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Seduction of the Innocent 2.0

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I’m not a big fan of people who think that they know what’s best for the rest of the planet trying to keep information and media away from me and my children. Never have been, never will be.

Apparently, though, it seems I may be in the minority. A whopping 72% of parents in a poll taken by family watchdog site Common Sense Media are in favor of a California might-be-law that would prohibit the sale of “ultraviolent or sexually violent” videogames to minors without parental consent. The law in question was actually passed in California in 2005, but was blocked due to Constitutionality issues. Now, however, the Supreme Court is taking another look at it — and, as you can see, way too many people are in favor of it.

The law, in a nutshell, would fine retailers $1,000 for selling violent videogames to minors without parental consent. The 59-page bill equates violent videogames with porn in accordance to the 1968 case Ginsberg v. New York which deemed that there was a form of speech which it was legal to bar from minors.

Okay, that’s all well and good, but wasn’t the videogame industry already forced to come up with the ESRB for this very reason? Videogames are already rated according to their content and whether or not they are suited for minors. Am I to believe that 72% of parents (at least the ones polled) would rather surrender some civil liberties and maybe a little of their Constitutional freedoms and let someone else lord over their children rather than actually put a little work in to doing their job as parents?

The sad part is that yeah, I actually do believe that. I believe it because people are way too sensitive in this age of “political correctness” (which has been the most effective tool in censorship in the last ten years) to show that they are offended and too stand up and say what they really think, feel, or believe. This sort of thing has happened before.

Stan Lee, creator of some of the best loved comics around, remembers it, too. He remembers when Fredric Wertham made the same noise about comic books — no, seriously — in 1954.

You know, Stan “The Man” Lee can tell this story better than I can…and he does so in his open letter to the Video Game Voters Network. He also makes a great case why this is a bad idea:

I created Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk, the virtual ancestors of the characters in today’s games. In the 1950s, there was a national hysteria about the so-called “dangerous effect” comic books were having on our nation’s youth. Comic books, it was said, contributed to “juvenile delinquency.” A Senate subcommittee investigated and decided the U.S. could not “afford the calculated risk involved in feeding its children, through comic books, a concentrated diet of crime, horror and violence.” Comic books were burned. The State of Washington made it a crime to sell comic books without a license. And Los Angeles passed a law that said it was a crime to sell “crime comic books.” Looking back, the outcry was — forgive the expression — comical.

The more things change, as they say, the more they stay the same. Substitute video games for comic books and you’ve got a 21st century replay of the craziness of the 1950s. States have passed laws restricting the sale of video games and later this year, the Supreme Court will hear a case about one of those laws, this one passed in California. Why does this matter? Because if you restrict sales of video games, you’re chipping away at our First Amendment rights to free speech and opening the door to restrictions on books and movies.

Stan Lee might be a master at the cameo film appearance and a comic book legend, but he’s also a smart man with a very valid point. A point that should be echoed, or, at the very least, thought about very carefully before people start giving up their rights. Being a parent means doing a little homework sometimes, but in the end it’s worth it.

Keeping kids safe and shielded from harmful influences isn’t the government’s job. Any parent who decides to hand that responsibility over to the government becomes guilty of shirking their job duties. At any other job that would be grounds for dismissal.

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About Michael Melchor