On Election Day, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association. The irony of this case name was obvious: The celebrated violent-action-hero governor of California had signed a bill into law in 2005 forbidding the sale of ultraviolent video games to minors, a law that lower federal courts prevented from ever going into effect.
Why should the Supremes care about this? After all, a year before that, Schwarzenegger signed a law making it illegal for anyone under 14 years old to tan indoors under any circumstances. Somehow, this did not become a cause celebre and was not fought all the way to the Supreme Court. Indeed, 32 states are inhibiting the freedom of minors to tan, and no one cares.
But interfere with their right to fry their minds and there’s hell to pay. Video-game manufacturers don’t want politicians tampering with their sales to minors, so here comes the march of the First Amendment fundamentalists, who argue that the principle of freedom of speech covers the enthusiastic distribution and sale of every kind of child-corrupting media horror. For them, there must be no hurdle for children to go around their parents and grab what Justice Samuel Alito called “the most violent, sadistic, graphic video game that can be developed.”
Paul Smith, a lawyer for the game manufacturers, argued our Founding Fathers essentially guaranteed that a 10-year-old boy can acquire a game with graphic beheadings and disembowelments. “The existing solutions are perfectly capable of allowing this problem to be addressed,” Smith says, “assuming it is a problem.”
Assuming it’s a problem? Does Smith have children? You don’t have to believe that every video-game player will act out his virtual violence in the real world to know it certainly will have noticeable antisocial effects on young children.
Requiring the parent to buy these games is hardly shredding the Constitution.
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Cheers for Alito, who wasn’t buying any of this foolishness.
“And you say there is no problem because 16-year-olds in California never have $50 available to go buy a video game, and because they never have TVs in their room and their parents are always home watching what they with their video games,” Alito asserted incredulously. “...That’s why there is no problem, right?”
Smith also tried to argue that children’s literature has traditionally involved graphically violent themes. Justice John Roberts, who has young children, shot back: “We do not have a tradition in this country of telling children they should watch people actively hitting schoolgirls over the head with a shovel so they’ll beg with mercy, being merciless and decapitating them, shooting people in the leg so they fall down.” Roberts was reading from a description of “Postal 2,” a 2002 game often cited as ultraviolent.
Justice Elena Kagan tried to dismiss the whole content controversy by insisting that “Mortal Kombat” was “an iconic game, which I am sure half of the clerks who work for us spent considerable amounts of time in their adolescence playing.” The message: The kids will be all right.
But “Mortal Kombat” was only “iconic” in that it was a gory first when it debuted in 1992, with game play like decapitations, electrocution and ripping out the still-beating heart of an opponent with bare hands.
It makes you wonder how those justices would feel if the game title were “Supreme Court Massacre.”
Contact L. Brent Bozell III at www.creators.com.