upsurge in governmental regulation and state definition.44 Important, here, was the initiation of the "welfare state" as part of a broader intensification of governmental activism, the increased professionalization of police forces and the creation of the centralized Bureau of Investigation in 1908, and the well-known experiment of Prohibition.45

Regulating and shaping the conduct of others frequently focused on the terrain of sexuality, for sexuality exists at the interface between the individual body and the social body; thus, individual sexual and reproductive conduct interconnects with issues of national policy and power.46 Legislation directed against prostitution, venereal disease, and "white slavery," the forced abduction of white women into prostitution, made this connection particularly clear, the latter issue segueing into the widely articulated concerns about sexuality, ethnicity, and race that fueled anxieties about the differential birth rates of white Anglo-Saxons and "inferior" immigrant and black groups evident in the concepts of "race suicide" and eugenics.47 The new regimes of bodily discipline and regulation characteristic of the panop-tic projects of modernity were evidently predicated on the linking of the individual body and the social body and thus on the perceived centrality of conceptions of morality to "good citizenship," "public order," and governance. "The moral element is order," Giovanna Procacci observes, "that element of order which liberal society discovers as a vital need."48

Located in this context, the widely repeated dictum of turn-of-the-century "moral policeman" Anthony Comstock—"Without morals no public order"—clearly reflected accepted conceptions of the centrality of morality to the governance of populations and social order and the tutelary function of the state for the moral education of citizens.49 Countless examples of the connection between morality and desirable public order informed the rhetoric of legal commentators, social reformers, scientists, and government officials, who were motivated in broad terms by anxieties about status, secularization, and nostalgia and by concerns about corporate discipline and "social control" in the context of modernity.50 A preeminent nineteenth-century commentator on criminal law, for example, observed that "morality, religion and education are the three pillars of the State" and should consequently be "objects of primary regard by the laws."51 Likewise, in the midst of a debate about an act to regulate the movement of women and men across state lines for immoral purposes (an act I examine in chapter 4), a congressman observed that the government's true strength lies in its "sentiment of morality" rather than in its military.52 Morality was undoubtedly one of the keywords of the period.

Legislation directed at "obscenity" makes the perceived connection between moral order and public order clearer. A key technology in morals and cultural policing, obscenity legislation and related conceptions of "indecency" sought to define what material could safely appear in public. Emerging in the United States initially in the early nineteenth century, legal conceptions of obscenity were predicated on the conception of "morality as the law of nature . . . [which] is necessary to society" and must be maintained by "prohibiting and punishing all open and public immoralities, obscene writings, speaking and exhibitions, the tendency of which is evidently to poison the springs and principles of manners, and disturb the peace and economy of the realm."53 Late in the nineteenth century two Supreme Court decisions defined obscenity more precisely as, first, that which has a tendency "to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences" (the so-called Hicklin standard) and, second, as that which is linked solely to "sexual impurity."54 Federal laws banned the importation of obscene material, and after the Civil War, amid reports that Union soldiers were receiving sexually explicit images in the mails, the so-called Com-stock Act was passed to forbid the transportation of "obscene" material in the mails.55 Important to both acts was a sense of the connections among obscenity, nationalism, governance and state power, and a fear of the effects of widely distributed obscene matter on a mass public. The "police powers" delegated to the states were frequently directed against "obscene" material.56

Conceptions of obscenity (and indeed "pornography") were closely allied to the democratization of culture and conceptions of the ethical competences of audiences, as the Hicklin standard suggested. The very existence of a category of "pornography" is predicated, Ian Hunter, David Saunders, and Dugald Williamson assert, on the existence of "a public which might be corrupted by obscene publications."57 Legislation directed at cinema, the so-called people's theater, would indeed insistently target the categories of the "obscene, indecent, or immoral," including, as we will see in chapters 4 and 5, the establishment of state boards of censorship from 1911 and the inscription of cinema into the terms of general obscenity legislation, notably with the passage of a tariff act in 1913 directed at the traffic in obscene matter in one of the first responses to the cinema by the federal govern-ment.58 The broad concerns about morality and obscenity briefly delineated thus far informed the regulation of cinema.

A struggle over moral values and the category of the obscene was also a struggle over class boundaries, for those boundaries are drawn in part on the basis of shared moral values that are frequently played out on the terrain of culture.59 Conceptions of morality and "respectability" were absolutely central to the self-definition of the middle class in the United States throughout the nineteenth century, historians have shown, as middling groups came to define themselves and their difference from those above and below in terms of moral norms.60 On the one hand, this process of definition took place through the imposition of moral values on working-class and immigrant communities, seen perhaps most clearly in Protestant-led temperance campaigns that targeted the cultural practices of the increasingly Catholic working classes. Here morality was variably inflected by class but also by ethnicity. In other examples morality was also inflected by ideas about race. Conceptions of moral behavior and accounts of the moral subject are indeed integral to discourses about class distinction, nationalism, and race.61 A class and community "makes" itself, Richard Ohmann reminds us, through conflict with other classes and groups.62

On the other hand, the middle class was "made" by practices internal to itself in a process of "class awareness" that was played out through shared attitudes, values, and beliefs.63 Lest we forget, class formation is a dialectical process, taking place in the middle class as much as in the working class and often through the same practices. The delimitation and policing of moral norms and subjects was not simply about defining outsiders, then, but also about defining what made an insider an insider (for example, what made the lower middle class middle class and not working class or what made various ethnic groups "white"). One of the central issues here was the delineation of the white middle class as morally distinct from groups "above" and "below," a distinction that was predicated principally on the dissemination of discourses of domesticity and gentility that positioned idealized notions of femininity as moral guardians (a situation I will return to below).64 A complex amalgam of social control and self-definition was in play in these regulatory discourses and practices.

A rush to define and police moral norms was increasingly directed at the realm of culture, and the contestation over individual films and over cinema more generally clearly became one of the principal forums for the discussion of moral norms in the period. Cinema became a critical site of contestation in a broader "culture war." Legal regulation of various forms ensued, as I show below, enmeshed with the broader regulatory context delineated thus far, showing that a policing of the social functioning of cinema was linked to broader concerns about morality, public order, and governance. Law "creates the social world," Pierre Bourdieu observes, but "it is this world which first creates the law."65 I discuss these broad categories in more precise detail in the following chapters, situating the regulation of particular films and of cinema at various moments across the transitional era in the context of a regulatory space instantiated in various ways in the cases considered.

0 0

Post a comment