“YOU attend those vulgar moving picture shows?” Cartoon Defenses of Filmgoing from 1911

Movies are a national pastime in the United States but that was not always the case. Motion pictures, especially ones dealing with crime, were considered low, vulgar and harmful. When he launched his first movie theater, Louis B. Mayer had his wife and daughters prominently present to show that films were suitable for women and children.

I stumbled on some comics in a 1911 issue of Nickelodeon magazine that address the issue of movies being dismissed sight unseen and I thought they would be amusing to share. They are credited to “DEBALL” and I am not sure if it’s “De Ball” or “D.E. Ball” or simply “Deball” so let me know if you have any further info on this artist.

The Evolution of a Moving Picture Fan

Uncle Dudley Changes His Mind About Photoplays


For a bit of context, here are select condemnations of “low” filmgoing found in a 1908 issue of Moving Picture World:

The film show may be said to be a loose bovine, liable to charge in almost any direction– capable of almost anything– or mere extinguishment.

In its present status it is, at once, an almost unmixed good, an atrocious evil– and a source of much humiliation to anyone born in America.

One American comic now on exhibition is called “The Trials of the Newly Married.” It makes one sick with ennui and disgust. It begins with a lame attempt to makes farce of a sacred ceremony, borders on fee indecent in the bedroom scene, and is disgusting in the finale, which consists mainly of two fools getting chimney soot on their faces and sitting on red-hot stoves.

Associated Charities

So, we can see that the “don’t knock ’em ’til you try ’em” message of these cartoons addressed a very serious problem. Snobbish uplifters did not like the movies and were determined to stomp them out or at least regulate them out of business.

It could be argued that any form of popular entertainment is subject to these attacks in its infancy. From novels to television to video games, accusations of ruining civilization have always been an issue. I guess the simple fact is that some people are never, ever happy.

All clippings courtesy of the Media History Digital Library.


  1. Randy Cox

    If there had been an identifiable character in the panels you posted we might have a chance of determining the name of the cartoonist.

  2. George

    “It could be argued that any form of popular entertainment is subject to these attacks in its infancy.”

    As the comic book industry learned in the late ’40s and early ’50s. A few years later, those crusaders had moved on to the greater “threats” of television and rock ‘n’ roll.

    A common thread in early comments about Chaplin is complaints about his “vulgarity.” Those Keystones and Essanays look pretty harmless now!

  3. George

    “Yes, yesterday’s bête noire is today’s pussycat.”

    I was startled to learn that “Barbarella,” which was basically regarded as softcore porn in 1968, is now rated PG. Not even PG-13!

    Of course, some people would see that as evidence of moral decline …

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