Monday, July 11, 2016

The Dangers of “Moving Pictures”

Mellen as Representative
in 1888
In 1910 Representative James Henry Mellen of Worcester, who served for many years until his death that same year, submitted a petition (House No. 433) to the Massachusetts legislature to consider an investigation into the “great moral, mental and physical danger” of moving pictures.  His many concerns include:

  • Greed of the motion picture industry;
  • Coarse language and slang heard in theatres, especially in the presence of women and children who have “never frequented theatres before;” 
  • The “havoc” that “jerky flickering films” are causing on people’s eyes, young and old;
  • Objectionable pictures being shown, especially those from Paris “where the morals are low,” which could physically affect women “in a delicate condition” and influence gangs of “desperadoes” by desensitizing the population to crime;
  • The negative influence “pictures of vice” have on young girls, making them more susceptible to victimization;
  • Children idolizing film characters as “real heroes in life;”
  • The lack of fire protection in many small theatres.

Text of 1910 HB433

It doesn’t appear that anything came of the investigation, if there was one, as no report could be found within the legislative documents.  Many of Mellen’s arguments seem amusing now (especially his fixation on the Parisians) since motion pictures have become a regular part of everyday life and censorship is overall much more lax.  However, technological developments in more recent history, such as television, video games, the internet, mobile devices, have been met with similar concerns.

The library continues to upload its collection of legislative documents online, which are a valuable source of historical sentiments and developing attitudes surrounding various topics that were of both great and minor importance to Massachusetts citizens.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department