In a bit of irony from earlier this year, network news programs had to censor President Bush when he said to Tony Blair, "See, the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over," speaking of his frustration with the U.N. There wasn't much of a public outcry in reaction to the fuax pas.
Yet, under the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005, which he had recently signed, the networks had to bleep the President in order to avoid record-setting fines, while cable news networks and the internet showed it unsullied, making it one of the most popular clips on CNN.com and video-sharing sites.
Yet, in spite of the attention focused on "decency" in broadcasting, nothing could have prepared the public for the ruckus surrounding Hot Coffee. The Grand Theft Auto series of games, already under fire for their graphic and apathetic portrayal of violence against random bystanders, police and the public at large in a consequence-free zone, suddenly received pressure from both the violent and the sexual angle when a hacker discovered a mini-game depicting a sexual act in a hidden portion of GTA: San Andreas.
Several Congressmen, scenting blood in the water, took action and had the FTC investigate. As a result, Take 2 Interactive and Rockstar Games, the companies that publish and produce the games, agreed to have the rating change from M (Mature) to AO (Adults Only), costing them $24.5 million in returns of the title.
Yet still, that didn't seem to be enough in the quest to Protect the Children. Legislation all over the country has attempted to block sales of videogames to minors, all of which have been unsuccessful, due to the unconstitutionality of the laws passed.
But despite the best efforts of Congress and renegade lawyers, we still love our violence. And maybe we can learn from that. Who doesn't enjoy that feeling of gleefully running over a pedestrian? Of course, that's only in the game world. Very, very few of us would look to imitate that in real life, and those that do were likely disturbed before they ever got their hands on violent games.
I began by saying that I start from the position that people are generally good. Yet those times when terrible things happen test that stance, as they test us all. However, in our quest for answers, we should not forget that our second greatest freedom, after being able to say whatever we want, is the ability to choose what we want to listen to.
The people who want to censor and condemn should remember one very important part about television, the internet and media in general: The power button also turns things off.
Tom Rhodes is a writer and filmmaker currently living in Ohio. He can be reached through Tom [dot] Rhod [at] Gmail [dot] com.