Warning Labels Can’t Stop Violence

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We’ve been here before.

“The lobbying arm of the video game industry is remaining silent amid growing calls on Capitol Hill for new restrictions on violent games,” Brendan Sasso writes in The Hill. “While the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last week has sparked debates over gun control and mental-health services, lawmakers are also calling attention to the influence of violent movies, TV shows and video games.”

Although a trilateral team of civic-minded lawmakers — Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) — “have all called for Congress to examine whether games contribute to real-world violence,” the chance that there will be any changes is slim.

Sasso continues:

    Rockefeller, the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, introduced a bill this week that would require the National Academy of Sciences to study the impact of violent video games and other content on children.

    An aide said the bill is being fast-tracked in the Senate, but there might not be enough time left in the year for a vote.

    “Major corporations, including the video game industry, make billions on marketing and selling violent content to children,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “They have a responsibility to protect our children. If they do not, you can count on the Congress to take a more aggressive role.”

    At an event on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to discuss children’s privacy regulations, Rockefeller said efforts to address violence in video games have gained momentum because of the shooting in Connecticut.

    “I think it’s a very different atmosphere than it was a week ago,” he said.

    But it is unclear whether Congress could pass any restrictions that would pass muster with the courts.

    Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors, ruling that the ban violated the constitutional right to free speech.

    “Like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the court’s opinion.

Not listed is “porn rock” music, a target in the late 1980s for liberal Democrat “Washington crusader,” later Veep wife, Tipper Gore.

Gore’s 1987 book, Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society, was reviewed that July by Michele Landsberg, a Canadian author and columnist for The Globe & Mail.

Landsberg, a self-identified “feminist and democratic socialist”, was unhappy with Gore’s approach — “liberal and concerned” but carefully avoiding “calling this ‘sexism’ or ‘male domination.’”

The real villain, Landsberg wrote, was “enterprise capitalism”, including the “progressive claque” of “musicians, record companies, Village Voice music critics, Rolling Stone and the civil libertarian establishment [which] hurl their epithets (‘Housewives,’ ‘Witch hunt,’ ‘Censorship’) but have never for a moment taken seriously the idea that their beloved freedom of expression preys on, exploits and deforms female sexuality and the female body.”

Not much has changed. Just search the internet for articles on the portrayal of women in video games.

For example, we fastforward for a moment to July 2012. Alyssa Rosenberg wrote about “Anita Sarkeesian, Video Game Rape Culture, and Why Online Harassment Is Not a Joke,” at the Soros-funded Think Progress.

    … And as a media critic who does a lot of feminist work, I hate the fact that I’m grateful for the fact that I’m not harassed for doing my job.

    Which is why I was so angry to hear about what’s happened to Anita Sarkeesian. For anyone who’s unfamiliar with her plight, Sarkeesian wanted to start a project to cover a subject that’s not exactly radical: the portrayal of women in video games. Her YouTube account, in which she explains the project, was flooded with comments equating her to the KKK, calling her a “[f**king] hypocrite slut,” comparing the project to an act of war, and flagging the video as promoting hatred or violence. Her Wikipedia page was vandalized, her picture replaced with pornographic images, and people tried to get the Kickstarter proposal Sarkeesian was using to raise money to support the project shut down. Fortunately, in this case, despite past issues with harassment victims, it seems like Kickstarter’s been more helpful to Sarkeesian than not.

    But the whole incident is a reminder of how deeply some men are invested not simply in the structures that provide them tangible advantages, but in the conventions that let them wallow in culture that indulges their worst, stupidest impulses. And if folks are willing to fight this hard against someone doing criticism of culture, there are others who will do worse to preserve the laws that give them privilege in the world. Culture in this area, as in so many others, is a canary in a coal mine. And women who complain about online harassment aren’t being oversensitive: they’re trying to stop an ugly cycle before it spirals out of control. Both psychologically and substantively, it’s key to our ability to do our work.

It would appear that it is already too late. Those “worst, stupidest impulses” are spiraling out of control.

Back to 1987: Landsberg continued:

    [Gore's] point of departure is parental alarm: her personal moment of truth dawned the day she brought home a Prince record for her 11-year-old daughter and together they heard the lyrics about a girl masturbating in a hotel lobby. From records, videos and print interviews with rock stars, Gore amassed a small mountain of examples: “Sick of chicks they’re all bitches” (Accept); “We were [f**king] her with this wine bottle” (Motley Crue); “[F**k] Like a Beast” (W.A.S.P., whose lead singer is pictured on the record jacket with a circular-saw codpiece); “Plunge the dagger in her breast” (Venom); “Little girls wanna be [f**ked!]” (Frankie Goes to Hollywood).

    Gore is also upset by rock advocacy of Satanism, alcohol, drugs and suicide, but she never calls for censorship. Instead, she opts [for] “more information, not less” – that is, warning stickers on record albums, industry ratings and printed lyrics so that parents know what their children are hearing. It is easy to mock her earnest exhortations to parents. She wants them to “network” with other parents to learn about, and boycott, violent concerts; she wants them to “communicate” more with their children.

(This is the Obama kumbaya diplomatic approach for dealing with jihadists and terrorism. It doesn’t work, either.)

Current efforts for mandatory warning labels on video games have already failed, thanks to industry lobbyists.

Sasso reports:

    The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which represents the major video game-makers, … has been fighting efforts in Washington to regulate violent games for years.

    The group spent about $4.4 million lobbying Congress in 2011, according to disclosure reports.

    In the most recent quarter, the group said it advocated “on behalf of First Amendment rights in relation to media regulation” and against “video game sale content regulation.”

    It lobbied against the Violence in Video Games Labeling Act — a bill sponsored by Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) that would require warning labels on video games similar to the warnings on cigarette packs. The bill never received a vote in committee.

    The Entertainment Software Rating Board, which was established by ESA, assigns ratings to video games to help parents decide which are appropriate for children.

    Games rated “M,” for example, are considered suitable only for ages 17 and older and might contain “intense violence” or “blood and gore.” It’s up to retailers to decide whether to sell those titles to minors.

    Because the ratings system is entirely voluntary, some lawmakers say it is not enough to protect children from the harmful effects of virtual violence.

It is highly unlikely that warning labels will change societal attitudes towards video game violence or the need for individual responsibility. No such effort would have prohibited the horrible slaughter of innocent children in Connecticut last week. If it were only that simple.

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