American Film and Movies from the 1950’s to Present
Today, American film is among the most internationally supported commodities. Financially, its contributions are enormous: the industry is responsible for the circulation of billions of dollars each year. Since its explosion into the new media markets during the mid-twentieth century, film has produced consistently growing numbers of viewers and critics alike. Sparking debate over the nature of its viewing, film is now being questioned in social, political, and moral arenas for its potential impact on an audience. Critics claim that watching films is a passive activity in which the viewer becomes subconsciously absorbed, and creates a reliance or "addiction" to the medium, and thus can be influenced by any perpetual concepts or images. Advocates, however, argue that viewing such programs is an active process in which audience members are able to choose to what they are exposed, and interpret messages based on their individual needs and background. Perhaps both views are too extreme. Film from the 1950s to present, as will be explored in this essay, is an extremely useful medium, often underestimated within the label of "entertainment"; unfortunately, it may be partially responsible for current socio-cultural problems, too. The critical question, then, is whether film has fostered the progress of a more open-minded America, or rather hindered its development through the perpetuation of antiquated concepts of stereotypes, densensitized violence and breeding of normalcy.
Whether or not a naïve approach to film as an inclusive medium holds true to fact, however, is questionable. Since its popular arrival in American culture during the 1930s, film has sparked controversy over its social, political and moral claims, creating a desire for close media control and censorship. The very first film Production Code of 1930 aimed at monitoring and censoring material, and was instituted to keep Hollywood’s moral standards in check. As described by Francis Couvares, films needed to be censored "precisely because they arouse strong desires and strong antipathies in an untrustworthy public." Advocates of censorship insisted that movies directly affected behaviour, usually for ill, creating general crisis and confusion over the moral implications of the medium. Charting movie attendance rates, for example, the WCTV (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) of the 1950s argued that youths were in a greater danger of becoming "addicted" to movies than they were of becoming addicted to alcohol.
An examination of the film by decade reveals that although advocates of censorship insisted that movies directly affected human behaviour, usually for the ill, the following fifty years of film discourse in America was further enhanced by the blurred lines over the social and moral accountability of the medium. The 1950s were rife with paradoxes: they were a time of prosperity and poverty, and of freedom and...