Videogame Victory: How SCOTUS Saved Us from Part-Time Parenthood
On Monday, June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that vendors in California (and everywhere else, it seems) can sell violent videogames to minors. Contrary to most well-reported Supreme Court decisions, this one found the conservative justices in disarray, with Clarence Thomas constituting half of the opposition (along with Stephen Breyer).
Considering the bipartisan split of the dissenting justices, it should come as no surprise that plenty of Americans on both sides of the aisle have fallen in with Thomas and Breyer, even on American Thinker's pages. The Washington Post condemns the decision as "misguided," while the LA Times lauds it as a victory for the First Amendment. Ed Morrissey at Hot Air sides with the majority (after some characteristic deliberation), while commentators at Conservativebyte.com interpret the decision as a way to "take power from the parents" and turn kids into videogame-playing "zombies" with no sense of American history.
Of course, it's delightful to watch liberals tear each other to pieces over this issue. But there should be no such caterwauling from the conservative right. Painful as it is to admit, Justice Thomas came down on the wrong side of this issue -- and perhaps more painfully, Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan were right (for once).
In his dissent, Thomas alleges that according to the framers of the Constitution, "speech to minor children bypassing their parents" is ineligible for protection under the First Amendment. "The founding generation," Thomas opines, "would not have considered it an abridgement of 'the freedom of speech' to support parental authority by restricting speech that bypasses minors' parents."
There seems to be a disconnect here between "support[ing] parental authority" and "restricting speech that bypasses minors' parents" -- i.e., when it comes to government overseers, the latter could very well not be born of a desire to do the former. And how could one help but enumerate the ways in which this concept must reach its logical endpoint? Shall the government restrict teachers' speech to support the authority of parents who don't agree with what said teachers are putting on the blackboard? (Conservative parents might sigh, "If only!") Is a public speaker to give up all hope of government protection the moment an unsupervised child wanders within earshot of his podium? Should bookstores start carding before selling A Dance of Dragons or anything by Stephen King?
A common criticism of the decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association is that the state imposes laws against pornography for minors, therefore it should offend no one when the state seeks to curtail the availability of violent videogames. However, Justice Scalia nicely parries this charge by noting that the United States has a long history of restricting sexual, but not violent, media. If Justice Thomas would have us adhere to the milieu of the Constitution's framers -- when children were confronted with real-life pestilence, violence, and death on a far more regular basis than they are today -- then shouldn't he be advocating for more violent videogames? (To this effect, Scalia's point about fairy tales is apt as well: Disney whitewashes aside, children have no lack of violent material sanctified by our culture even today.)
So from a legal standpoint, the Supreme Court decided correctly in this case. However, what should raise every conservative eyebrow is the contention that the decision is a way to enshrine our disgusting pop culture and further vitiate our children. Jesse J. Holland at Yahoo! News (granted, not the most right-leaning source in the world) sets the tone when he says that the Brown decision leaves "it up to parents and the multibillion-dollar gaming industry [emphasis added] to decide what kids can buy."
For Holland to distribute power over children equally between "the multibillion-dollar gaming industry" -- a phrase that smacks of "evil corporation" rhetoric -- and the children's own parents is patently absurd. It's like saying that the multibillion-dollar soda industry decides what kids drink, except it's worse because it's not minors who spend hundreds on the Wii or the PlayStation 3.
One of the reasons why this issue is so ticklish among right-leaners is because it showcases some thorny contradictions in conservative thought. On the one hand, we want the government to leave people and businesses to take care of themselves. But on the other hand, we hate obscenity and public prurience, we lament the sorry state of 20th- and 21st-century art in all its forms, and we want more than anything to protect our children from the depredations of modern society.
And it goes without saying that there is plenty of unworthy trash in the videogame world, as there is in music, television, and art. But that's just one author's opinion, and each person's estimation in this regard will be different from his neighbor's. One individual may approve of a government embargo on Grand Theft Auto 18 (as others protest, don't forget!), but will that same person deem The Three Stooges too violent, or Looney Tunes, or Hansel and Gretel? When the decision belongs to the individual, it doesn't matter to the rest of us if some prude won't let his kid buy The Lord of the Rings because it's too violent. But when the decision belongs to a president or a cabal of government bureaucrats, it's never too long before no one is happy. Plenty of pernicious legislation has been passed and upheld "for the children."
If you have a column of dominoes, the best way to keep it from falling is to watch the first block, not the last. For Americans, when it comes to exposing kids to culture, government should be the last block (if it's in the line at all), and parents the first. That "[t]he depravity of pop culture cannot be contained ... by parents" is not a sufficient or even a valid argument for government intervention. "It's too hard to be a parent" just isn't a good enough -- indeed, "it's too hard" is the same argument liberals use to justify abortion on demand and affirmative action. The time to think about the difficulty of parenting comes before one chooses that road.
Conservatives, take note: the Supreme Court's Brown decision shines a spotlight on our country's foundation in self-reliance and independence. When parents decide what videogames their minor kids can buy, it's personal responsibility. When government decides what everyone's minor kids can buy, it's one more manifestation of the encroaching leviathan.
(See also: Grand Theft Alito)