The state can’t protect children from imaginary violence — or real competition.
In the majority decision in Brown v. EMA, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors, Justice Antonin Scalia touched on several points only peripherally related to the case but warranting deeper analysis. Although it may be in the state’s power to protect children from maltreatment, Justice Scalia argues, the government cannot impose laws restricting what is arguably “objectionable,” such as video game violence.
Scalia cites numerous examples of death and gore in children’s literature, from the attempted poisoning of Snow White to the incineration of the witch in Hansel and Gretel. He also discusses the violence in Homer’s Odyssey, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and Dante’s Inferno, the blood and gore in each more considerable than the last. Many of these books are read and analyzed in schools as an inseparable part of the core curriculum.
Since the birth of our nation, American children have been exposed to violence during their childhood. Scalia’s examples may be a bit outdated — I don’t see many modern preadolescents drawn to fourteenth-century epics — but many more instances of violence permeate deep into our cultural fabric.
Before video games, American children had other ways of amusing themselves that were much more violent than the digital bloodshed of today. The adolescents of yesteryear were hunters and sportsmen, gutting fish and skinning elk. American sports such as football, boxing, and hockey are all violent, bloody, battles in which participants repeatedly bash into each other in pursuit of some objective, often injuring themselves in the process. What Thanksgiving Day would be complete without such an event?
Certainly, all this violence was for a purpose, to put food on the table or to win a game. But so is the majority of violence in video games: to accomplish the mission, to complete an objective. Games with excessive and arbitrary violence are a minority.
Those in support of laws restricting the sales of video games, such as state governments and parent groups, ignore the fact that Americans have always been highly competitive and aggressive. Perhaps it is our highly competitive nature that manifests itself as violent tendencies. In the words of General George S. Patton:
When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer, the big league ball players, and the All-American football players. Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American.
The recent efforts by the nation’s schools to downplay competition, to deemphasize the distinction between “winner” and “loser,” are especially troubling. Increasingly, schools and organizations allow only games and activities in which no winners or losers are identified, in which the goal is solely to complete the “competition.” Toys emulating violence are taken off the shelves, and “violent” commercials and television programs are forced off the air in an attempt to foster a more “nurturing” environment for children.
In a similar attempt to create a more “inclusive” environment, schools are doing away with time-honored institutions such as valedictorian status and honors societies. This apparent “leveling” of the playing field, however, harms students at both ends of the academic spectrum by holding back high achievers and providing a false sense of security for those who need extra help.
Such measures do the nation’s youth a great disservice, softening up generations who will find themselves competing with people from societies that instill into their youth principles of discipline and fierce competition. A ferocity and thirst for liberty unknown to the world in 1776 are what made the United States the great nation it has been.
Calls for stricter controls of what children can do and see are raised again each time a new means of entertainment becomes popular. Overreaction is inevitable, but the unfortunate result —overregulation —is not.
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