Today's Supreme Court decision throwing out California's ban on selling "violent" video games to people under 18 contains an unintended invitation to News Cut readers. What children's book contains violence akin to the video games in question?
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the opinion delivered today, said video games are no different from books, plays, and movies and, thus, are deserving of First Amendment protection. "Our cases have been clear that the obscenity exception to the FirstAmendment does not cover whatever a legislature finds shocking, but only depictions of 'sexual conduct.'" Scalia wrote in explaining why laws against obscenity cannot be used in this case.
Besides, Scalia argue, kids' books are violent, too, and we're not banning them...
Certainly the books we give children to read--orread to them when they are younger--contain no shortage of gore. Grimm's Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers "till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy." The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales 198 (2006 ed.). Cinderella's evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. Id., at 95. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven. Id., at 54.
High-school reading lists are full of similar fare. Homer's Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops bygrinding out his eye with a heated stake. The Odyssey ofHomer, Book IX, p. 125 (S. Butcher & A. Lang transls.1909) ("Even so did we seize the fiery-pointed brand and whirled it round in his eye, and the blood flowed about the heated bar. And the breath of the flame singed his eyelids and brows all about, as the ball of the eye burnt away, and the roots thereof crackled in the flame"). In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they beskewered by devils above the surface. Canto XXI, pp.187-189 (A. Mandelbaum transl. Bantam Classic ed.1982). And Golding's Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island. W. Golding, Lord of the Flies 208-209 (1997 ed.).
Scalia's interpretation of the application of the First Amendment led to an unusual dissent from Justice Clarence Thomas, who is usually on the same side Scalia's on.
Thomas said the freedom of speech does not include the freedom to speak to children without their parents' permission...
Adults carefully controlled what they published forchildren. Stories written for children were dedicated to moral instruction and were relatively austere, lackingdetails that might titillate children's minds.
. John Newbery, the publisher often credited with creating the genre of children's literature,removed traditional folk characters, like Tom Thumb, from their original stories and placed them in new morality tales in which good children were rewarded and disobedient children punished.
Thomas noted the doomed California law did not prevent a child from getting violent video games with the assistance of his/her parents.
Update 3:51 p.m. - Here's a really great review of the decision from the always-informative ScotusBlog.
Any poll numbers on how many parents actually read the Grimm version of those stories to their kids? My money's on the Disney versions of both "Snow White" and "Cinderella", if most kids hear those stories at all. And has Justice Scalia never heard of the "Twilight" series? He sounds like a fuddy-duddy.
I think there's an important distinction missing from the argument. While the stories Scalia mentions (including the Odyssey, where I'd say the slaughter of suitors is MUCH more disturbing than the blinding of the cyclops) do include violence, that violence is not the point of the story -- not in the way that violence is the point of a first-person shooter game. Also, books and movies are more passive, whereas video games allow the player to perpetrate the violence. And what about games where violence is sexualized?
I'm not saying that the decision is necessarily incorrect, but I wonder how grounded in reality it is. The excerpts in the post left me thinking that maybe the Justices could stand to get out more.
Violent video games have never made me an angry person and have never created feelings of wanting to go shoot something... just like all the sports games I've played through video games have never actually inspired me to go out and play them. It's the distinction between reality and fiction that people make whenever they read or play video games that is present and those in the justice system never seem to see that.
(side note- do they even know what kids these days can look up online???)
Sex, bad. Violence, good. Welcome to America.
Remember that what the court is considering isn't exactly whether violent video games are appropriate or not for children. It's whether the California law is unjustly restricting children from accessing protected speech.
I'm not sure I follow all the logical reasoning in the opinion, but the first few pages sure make for some thought-provoking reading.
Take a look especially at the part where they discuss when the state can pass laws that function as an extension of parental authority and when it can't. Also, the footnote addressing Justice Thomas's dissent on this issue. Really gets into some of the deeper legal consequences if this law was allowed to pass.
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