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.

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