But “It’s for the Children!”–The Violent Stupidity of Regulating Violence in Media

by on September 2, 2004

Yesterday, the FCC extended the comments period for its inquiry into the impact of violent TV programming on kids. The FCC launched the inquiry this summer after several members of Congress wrote to the FCC earlier this year requesting that the agency study what it could do about violence on television. The Senate recently included a measure in a military spending bill (how’s that for irony!) that would ban violent video programming on broadcast TV during hours in which children might be in the audience (basically anytime before 10:00 p.m.). Thus, this latest “for the children” censorship crusade du jour, aimed at getting “excessive violence” out of the media, suddenly seems like a very real possibility.

Excuse the pun, but this nonsense just kills me. How in the world will regulation work here? Consider the ramifications of allowing a handful of folks down at the FCC to determine what constitutes “excessive violence.” Are the bloody and occasionally gruesome scenes in CSI and ER excessive, or is that a reasonable depiction of forensic and medical science? Hockey games on prime-time TV feature lots of fights, blood, and lost teeth. For decades, cartoons have offered a buffet of violent acts, and slapstick comedy of the Three Stooges variety features a lot of unforgivingly violent moments presented as humor. Should regulators also censor the many combat-oriented video games on the market today that involve extremely realistic military training and war game scenarios, some of which even rely on the consulting services of former military officials? How about gruesome war scenes from actual combat that any child can see on the nightly news? What about the stabbing, poisoning, and other heinous acts found in Shakespeare’s tragedies? And, for God’s sake (again, excuse the pun), what about all the violence in the Bible or Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ?

I could go on and on, but you get the point. This all comes down to a question of who calls the shots–parents or government–regarding what we are allowed to see and hear in a free society. This is not to say society must celebrate or even defend violence in the media; there are plenty of movies, shows and games that do contain what many parents would regard as a troubling amount of violent content for young children to witness. Parents need to act responsibly and exercise their private right–indeed, responsibility–to censor their children’s eyes and ears from certain things. It’s become increasingly evident, however, that a lot of parents have just gotten lazy about carrying out this difficult job. As the father of two small children, I can appreciate the hassle of constantly trying to monitor a child’s viewing and listening habits, but that’s no excuse for throwing in the towel and calling in the government to censor what the rest of the world has access to.

Again, it’s all being done “for the children.” But is there anyone left in government who will stand up for freedom, the First Amendment, and personal responsibility?

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