Little known fact: CDs burn at 451 degrees, too.
At least that’s what the manual from my Congressman’s office said. In the late 2000s, a bipartisan legislature decided to make the ESRB and MPAA regulatory bodies, after learning violent and sexually explicit media proved harmful to the nation’s youth. Years later, kids were still coming into contact with perverse media, and another bill was passed, officially labeling movies, books, and games more extreme than Walker Texas Ranger as “snuff;” possession became an arrest-able offense, and a sprawling black market was born.
Scientific evidence challenging the notion that suggestive topics and content don’t turn children into sociopaths was published by leading news organizations. Children were found reading these arguments, and became agitated by the findings. Clearly, mainstream media that disagrees with the government was instilling a rebellious faction among the nation’s youth, potentially turning our precious children into domestic terrorists. Congress and the Supreme Court agreed: anti-government sentiments weren’t protected by the First Amendment, because their very utterance could be construed as assault upon the public.
Alright, that’s enough of my own alarmism for now. But if we don’t pay attention to what’s happening just beyond our living rooms, a scenario similar to my descent into tin foil hat-wearing conspiracy theory might not be as preposterous as you think. Alarmist leaders and community members have been around long before Chicken Little was dreamt up in folk lore, but modern day politicians and special interest groups have evolved from a simple “The sky is falling!” to sensational rhetoric more akin to “Incoming! We got Charlie all around us and artillery shells are exploding overhead!”
“Modern” cases of entire generations unnecessarily fixating on harmless fun go back to the Prohibition Era. By claiming its negative effects were detrimental to society, members of a group called the Temperance Movement were able to bully politicians into nationally banning the production and sale of alcohol. This movement declared that the only way to save America was to rid it of the scourge of alcohol completely. The inevitable rise of organized crime eventually led to the ban being lifted. It turned out that the negative effects of Prohibition were worse than the negative effects of alcohol..
Fast forward 25 years. The same young, white people who ended the Prohibition got older, and began fighting a new demon the Temperance Movement never could have dreamed of: rock and roll. For the first time, white kids were being exposed to black music on a grand scale, setting the older generation on edge. Buddy Holly’s plane crashed; Elvis was drafted and returned a country singer; and Frank Sinatra called them both communists before the dust settled. This tentative truce stayed in place until the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) formed in 1985 and had it out with Frank Zappa on C-span. This time, the dust never completely cleared and the people who fought music that brought joy to many, learned from their battles.
So here we are, 50 years after rock and roll, and we’re faced with a terrible, new “threat” to our culture: gaming. True, gangsta rap is again exposing white kids to dangerous black music, but this time children are protected by a black-and-white label reading “Explicit Lyrics.” The V-Chip is on hand to protect kids from Christina Aguilera videos. But that mysterious Xbox is a den of inequity with no protection in place at all. Just ask Jack of those numbers people, here they are: The ten-year period between 1992 and 2002 yielded a 66% decline of violent crime committed by children ages 10 to 17. That’s almost twice the rate of decrease of violent crime among Americans in general, which only yielded a 35% decline. It hardly seems gaming has transformed our children into the violent little devils some might have you believe.
Of course, these pragmatic real world numbers are easy to push aside in favor of laboratory tests that judge “violent behavior” by grading answers to a questionnaire. Much like the old Pharaohs who divined the will of the gods by the rise and fall of the Nile, it feels as if opponents of gaming are selectively representing information to cloud the issue. But “bubbling toil and trouble” is what gets you into the headlines.
Read Thompson’s website. Thompson et al are appealing to the tired working man who just wants to make sure his kid doesn’t turn into the Zodiac serial killer, and people like Thompson are remarkably good at scaring everyday people into believing their sensational agenda. Even the name of his site, “Stop Kill,” is political maneuvering at its finest. But you know what? It works, and the Democrats are finally catching on.
Make no mistake; regulating the game industry into the ground is going to be a bipartisan affair. The left needs an opportunity to prove their commitment to “family values” but they can’t go after their benefactors in the movie and music industries. Game companies, on the other hand, why they hardly donate to the Political Action Committees at all! Meanwhile the right is happy to let big government step into the picture in support of social conservativism. And games will suffer in perpetuity in the name of this alliance
Amidst all this forthcoming legislation, senators are missing the mark. If we really cared about what’s causing violence among youth, all we really need to look at is their parents’ paychecks. It may be a political rough spot, but poverty and socioeconomic disparity are the leading contributors to all crime, including that of our precious offspring. But the ill effects of poverty aren’t something we like to talk about, and targeting things that don’t extend as far into the roots of our society – like games – is far easier.
To top it off, these alarmists aren’t even looking at the right games when they extend their gaze of suppression against products like “Hot Coffee.” There are hate groups out there creating games in which players accrue points by killing blacks and Jews. While perhaps even these games are covered under the scope of the First Amendment, they’re far more deserving of heat from people like Thompson and Clinton. But until a White Power party writes a killer app for two consoles, they’ll continue along under the radar. Once again, sensationalism gets in the way of rooting out century old problems.
The only way to prevent this insanity is to become part of the process. Older members of the gaming generation are to the point where they can conceivably run for office, and many of us could conceivably vote for them. If even a few gamers on either side of the political spectrum were to stand on Capitol Hill and proudly proclaim the fact they played Thrill Kill – and haven’t attempted to murder anyone to date – they would throw a monkey wrench into the cogs of the insipid anti-expression movement in Congress. Even writing letters to current lawmakers could have a noticeable effect. Once these people realize their constituency is onto their ruse, they’ll change their tune. Free speech and expression – even violent and sexual speech and expression – are sacred ideals in western culture. In order to avoid a dark future in 15 years, people need to defend the media that’s constantly under attack. These “squeaky wheels” rattling off bad facts and propaganda only benefit from silence.
I really don’t want to know at what temperature CDs really burn.