Remember the news about the New York Assemblyman who wanted to ban the sale of games that contained “profanity, racist stereotypes or derogatory language” to minors? A Senator from South Carolina apparently thinks that doesn’t go far enough: He wants to outlaw profanity completely.
Bill S.56, introduced into the South Carolina General Assembly by Senator Robert Ford, seeks to make it a crime to “publish orally or in writing, exhibit, or otherwise make available material containing words, language, or actions of a profane, vulgar, lewd, lascivious, or indecent nature.” Disseminating such material to minors would also be a crime under this bill, a felony in fact, and anyone found in violation would be subjected to fines of up to $5,000, five years imprisonment or both.
The law would essentially criminalize the sale of profanity-fueled videogames like Kingpin (because Grand Theft Auto 4 is too obvious) but it’s worth noting that the bill isn’t about videogames in particular. No specific medium is targeted; books, music, movies and even public speech are all on the block. Managers at movie theaters may suddenly be nervous about screening the next Tarantino film, and you – yes, you – could be looking at hefty fine for tossing an F-bomb at your buddy on the other side of the bar.
It’s easy enough to predict the downfall of the New York bill, but with a certain mindset it’s also possible to understand why politicians continue trying to pass such laws. “Thinking of the children” goes over well with parents who vote, and the appearance of doing good, regardless of the reality, is vital to anyone in the political melee. There’s also that slim hope that someday a judge will let one of those laws stand, an opening chink in the First Amendment armor which other like-minded legislators will be able to exploit in the future.
But seeking to outlaw words because they’re “vulgar” or “lewd?” How does someone become a State Senator without grasping what a fundamental trampling of the most basic values of free speech that represents? Sneaky, under-handed attempts at doing an end-run around the First Amendment, I can understand; that’s just politics. But this is absolutely mind-boggling. In fact, it’s so completely beyond the pale that I’m nervous this could actually happen, that there’s some sort of legislative loophole the Senator has discovered that’s about the change the world as we know it.