Thursday, April 23, 2009

10 Years after Columbine part 02 (004/26/01)

This second post Columbine editorial was written two years after the shootings, for my college newspaper. In it, I bitterly recounted a brand new 'blame entertainment' lawsuit that had been filed in direct correlation with the two-year anniversary of the crime. The irony of course was that it was an almost identical sort of lawsuit, as well as the identical illogical reasoning that sparked the lawsuits that I discussed the week after the shootings. The more things change...

Here We Go Again...

by Scott Mendelson

“Imagine, if you will, an increasingly plausible future scenario. You are angry about affirmative action. So, you write a letter to the editor to USA Today. You state that something has to be done about this situation. You state that action must be taken to avert this alleged injustice. In response to your letter, a disturbed, angry loner whom you have never met walks into the local NAACP building and opens fire. The families of the victims then sue you. Your crime? You wrote material that you should have known could have inspired a crime. You put out a call for protest, but you should have known it could have been taken as a call to arms.”

The above paragraph is nearly two years old. It was the beginning of my twelfth and final editorial for my high school paper. This post-Columbine-piece dealt with lawsuits filed by victim’s families and survivors of a couple of related shootings which held Hollywood and the video game industry responsible merely because they should have known that their products would be misinterpreted and misused. Both lawsuits were dismissed late last year and those who enjoy free artistic expression breathed a sigh of relief. Alas, the peace could only last so long…

Two weeks ago, a day before the two-year anniversary of the Columbine shootings, the families of several victims filed a five billion dollar lawsuit against several video game companies and Internet porn sites, claiming that video games and pornography are responsible for the actions of individual human beings. Once again, even though these products were not intended to insight violence, the makers should have known, say the plaintiffs, that some random loony would have used this video game or that porn site as inspiration for a violent act. Here we go again…

There has never been a factual, objective link between violence in TV, movies, video games, and books and violence in the real world. Early this year, Surgeon General David Satcher released the findings of a massive study on youth violence found that media violence was not a major cause and was not a contributing factor to youth violence. As common sense would indicate, the economic background, family life, educational background, and mental well being of the child were far more important factors.

Artists should never, ever be responsible for the actions of someone else in relation to their art. To hold ID Games responsible for a fan of Doom going on a shooting spree is to hold JD Salinger responsible for the death of John Lennon is to hold the Catholic Church responsible for the latest abortion clinic shooting.

Alas, the dubiousness of the claims is not why this issue is being revisited. I swore that the previous piece would be the final time I would write about such foolishness. Alas, Joseph Lieberman is now trying to pass legislation to enforce a voluntary movie ratings code which was never intended to be a matter of law, and various champions of decency are trying to get MTV’s Jackass thrown off the air because kids are too stupid to read the warnings before each show (the news shows condemning Jackass while showing the same offending scenes carry no such warning). But the simple wording of the lawsuit brings a once-hidden agenda blindly to light and is the cause of this piece.

“Absent the combination of extremely violent video games and these boys' incredibly deep involvement, use of and addiction to these games and the boys' basic personalities, these murders and this massacre would not have occurred.''

So, the attorneys involved fully acknowledge that the perpetrators themselves are just as much to blame as the evil empires of Nintendo and Sega. Alas, the perpetrators are dead and their families are not wealthy. But video game companies are big, faceless corporations that have deep pockets. Maybe, the plaintiffs could scare them into settling for a few hundred million before this suit, like the nearly identical Paducah case, gets dismissed on constitutional grounds. Obviously, greed is nothing new in the realm of civil litigation, but once again the stakes are high. What was true two years ago remains true today.

“Quite simply, if either of these lawsuits triumph, the first amendment will be a thing of the past. From then on, you will be in constant fear of what you say and what you write. If someone uses your written or spoken word as inspiration for a crime, you will be held liable, regardless of your true message. We will thus live in a nation of voluntary censorship. Don't let our most precious freedom become the next victim of random violence.”

Sometimes I wonder why I bother…

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