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Against Censorship

February 8, 2012

by J. Andrew Zalucky

Censorship: State-Sponsored Protective Parenting

Often, when tragic events like school shootings and beatings occur, the great mass of sensationalized and ignorant parents love to shoot for the same arguments:

“It’s this awful culture of violence we live in today! We need to ban violent video games, violent music, and violent movies! It’s those things that are responsible for this tragedy!”

As always, instead of THINKING and bothering to examine the FACTS of a particular criminal case, they resort to the same hollow self pity of

“I’m angry and confused, and someone needs to pay!!! I don’t need to talk to my kids and teach them to think for themselves. No! I need to PROTECT MY CHILDREN from all of the violence out there in the world!”

As if such a ridiculous proposition was even possible. Violence and aggression are naturally present facts of human life (yes, both genders), and to deny this is to wish for a world that does not exist. And why do we need to wish for it anyway? After all, I started playing Doom and Mortal Kombat at age 9, saw my first R-rated movie at age 8 (ok ok it was Speed…don’t laugh at me!), and started listening to aggressive Metal and Punk music at age 13. I don’t mean to offer myself up as a straw-man, but with all these things considered, I’ve never been in trouble with the law, never instigated a fight, and did a pretty decent job at school as well.

“Oh but Drew, that’s because you’re a normal person! What about all those crazy people out there!?!?”

Therein lies the rub. The notion that “I’m an exception because I’m not insane”, isn’t much of an argument. Psychopaths and Sociopaths will do terrible things REGARDLESS of what Battlefield game comes out, or some lyrics on a Death Metal record. And to censor free expression for the sake of non-provocation of irrational actors is to yield up our freedom and self-respect to just those very people.

“But what about very young children?”

A question worth considering, but it only yields another, more easily answered one:

“Should musicians, artists, and filmmakers be treated like everyone’s babysitter?”

The fact that certain parents are unable to sit down and have a thoughtful conversation with their children about the realities of violence, death… sex for that matter- is not the problem of those in the creative arts.

As seen through the development of modern civil society, violence can be curbed and contained with the rule of law and a culture that instills respect for the rights of fellow human beings. Aside from these essential elements, are there any other developments that can serve this purpose?

What if things like violent video games, aggressive music, and blood-stained horror movies actually give people an outlet otherwise not found in the rest of society. There is a new article out by Charles Kenny in Foreign Policy that addresses just this notion:

Cultural factors are important, then. But before you rush to deride the Federal Communications Commission and the Supreme Court for their lackadaisical attitude to violence on television, note that the trend towards more — and more graphic — violence on TV doesn’t quite sync with the pattern of crime rates. A culture of violence and violence in popular culture are two very different things. In fact, one more element of cultural change that may behind declining violence is the substitution of fantasy violence for the real thing. French historian Robert Muchembeld argues in his book, History of Violence, that crime fiction and novels about war have given young men a way to indulge in violent fantasies without actually going out and stabbing someone. Or, over the last few years, they could stab someone playing Grand Theft Auto rather than stab someone while actually committing grand theft auto. This is the blood-and-gore version of the argument that that more pornography leads to lower sexual violence.

I realize that, as a non-parent, there is a certain amount of this that “I just don’t understand”, but seeing as I’ve only been an adult for about 6 years, I have a pretty good memory of what it feels like to be on the kid’s side of the argument. One thing that parents and PTA committees always miss is that, the more you try to repress a child’s curiosity about something, the more fascinating that something becomes. I remember at age 10, being told by one of my parents that I was no longer allowed to watch South Park, a rule that A- only made it more interesting and B- did not stop me from watching the show…because my other parent didn’t care and decided that watching it with me was a better idea than trying to prohibit the show itself.

Now obviously, CONSTANT exposure to violence and obscenity will have a negative effect on people. But only through experience and critical thinking can people develop the sense of moderation and responsibility that comes with being a functioning human. Note that I cite experience and critical thinking, NOT parental and societal dogma. The key is not to crush our impulses, but to find a beneficial way to channel them.

And besides, there can be too much of a good thing as well- wouldn’t constant exposure to “positive reinforcement” just blind us to the truth of our own lives? Think of every awful, vile dictatorship that has existed and you will get a good idea of what I’m driving at.

I also recommend an article by James Parker in The Atlantic, called How Heavy Metal is Keeping Us Sane, my thoughts on which you may read on an old article of mine on Metal Injection.

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