Learning To Go To The Movies

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The ultimate confirmation of a picture show’s respectability came only a few years later, during World War I, when the federal government, concerned that its propaganda messages might not reach the largest possible audience through the available print media, decided to send its “Four-Minute Men” into the nation’s movie theaters. (The speakers were so named to reassure audiences and theater owners that their talks would be brisk.)

As President Wilson proclaimed in an open letter to the nation’s moviegoers in April 1918, the picture house had become a “great democratic meeting place of the people, where within twenty-four hours it is possible to reach eight million citizens of all classes.” There was nothing wrong with going to the movies while a war was being fought across the Atlantic, the President declared in his letter: “The Government recognizes that a reasonable amount of amusement, especially in war time, is not a luxury but a necessity.”