Sunday, April 17, 2005

First they came for my comics...

Ed Kilgore on Censorship::
What, other than agitating the air about it, are some of us Democrats actually talking about doing, if it's not censorship? First, as already suggested, we think it's helpful to take the complaints of parents seriously enough to study the problem seriously. Second, we think entertainment corporations, and anyone who directly markets products to children, should admit some social responsibility, and work with public officials to (a) develop, to the maximum extent possible, parental information and control mechanisms, like a unified rating system for television shows, video games, and movies, and like technologies that are more effective and user-friendly than the V-Chip; (b) create a "zone of protection" for really young kids by eschewing direct and indirect (i.e., television and internet) marketing techniques aimed at children too young to distinguish truth from hype and crap; and (c) provide some transparency about the most egregious of those marketing techniques, such as the practice of hiring "alpha kids" to wear brand name products to influence their peers.

And if cooperative efforts to secure voluntary measures [from media corporations] don't work, then we can talk regulation--just like we do with other corporations--if necessary.
Um, no, Ed, we can't. That's censorship. That's the whole point. Regulation of targeting kids with the "alpha kids" tactic is fine, and advertising awareness education in school is fine. I would actually prefer it to trying to censor advertising to kids, because I think the kids are smarter than they're often given credit for, and they can learn that advertising is misleading. It may not work if they're too young, though.

That's not what this is really about, though, when people advocating censorship are talking about how bad culture is. It is about censorship, period. Whether it's by government or by private companies doesn't matter; these "voluntary" schemes are rarely anything but the industry forestalling inevitable regulation.

They are be just as damaging, too: witness the Comics Code's decades-long evisceration of the medium in the United States.

My real problem with all these arguments is that too much of the time it's misleading. Attacking Max Hardcore and his ilk is inevitably a proxy for attacking all erotica, just as attacking GTA is inevitably a proxy for attacking any sort of violence in video and computer games, just as attacking Bill Gaines' horror comics was a way of attacking any sort of controversial subject matter in comics. You go after whatever is most disturbing because that's what provides the shock, and then you enact policy that gets what you really want.

"Voluntary ratings systems" are only the first step: and all that they really need to do is simultaneously lobby for strict enforcement and then lobby corporations (like Wal-Mart, which is famously protective of its "family" image) to "keep that filth out", and you've got de-facto economic censorship. It's already happening with movies to a certain extent (seen an NC-17 movie recently?) and it'll only get worse if this continues.

Do liberals (or even New Democrats) really want to get in bed with this?

hat tip to Digby. Might as well set my homepage to Hullabaloo nowadays.

Digby and Religious extremism

There is, really, not much to add to this piece by Digby and one of his commenters on the totalitarian bent of far too many elements of American society right now. He points out that all of the remaining bulwarks against the dominance of right-wing memes are under attack right now:

-academe is being attacked for being insufficiently willing to allow the kind of Republican drone "academics" that infest think-tanks within its halls;
-the judiciary is being attacked for placing the law over the Commandments;
-and the cultural industry is being attacked for daring to not marginalize those who disagree with the right's consensus on acceptable discourse (witness Michael Moore and, yes, Grand Theft Auto, which is actually an example of the same kind of dark, ironic humor which drives the religious right NUTS.)

The only omission I noticed was that he didn't elaborate on this statement by the commenter:

let's forget that their path is toward a new form of totalitarianism harnessing religion as the Nazis harnessed nationalism
It's this that, I think, is the main reason why a lot of the arguments about the United States going "fascist" or not are a little off-base. Whether the link is valid or not, fascism is associated with overwhelming and irrational ethnic nationalism. While the "overwhelming and irrational" part is there, I don't buy that the totalitarian bent in the American right has that much to do with ethnic nationalism. It's there, certainly, but Thomas Frank was right in pointing out that you can have the one without the other. While Kansas is very much anti-racist, it still embraced all the right-wing arguments that characterize the modern religious right in the United States.

If anything, however, the theocratic variant is much more dangerous. The problem with fascism as a system is that it needs to see some sort of results in order to sustain itself. You can only legitimately claim that your race is superior as long as it demonstrates superiority. As soon as that demonstrated superiority is gone, the system is doomed.

Theocratic totalitarianism, however, doesn't suffer from this problem. The rewards aren't supposed to be seen in "this life", and thus visible results don't matter. If there are economic, environmental or political repercussions, they can be waved away with the promise of infinitely better results in the afterlife. The results don't have to accrue to the entire society, either; rearranging society to be more "godlike" may only spiritually benefit the rearranger and his religious allies, but that's a good enough reason to do it, so it is done.

Heck, look at the Rapture- a significant part of the dogma embraced by much of the religious right is that they don't even have to wait until death to escape any negative side effects of their "Godding" of society!

This is, of course, somewhat reminiscent of the ideology of the theocratic Muslims referred to as "Islamists". It's a term I've never fully accepted, as it limits the political bent to that specific religion, and I'm seeing that skepticism justified by what's been going on. The biggest difference appears to be the promise of earthly prosperity in Islamism... they argue that adoption of their religious laws will lead to a better society *right now*, whereas that claim in the US (where it exists) is much more muted.

In any case, go read Digby's piece.