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The Body That Was Difficult to Censor: Mae West and Censorship in the 1930s

Iorio, Gabrielle

After attaining notoriety for her provocative work on Broadway, Mae West, an actor, writer, and director, rose to fame in Hollywood for her sexy style and memorable one-liners. While Paramount Pictures delighted in West’s financial success during the economic doldrums of the Great Depression, the film censors of the Production Code Administration attempted to minimize West’s sexual style to portray her in a way that upheld society’s morals and expectations of women’s behavior. Correspondence between the Production Code Administration and Paramount Pictures reveals requests to change lines in the script and cover up and deemphasize West’s body. Yet, West’s expert use of sexual innuendo through vocalization and body language typically superseded censors’ attempts. The treatment of West’s curvy body, which did not fit the ideal thin, boyish body type of the time, suggests her association with the grotesque, as defined by Mikhail Bakhtin. The formation of West’s body as grotesque, when looked upon by the male gaze, facilitated a moral panic about societal norms and expectations of women at the time, leading to West’s decline in fame and the reinforcement of men’s power in the motion picture industry.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
American Studies (Barnard College)
Thesis Advisors
Heatherton, Christina L.
Degree
B.A., Barnard College
Published Here
September 10, 2018
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