On This Day, 12-11-2008: Western Decadence

December 11, 1969

Soviets declare nudity a sign of “western decadence”

On this day, the secretary of the Moscow writer’s union declares that nudity as displayed in the popular play “Oh! Calcutta!” is a sign of decadence in Western culture. More disturbing, he claimed, was the fact that this “bourgeois” thinking was infecting Russian youth.

Sergei Mikhailkov, best known for writing books for children in Russia, lashed out at the Broadway show (where performers were seen in their “birthday suits”), and pornography in general. Such exhibitions were “a general striptease-that is one of the slogans of modern bourgeois art.” It was unfortunate, he lamented, that even Russian youth were becoming enamored of such decadence. Mikhailkov bemoaned the fact that young people in the Soviet Union were more familiar with “the theater of the absurd and the novel without a hero and all kinds of modern bourgeois reactionary tendencies in the literature and art of the West” than with “the past and present of the literature of their fatherland.” Speaking at the end of a conference of Russian intellectuals, he also heaped scorn on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose scathing writings about the Soviet police state earned him the enmity of the Russian government. Although admitting that Solzhenitsyn was a “talented writer,” he found it sad that the novelist “did not want to understand his role of ‘special correspondent’ of so many foreign institutions and organizations.”

Beyond the unintentional humor of many of Mikhailkov’s statements, his comments revealed the impact that U.S. culture-theater, literature, music, and film-was having on the Soviet Union. In the war for hearts and minds, Western “decadence” seemed to be winning the battle.

“Soviets declare nudity a sign of “western decadence”.” 2008. The History Channel website. 11 Dec 2008, 11:33 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2511.

On This Day

1719 – The first recorded sighting of the Aurora Borealis was in New England.

1792 – France’s King Louis XVI went before the Convention, which had replaced the National Assembly, to face charges of treason. He was convicted and condemned and was sent to the guillotine the following January.

1816 – Indiana was admitted to the Union as the 19th American state.

1872 – Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback became America’s first black governor when he took office as acting governor of Louisiana.

1928 – In Buenos Aires, police thwarted an attempt on the life of President-elect Herbert Hoover.

1936 – Britain’s King Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry American Wallis Warfield Simpson. He became the Duke of Windsor.

1941 – Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The U.S in turn declared war on the two countries.

1946 – The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was established by the U.N. General Assembly. The fund provides relief to children in countries devastated by war.

1961 – The first direct American military support for South Vietnam occurred when a U.S. aircraft carrier carrying Army helicopters arrived in Saigon. (This is a bit confusing, because American military aid to Vietnam had been going on since 1951).

1980 – U.S. President Jimmy Carter signed into law legislation creating $1.6 billion environmental “superfund” that would be used to pay for cleaning up chemical spills and toxic waste dumps.

1985 – The U.S. House of Representatives joined the U.S. Senate by giving final congressional approval to the Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction law.

1987 – Charlie Chaplin’s trademark cane and bowler hat were sold at Christie’s for £82,500.

1991 – Salman Rushdie, under an Islamic death sentence for blasphemy, made his first public appearance since 1989 in New York, at a dinner marking the 200th anniversary of the First Amendment (which guarantees freedom of speech in the U.S.).

1994 – Thousands of Russian troops, armored columns and jets entered Chechnya. The move by Moscow was an effort to restore control the breakaway republic.

1994 – The world’s largest free trade zone was created when leaders of 34 Western Hemisphere nations signed a free-trade declaration known as “The Miami Process.”

1997 – More than 270 Tutsi refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo were killed by Juto guerillas in Mudende, Rwanda.

2001 – Federal agents seized computers in 27 U.S. cities as part of “Operation Buccaneer.” The raids were used to gain evidence against an international software piracy ring.

December 11, 1956

Hays Code eases

The movie industry’s tight restriction of language and subject matter, known as the Hays Code or the Production Code, is eased slightly for the first time since its adoption in 1930. The easing of the code meant that actors could now mention abortion, drugs, kidnapping, and prostitution.

The Production Code was introduced in 1930 by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), an industry association created to avoid government censorship and to satisfy public demand for morally acceptable movies. After creating the association, the heads of the major Hollywood studios hired William H. Hays, the former U.S. postmaster general under President Harding and past chairman of the Republican National Committee, to head the new group. Hays wielded such power that the MPPDA came to be called the “Hays Office,” and the Production Code adopted in 1930 was commonly referred to as the “Hays Code.”

The Code required that no film should “lower the standards of those who see it. Hence, the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin.” The Code specifically prohibited the portrayal of illegal drug trafficking, “sex perversion,” and profanity. It also prohibited the portrayal of clergy members as comic characters or villains, and the portrayal of interracial relationships.

The Code deeply influenced the kinds of films that were made. However, as social changes made society more liberal, the Code began to thaw, starting with the changes in 1956. A decade later, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf became the first movie to use profanity on screen. At the same time, the production code placed heavier restrictions on violence. In 1968, the Code was replaced by the movie ratings system, which greatly expanded the range of permissible subjects for film. The first ratings system included categories G (for general audience), MGP (all ages admitted but parental guidance suggested), and R (no one under 16 admitted). In 1970, MGP was replaced by PG (parental guidance suggested) and R movies (no one under 17 admitted without a parent or guardian). In 1984, the PG-13 rating was added, and the X rating was phased out in 1990 in favor of NC-17.

“Hays Code eases.” 2008. The History Channel website. 11 Dec 2008, 11:32 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=3843.

On This Day in Wisconsin: December 11

1833 – First Newspaper in Wisconsin Published

On this date the Green Bay Intelligencer, Wisconsin’s first newspaper, began publication. John Vorhees Suydam and A.G. Ellis head up the publication effort. [Source: History of Wisconsin, Vol. 1]


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