Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sleeping the big sleep

Micah Watson demonstrates how our attitudes about aspects of morality have deteriorated by using an old (and very good) movie as his illustration:
.... Consider the classic Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall film, The Big Sleep (1946), from Raymond Chander's equally classic Philip Marlowe novel of the same name (1939). My wife and I watched this film the other night on Netflix instant. ....

Consider the plot of the film and the book. A world-weary and hard-boiled detective, Philip Marlowe, is called in to assist with the blackmail of an elderly patriarch of a very wealthy family. General Sternwood has two beautiful and rather wild daughters. In his investigation Marlowe discovers that the blackmail revolves around pornographic pictures taken of the younger daughter, Carmen. The pornographer runs his business in the back of an antique bookstore and the men who purchase his wares must surreptitiously conduct their business in a password-protected backroom. A young man who has fallen in love with the Carmen confronts and kills the pornographer in an attempt to defend her honor, and the remainder of the movie depicts Marlowe pursuing the twists and turns as he and the cops attempt to figure things out while keeping the Sternwoods from experiencing the public humiliation that would ensue if the daughter's escapades came to light.

Where to start? The worries of the characters in the film seem almost quaint in today's culture. Consider first the pornography business. In the 1930s and 40s it was taken for granted that such bookstores were not only seedy, but illegal. ....

And not to give any more attention to one who is overexposed in so many ways, but compare the Sternwood family to one of our famous wealthy families, the Hiltons. ....

In The Big Sleep, the goal is to save the daughter from the ruin of pornography. With Paris Hilton, pornography is the means by which she has achieved social notoriety and "success." The pornographer Geiger had to be sponsored by a gangster and hide his wares behind a front business; today, the porn business is broadcast online, on television, and in the Hilton Hotels. Pornographers then had to hide from law; pornographers today hire lobbyists to influence the law.

...[H]ow vices are greeted in public reveals a great deal about the nature of the culture. So check out The Big Sleep and judge for yourself. Of course, if you're awake you probably don't have to see the movie to agree the moral ecology has changed for the worse . . . but it's a really good movie.
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Moral Ecology and the Movies

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