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Indecent science: religion, science and movie censorship, 1930–1968

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From 1930 to 1968 movie studios sent their screenplays to censorship groups in the US and UK including Hollywood’s official censorship body the Production Code Administration (also known as the ‘Hays Office’), the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency and the British Board of Film Censors. These censorship boards made sure that studio scripts met the moral standards of religious groups who were concerned about movie’s impact on the public. This talk uses material from the archives of these censorship organizations to explore how filmmakers tried to tell stories about science and how censorship groups modified these cinematic narratives in order to tell what they considered more appropriate stories about science as a social, political and cultural force. Movie censors’ mistrust of the public led them to attempt control over audience interpretations through the removal of ambiguity. I will discuss how censors showed anxiety over specific sciences like evolution, psychiatry and nuclear physics, as well as generalized concerns about scientific ways of thinking including the theological implications of scientific research, the blasphemy of scientism and the horror of scientific realism. Specific examples will include Frankenstein (1931), Possessed (1947), I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and The Last Man on Earth (1964).

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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