MPAA’s Chris Dodd Recalls Persecution of Comics When Defending Movies

Twenty-three months ago, former United States Senator Chris Dodd was not what anyone, himself included, would call a movie buff. After taking a position as CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), however, Dodd has undergone something akin to a religious conversion when it comes to movies. In his talk to the National Press Club on February 15, 2013, Dodd spoke passionately about why movies matter and strongly defended movies from critics who seek an easy solution to the nation’s problems (both perceived and real) in scapegoating the cinema, even drawing  a parallel to the 1950s Congressional hearings on comic books.

Dodd believes movies matter as an art form because “unlike most other forms of art, motion pictures represent a spectacular convergence of visual arts, language arts, and music, attracting some of the world’s most talented and creative people to produce these most remarkable products. […] Movies matter because of the human emotions they incite.”

There was also, unsurprisingly, evidence of Dodd’s political past in his talk, but instead of seeing the industry through a partisan lens, Dodd instead sees the movie theater as that rarest of locations in the contemporary American landscape, a place where the politics that divide us can be pushed from our minds as we sit together in a darkened theater in a shared experience. Dodd argues that movies unite us in very real and powerful ways: “The best movies ground us in common values and ideals,” he said. “America’s a big place, as we all know, with red states and blue states, as we’re constantly reminded. […] But gathered together in a darkened theater, regardless of our differences, we become, in spite of our differences, one place.”

In terms of censorship, Dodd said that he feels “very strongly that this industry has been on the forefront of freedom of speech from its inception,” while admitting that “films that have challenged and provoked not always were received warmly.” Arguing both that “not every film is of enduring quality” and that “not every movie is for everyone,” Dodd argued that the movie industry provides “a remarkable choice for entertainment,” and that “people ought to have the information about what they are going to see when they walk in, so they can make that choice,” but that regulating content is a “slippery slope.”

Dodd was asked directly about attempts by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to point the finger at violent movies and video games as a cause for recent gun-related incidents around the country. “It’s sort of predictable,” Dodd answered. “If you go back over the years, there were people who suggested that comic books were the reason for people doing this before. […] There’s kind of a lurching to suggest that this is the root cause of the problem.”

You can enjoy the entirety of Dodd’s entertaining talk here. In his opening remarks, Dodd mentioned that the last movie he saw before taking over as CEO of the MPAA was probably “Heffalump,” a nod to the 2005 Walt Disney picture, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie. It is clear based on his talk, however, that he has become a passionate and articulate spokesman for the industry at both his artistic and business ends.

For a summary of CBLDF’s coverage of the latest discourse (and vitriol) on video games, violent media, and gun crimes, check out this article. For more on the attacks on comic books that Dodd mentioned in his talk, visit “Know Your Comics History” and “History of Comics Censorship” in the Resources section of our website.

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Mark Bousquet is the Assistant Director of Core Writing at the University of Nevada, Reno, and reviews movies and television programs at Atomic Anxiety.