Beer and The Hays Code

DeadwoodHere I go again. Taking something that has nothing to do with beer and, well, turning it into a big beer thing.

With a little more time on my hands, or simply a stronger level of determination, I’m sure I could turn this one into a lengthy series. I’ve decided to spare you that and just throw it out for this week’s rumination piece.

So I’ve been grooving on DVDs of HBO’s Deadwood recently. On the special features for the first season, I learned that not only did I intensely admire the show, but I also much revered the creator, the genius David Milch.

This freakin’ dude is brilliant. He’s well-read, meticulous and amazing. The show, as you may know, is fairly intense: a healthy dose of whoring, killing and cursing. It’s not exactly historically accurate (and doesn’t claim to be), but neither was Shakespeare. Pretty far removed from the squeaky clean Roy Rogers cowboy stuff. In an interview, Milch discusses the Hays Code of 1930, which basically laid out the dos and don’ts of film making back in the day.

Back when everything was sugar coated:

General Principles

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral 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.

2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.

3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

What would the Hays Code say about this label?It goes on to lay out a good many particular applications. Basically, don’t film murders like Quentin Tarantino would, don’t cuss like the Simpsons, and go easy on the scenes of passion. And a lot more prudish stuff: always treat the flag with respect, no white slavery, no films about priests fondling alter boys.

So how do we eventually get from something shiny like Hopalong Cassidy to something gritty like Deadwood? And what happened in the interim?

First, the latter question, from Milch: “It’s my experience that a good storyteller can find a way to internalize and neutralize the pernicious effect of those kinds of extraneous, controlling statutes or strictures by finding equivalents within the story that obey the terms that are laid out by the Code without doing violence to the emotional integrity of the character of the story. So if characters can’t say anything obscene, you try and conceive a character for whom obscenity is a kind of fallen or pathetic expression of weakness. I believe that was the source of the development of the laconic cowboy. A man of few words, but deep and complicated morality, who didn’t have to fuck with the Hays Code.”

So what happened in the interim was that Clint Eastwood didn’t talk much while kicking ass in non-gruesome ways.

Now the former. How do we get here? Thoreau once wrote: “It is not too soon for an honest man to rebel.” We got here via rebels, some honest and some not. We got here by people questioning The Hays Code. Lifting a one-finger salute to our sorry governmental policies on ____________ and ____________ and ____________. Learning about culture, history, art and science and turning it into craft beer.

Three chords and the truth.

Lest you think that wasn’t a good enough pondering of beer getting better, let’s take one more peek at the Code. Point Number Four says:

The use of liquor in American life, when not required by the plot or for proper characterization, will not be shown.

There they go, characterizing evil. Bad beer emerged from this mentality. All the good parts of beer washed away. Flavorless swill became prevalent, and then to backfire seriously, the macro-brew barons got into the ideas of sex and partying to sell their products.

But please drink responsibly, they now warn.

Me, I’ll take good beer with good character. I’ll take it in moderation with my good friends close at hand. I won’t be whoring, killing or cursing much. Despite someone else’s list of strictures.

I like the dirty truth of John Lee Hooker. I like the dirty truth of the brewer’s sweaty brow. I like the dirty truth of Milch’s Deadwood. And hoist a pint all too frequently to the rebellious attitude that is craft beer and its uprising against the results of The Hays Code and other dumb ass attitudes.


One Response to Beer and The Hays Code

  1. Boak says:

    Got to love a post that incorporates beer and the Hays code…

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