Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Fought the Law.

I'm too depressed to discuss the election right now, but I do want to highlight what for me was a personal tragedy last night:  fervent Florida Bar News letter writer George L. Metcalfe inexplicably failed to persuade Central Florida voters that he deserved to be their next Congressman, drawing only 1.9 percent of the vote!

What the hail is wrong with Florida voters?

But enough with bad news, let's discuss something uplifting and empowering -- the Supreme Court debating government censorship:
The law would impose $1,000 fines on stores that sell violent video games to people under 18. It defined violent games as those “in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being” in a way that is “patently offensive,” appeals to minors’ “deviant or morbid interests” and lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

“What’s a deviant violent video game?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia, who was the law’s most vocal opponent on Tuesday. “As opposed to what? A normal violent video game?”

“Some of the Grimm’s fairy tales are quite grim,” he added. “Are you going to ban them, too?”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer took the other side. He said common sense should allow the government to help parents protect children from games that include depictions of “gratuitous, painful, excruciating, torturing violence upon small children and women.”
This is pretty remarkable, as it recalls almost exactly the well-intentioned efforts in the 1950s by progressive liberals, led by Democratic Senator Estes Kefauver (Adlai's 1956 running mate), to purge the nation of the "scourge" of horror comics.

Poor William M. Gaines, EC Comics publisher and later the founder of MAD Magazine, got caught up in Kefauver's cross-hairs and delivered an epic demonstration of the difference between law and pure aesthetic expression, attempting to explain what aesthetic "taste" means in the context of a horror comics cover in which a man is shown holding a woman's severed head by the hair in one hand and gripping a bloody ax in the other:  "A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody."  

That pretty much did them in (the comix industry cut a deal and voluntarily regulated horror comics out of existence).

As recounted in Jim Trombetta's excellent The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read!,
[T]hese proceedings record how deeply ambivalent the postwar American establishment was about the baby boom.  The good part was "move to the suburbs, have a couple of kids"; the bad part was an "alarming" increase in "juvenile delinquency."  The censorship of comic books now looks like an opening salvo in the cold war against the young, which would soon flare up in the gratuitous suppression of rock and roll, eventually generating the zombielike protractions of Vietnam.
What will censoring "violent" video games look like 50 years from now?

Perhaps Justice Kagan put it best:
“You think Mortal Kombat is prohibited by this statute?” she asked Mr. Morazzini. It is, she added, “an iconic game which I am sure half the clerks who work for us spent considerable time in their adolescence playing.”

Mr. Morazzini said the game was “a candidate” for government regulation.


mikal said...

For once I agree with Justice Scalia. Guess the world is flat after all.

Anonymous said...

What you did with this story compared to Markus says it all.

South Florida Lawyers said...

It just means he's got a thriving law practice and I'm sitting here reading comic books.

Anonymous said...

So disappointing!

Anonymous said...

This type of thing is why I come here.

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