Monday, March 23, 2009
This Article offers an important historical corrective to the history of movie censorship in the United States. Censorship scholars unanimously, but mistakenly treat a 1907 ordinance of the City of Chicago as the first act of censorship in the United States. In fact, however, movie censorship in the United States was born in March 1897 with prohibitions against a now-extinct genre: prizefight films that showed real and staged boxing fights. At the time, boxing was generally illegal, yet the sport was enormously popular and boxers enjoyed privileged social status. The first censorship initiatives constituted one element in a failed social regulation. The Article also shows that content self-regulation in the motion-picture industry started with Edison's 1894 veto of the use of his equipment for prizefight films, approximately thirteen years before the presently-believed-to-be the first forms of content self-regulation. This Article, therefore, begins to close a neglected gap in the literature on movie censorship. Its findings require a reexamination of content regulation in the motion picture industry, whose presumed twentieth century origins actually reveal legislatures and industries already experienced in censorship campaigns and laws. Despite the Article's historical reach, it provides important insights into modern-day social regulation. The failures of the nineteenth-century regulators to curtail popular activities like prizefighting can inform and shape current regulatory efforts, such as the design of anti-smoking policies.
Download the paper from SSRN here.