So I went back to watching some old Golden Age movies (specifically an Abbott and Costello movie) and I remember thinking about some worldbuilding I was doing a while ago about an alternate Hollywood without the Hayes Code being in existence and just how Hollywood movies of the 1930s to the early 60s would have looked like if that code never gained any traction.
Now as we all know, the Hayes Code was done on purpose as a self-regulating thing in order to prevent the government from stepping in regulate film making. Movies are free speech as we all know, but it wasn't always the case. Back in 1915 they actually ruled that it wasn't free speech before reversing the decision in the 1940s or 50s (I don't remember), so the threat of government intervention was very, very real.
Movies made before then could be pretty damn risque and outrageous. There was nudity and sexuality and other stuff that really shook people up, and the level of politics and social commentary that they could get away with (outside of obvious WW2 era propaganda) was extremely limited.
So it makes me wonder. What if in 1915 they decided that film was free speech and heavily enforced that ideal throughout? Leaving no need for a Hayes Codes regardless of complaining from some people. What would the Hollywood landscape look like if they could get away with full nudity, interracial relationships, criticize politicians and religion, and depict really, really edgy stuff?
I suspect that without the Hayes Code, and possibly the false confidence from winning a court case or two, would have set Hollywood on a "race to the bottom." The clear majority of America (and most of the world) in the early 20th century would not have reacted well. First movie theaters would have picked up a stigma worse than wild west saloons or cat houses. A nearly exclusive adult male audience would not have made Hollywood the the money that they enjoyed from the lucrative female, teen, and child market. Movie making may have spread out to more than just Hollywood.
Based on other events such as prohibition I would be surprised if the government did not step in with much more draconian laws carrying much more frightening consequences. besides outraged constituents there has been a "shadow government" that would react like a kitten to dangled string.
By shadow government I do not mean some Illuminati-like organized conspiracy (or rule this out) so much as that there are certain personality types drawn to government for the wrong reasons. Usually this is just the sense of power. You know, the whiny little tattle-tale or kid who got bullied enough to want a badge. Look at how popular fantasy cop shows are as an indication of how prevalent this trait is. The Hayes Code helped keep us off the path to fascism.
I am plying Devil's Advocate here but it is easy in this scenario. This would not be a brighter, happier, empowered universe. Ironically the noir genre that this world might bend towards would probably never be created when most movies would have the plot and shared soundtrack of low budget 70s porn.
I would like to make a blanket apology if I ruffled too many feather instead of just advancing this discussion.
Using South Park to present a case for positive censorship........
It's an interesting thought experiment. Would it have devolved, as @Captain suggests, or would it have leaned low, then righted itself into a balance as different types of films found their audience? I'd like to believe it would have done the latter.
And hey, as a man, the idea of seeing a little more skin on some of those past movie starlets isn't horrible, if a bit sexist. ;)