Saturday, May 1, 2021

Something Moral, Something Blue

Orville Williams in New York Journal, ca. April 5, 1921

I had intended to run this last week in time for the Oscars, but these cartoons have waited an entire century. What difference is seven more days going to make?

100 years ago, the films playing at your great-grandparents' local Odeon might feature sexual promiscuity, swearing, disrespectful depictions of clergy, and even partial nudity. Your great-grandmother was shocked at the stuff great-grandfather took the family to see. On Sunday, no less!

1921 saw a flurry of legislation to censor the movies — somewhere around 100 bills in 37 states. New York created the first official censorship board that year, six years after The Supreme Court had ruled unanimously that motion pictures had no First Amendment rights.

"No Chance to Go Wrong" by Albert Reid in New York Evening Mail, April 1921

Given how the Christianist Right came to be synonymous with the Republican Party in recent decades, you might be surprised to see a staunch Republican like Albert Reid ridiculing prudish censorship. Issues cut across party lines much more a century ago than they do today, however, and the call to clean up the movies was then viewed as a progressive cause. 

It arose from the same social activism that gave the nation Prohibition, and was expanding its purview toward bans on tobacco smoking and chewing. Reid's cartoon above, and this one by Craig Fox, suggest that their successes would not have been possible without female suffrage (which, by the way, Reid strongly supported).

"No Wonder Willie Weeps" by Craig Fox in Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, April, 1921

Women were only one of the liberal groups behind these moves to improve society. Consider that Blue Laws, prohibiting a wide swath of activities on Sundays, were supported by unions as one way of ensuring that their members got that day off from work.

"Tying the 'Nots'" by Harold J. Wahl in Sacramento Bee, April, 1921

But there's the rub. If you mandated Sundays off for all those movie projectionists, baseball players, popcorn hawkers, and the rest, what were Grandpa and the family supposed to do with their day off?

Well, the social reformers had a ready answer for that, too.

"The First Blue Sunday" by Alfred G. "Zere" Ablitzere in New York Evening Post, May, 1921

Alfred Ablitzere made a whole series of these "First Blue Sunday" cartoons in which his Blue Law Officer waged a valiant battle against all sorts of sacrilegious Sabbath activity. 

"The First Blue Sunday" by "Zere" Ablitzere in NY Evening Post, June, 1921

You will notice that some of these activities would not have required any employees to have shown up for work.
"The First Blue Sunday" by "Zere" Ablitzere in NY Evening Post, July, 1921 

But I guess Officer Blue Law's tireless efforts were appreciated by those workers such as this noble lifeguard who were able to take the Lord's Day off. The officer's was not a completely thankless job.

"The First Blue Sunday" by Alfred G. "Zere"Ablitzere in NY Evening Post, April, 1921
And thus, having successfully reformed everyone in this country, the social justice warriors of 1921 were eager to expand globally.
"Keeping Up with the Neighbors" by Ted Brown in Chicago Daily News, April, 1921

And heck (if you will pardon such strong language), why even stop there?
"The Futurist Saturday Sunset" by Edward Gale in Los Angeles Times, March, 1921

No comments:

Post a Comment