Grand Theft First Amendment?

The Supreme Court debated sex, violence and free speech Tuesday, as several justices strongly argued for breaking new ground and upholding a California law that would forbid the sale of violent video games to those under age 18.

The following is an outline of the arguments made (by either side) and my personal thoughts on each (and yes, I’m aware that my icon depicts a man in very macabre attire holding up a flaming human heart triumphantly):

1. If the law forbids selling sexually explicit material to minors, it follows that it can forbid selling scenes of gratuitous torture and violence.

Mola says: I agree.  I understand that this would require the court to set a precedent specifically regarding violence.  But no matter how the court decides, they’re setting a friggin’ precedent!

2. The same argument could be made when movies came out that expose children to violence, or rap music.

Mola says: There ARE restrictions on very violent movies, and rap music.  I understand these restrictions are very loose, but that’s not the point… there ARE restrictions.

3. The same argument could be made for books such as Grimm’s collection of fairy tales.

Mola says: Fine, decent argument.  But there is obviously more artistic significance in a collection of books that has remained influential for 200 years than in Quentin Tarantino’s gruesome comicflick “Grindhouse.”  Right?  Not to mention the basic benefits of the act of reading.

4. Scalia insisted that since the nation’s founding, depictions of sex could be banned, but not depictions of violence and torture.

Mola says: I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’ll defer to Justice Alito…

When Scalia pressed the state’s lawyer to explain how the framers of the 1st Amendment would see the issue, Alito interjected: “What Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games.” The remark elicited laughter in the courtroom. Later, Alito said he disagreed with Scalia’s historical approach to deciding this constitutional question. Video games “are a new medium not envisioned at the time of the founding,” he said, and it “is entirely artificial” to decide based on a guess about what the 18th-century framers would have thought.

5. California argued that video games are far more troubling than movies, music or television because children and teens are active participants in the killing and maiming, not just “passive observers.”

Mola says: Eh, I hope they didn’t spend too much time pumping this point.  Yeah, I get it; but couldn’t one argue that the glamorization of violence, which is common in the particular mediums sought by youth, is just as “troubling” (I also hope they didn’t really use the word “troubling” but rather used facts and statistics)?  A minor might easily identify with the violent protagonist in a movie, or with a popular rapper rapping about murder, and be influenced in the same manner as if he had mashed a joystick and a few buttons.

There are some other things worth commenting on, but I have limited time right now.  Some points not mentioned in the article but which I heard on NPR yesterday:

  • 90% of violent video games are purchased by adults.
  • Statistics show that the rating system accompanied by parental supervision is actually quite effective (obviously I’d want more numbers on this).

In sum, from the very limited research I’ve done on this case, I think the law is constitutional.


About Mola Ram

The son of a Thuggee priest, Mola Ram emigrated from Philadelphia, PA, to Denver, CO, in search of three Sankara Stones. With two already in his possession, Ram believed all five would empower the Thuggee to destroy their Republican persecutors and establish his god Kali's reign on Earth. In Denver, he found a powerful ally in Chattar Lal, the Mayor of Denver. Ram poisoned Colorado governor, Maharajah Premjit Singh in 2009 and with Lal's help, subdued the heir: Premjit's young son, Zalim. The pair restored the palace's long-neglected Kali temple; and set up a mining operation beneath the palace, with the intent of locating the remaining stones. After stealing one of the stones — known as the Shiva Linga — from the village of Lakewood, in 2009 Mola Ram's plans were thrown into disarray by the American archaeologist Indiana Jones and his companions Willie Scott and Short Round. The trio freed the village children Ram had enslaved as miners, and stole the three stones in the high priest's possession. Mola Ram and his followers pursued the group to a rope bridge, where Jones cut the ropes, sending most of the Thuggee warriors to their deaths in the crocodile-infested river below. Mola Ram clung to the remnants of the bridge, however, and continued his battle against Jones. During the struggle, Jones' invocation of Shiva caused the stones to glow red hot. The move caught Ram off guard; he fell into the river but narrowly escaped being torn to shreds by the crocodiles. Today, Mola Ram continues to live in Denver and makes his living as a high school teacher. His interests include law, history, anthropology, sports, and live heart removal.
This entry was posted in Entertainment (Books, Movies, Etc.), Law. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Grand Theft First Amendment?

  1. We get it Mola, there’s a heart in the picture for you to grab. Just get it over with. Grab it, whirl it around, and lord over us triumphantly with that crazy ass look on your face. Or is the possession of a live, beating heart no longer enough for you. Must you first pluck the still pumping ventricles from the chest of a living man in order to feel alive, just for a moment, before you gaze once again into the nothingness that is our existence.

  2. Mola Ram says:

    I mean, I definitely prefer them freshly hand-plucked over canned, frozen, or on a sidebar.

  3. Mola Ram says:

    Further reading:

    “What Justice Scalia wants to know,” Justice Alito said, “is what James Madison thought about video games.”

    “No,” Justice Scalia responded, “I want to know what James Madison thought about violence.”

    The fact that Scalia wants to know what James Madison thought about violence…. in 17-fucking-87…. is, and will continue to be, mind-boggling to me.

    Mola’s further thoughts:

    Go through the video games and come up with a comprehensive list of specific descriptions of depictions that qualify as “patently offensive,” appeals to minors’ “deviant or morbid interests” (e.g. “splattering of entrails” “burning of a living person with murderous intent” etc. ha)

    I can see how difficulty arises from the distinction between games involving fantasy situations (zombies, aliens, etc.) and games like Grand Theft Auto and Postal 2. The former can more easily be likened to Harry Potter or Grimm’s Fairy Tales. But it still comes down to showing a lack of “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” and it seems like the key to doing that is to be as specific as possible in describing what kind of depictions you seek to control.

    I know this is probably not that interesting of a topic given the election fervor but I’m teaching my kids about it tomorrow, so I figured I’d flush some thoughts out on the blog.

  4. RA Dickey Simpkins says:

    Yea this is constitutional but a pretty horrible law IMHO.

    Most evidence trying to correlate playing violent video games with violent behavior is haphazard at best. We’d have to totally censor TV and the Internet to really shield kids from all violence. At the end of the day this probably isn’t a big deal (i see this more like not letting kids into “R” rated movies), but each step we take toward any sort of censorship is dangerous IMHO.

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