Monday, October 12, 2009

Perversion for Profit (Citizens for Decent Literature, c. 1960)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I dug up a DVD I’d recorded last Friday containing the fascinating 15-minute film Perversion for Profit, one of those dreadfully earnest pseudo-documentaries from the late 1950’s or early 1960’s talking about how the explosion in readily available pornography is destroying our kids and preparing them to be unable to resist the coming Communist takeover (I’m not making this up, you know!). Charles and I had seen this before in a computer download but it was fun to see it again — the film features an unctuous narrator (played by a “renowned newsman” named George Putnam whom neither Charles nor I could recall ever having heard of elsewhere) and a series of bilious-looking charts like those that illustrated medical brochures from grade-school health departments back then.

Charles said the film was financed by Charles Keating, the savings-and-loan tycoon who was later (decades later) accused of corrupt campaign contributions to five Senators, four Democrats (including Alan Cranston, who came out of the whole affair looking very much like the Claude Rains character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — among the programs he was accused of taking money from Keating to run was a voter registration drive to help the Libertarian Party candidate take votes from the Republican in a close re-election race) and John McCain (who later said that his being publicly accused of corruption was the worst ordeal of his life — worse than being in that North Viet Namese prison camp because “at least the North Viet Namese didn’t question my honor”), but that’s not necessarily the most interesting thing about it.

The most interesting thing about it is not even its tone of high moral dudgeon and stridency — it seems that Putnam and whoever wrote his script were expecting the audience to gasp in horror at the end of every other sentence — or that in dealing with homosexuality it lumps the relatively serious early Gay publications like One and Mattachine Review in with the hard-core smut (including what look like some of the earliest publications of Tom of Finland’s drawings) — but the fact that it underscores that since America’s modern radical Right began in the 1930’s as a fringe movement of Roosevelt’s craziest critics, its rhetorical styles have never changed one iota: Putnam’s narration here contains the usual bilge about how the people who wrote the Constitution meant our country to be “one nation under God” and governed by the Judeo-Christian ethic (actually they were rationalist Deists who believed in the Enlightenment and in particular the value of reason), and that only the Judeo-Christian ethic can hold our country strong and united in the face of the Communist threat.

It also contains the breathless appeals to fear that have been the essence of the Right’s appeal ever since — fear of the Other, fear of social decay, fear of national disgrace, fear that indulging our own perverted minorities will leave us open to conquest by foreign powers — fear, fear, fear, a devastating weapon when Hitler used it to rile his people against the Jews and almost as devastating in the American context, especially now when operations like this don’t have to put their propaganda out on cheap strips of crudely made film but have the full resources of the corporate media at their disposal to brainwash millions of Americans to think, vote and act according to a sleazy agenda of hate and division.