It has become common in in the US it seems, to protest and feign moral outrage over something trivial. The recent MySpace débâcle (here or here) is a prime example – A parent lets her child have unfettered access to the internet, meets someone on a site, arranges a real life meeting, and then the girl (of 14) is attacked. Now the parent who allowed her daughter to use this website, is suing the site. It has become common in this modern day and age for many parents to give their children free reign, and then when something happens, for them to blame someone else. Who was it that allowed a 14yo free reign on the internet? Was it MySpace? Who was it that let that same teenager go out and meet some person she'd just met? The website? The plaintiff's lawyer justified the $30M lawsuit by saying that 21 state attorney generals had warned MySpace that the site's security measures were ineffective and urged the site to adopt age-verification systems. I've been around and about for a while, but I know of no method to verify someones age, short of having the person provide government issued documentation, in person, to the verifier. Adult websites have been stuck with this issue for many years, and their best solution is to use a credit-card, which only verifies that the named cardholder is over 18 - were the girl in the case to get hold of her parents credit card info, and use it for age verification, would anything have changed? There were only two people that could have prevented that attack – the parents and the victim herself.
Of course, this is not the only example of lawsuits going awry, in the hopes of big money. In 2003 two teenage boys decided to take pot shots at cars from a bridge over the I40 motorway using a .22 rifle. They killed one and injured another. They claimed they were bored, and decided to emulate their favourite game – Grand Theft Auto. Who did the family of the victim choose to sue? Why the person with the deepest pockets, the publishers of the game. Not the kids for shooting the gun, not the kids parents for allowing them access to the gun, or even the state that allowed such unfit parents to own a firearm, but the game the kids claimed they were copying. I'm only surprised they didn't also decide to sue the state for having a bridge set up so such a shooting was possible or the gun manufacturer for making a gun a teenager could fire (although that was the underlying plot in the film adaptation of John Grisham's “Runaway Jury”). Those two are equally as culpable as the litigants targets, if not more so. Prevent anyone from being able to fire off a bridge, and it couldn't have happened. Can the same be said if the game had never come out? Similarly, if the girls parents had been on the ball, it couldn't have happened – if Myspace didn't exist, it could, and would have happened using any one of a thousand other similar methods, from IRC, emails, IMs and so on.
Other cases abound – in Oakland, California (on the other side of the Bay Bridge from San Francisco) there were a group (five men and a woman) who called themselves 'Nut Cases' apparently played violent videogames night and day, before engaging in random robbery and murder. Their favourite, they say, was Grand Theft Auto. (sources here and here)
That brings me to modern day. There has been a lot of controversy over the latest incarnation of that game in the last year, San Andreas. For anyone who's kept clear of any and all news relating to videogames, let me recap, anyone else can skip to the next paragraph. It, like its previous 4 incarnations, is a game where you play a villain, and throughout the game you have to perform tasks such as armed robbery, assassinations, carjacking, bombings, and so on and so forth. Nothing at all dissimilar, in fact, from what you did in all the previous games, (and the first one was released in 1998), so why the stink? Well, there is a background aspect of the game where you get a girlfriend, and take her on dates. If they go well, you will be eventually invited back in 'for coffee'. This mod unlocked some visual footage which was removed from gameplay. So instead of exterior shots of the house whilst suggestive sound effects are played, you get to see it happen.
The deal then is that sexual activity between two consenting adults is not suitable whilst murder, mutilation and dismemberment of non-consenting adults is fine, as is wholesale destruction of personal and private property. 81 year old Florence Cohen, from New York even sued Take Two over it, saying that she had bought it for her grandson, aged 14 (the game is rated 'Mature' in the US, meaning suitable for ages 17+) "without knowing it contained hidden, sexually explicit scenes”. Hillary Clinton also jumped on the bandwagon, demanding a Federal Trade Commission investigation. Of course, what both Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Cohen are neglecting to point out is that the acts they are protesting against are, if not the same, then at least very similar, to acts they themselves have performed at times in the past. I do however hope that they have not performed any of the games acts with which they don't have a problem, such as killing someone (curious as to why we haven't heard from Laura Bush then).
It would be nice to think that this is a recent anomaly but it's not. If you were to look at the TV guide for around lunchtime in Atlanta, for instance, you'd notice that on one of the major networks (Atlanta based TBS) they have Lethal Weapon 2 on, starting at 10:30am, and finishing at 1pm, right before the local baseball team's game comes on. Some of the closing scenes of that movie have a South African shooting Mel Gibsons character, and laughing shouting 'diplomatic immunity' before being shot in the head. What a lovely sight for any kids that have turned over for the Braves game a little early. The USA network no cable has Terminator 2 starting at 12:30pm, nice bodycount, so clearly wholesome family viewing. TNT meanwhile decided to show the Martin Lawrence/will Smith film “Bad boys” at 10AM (MPAA rated R for intense violent action and pervasive strong language.) and AMC went with a 7:45am showing of The Godfather, part III. These movies all have something in common – recreating some of the scenes in these films will have you sitting in a cell on death row in many states, and staring at the inside of a jail cell for the rest of your life in the others.
Lets take sexual content now. If we were to look at a film based heavily around consenting sexual action, and nakedness, just as those films above are based around violence and murder – lets take Showgirls. In the US, even if you were to watch it broadcast at 11pm (when all impressionable children who would be so tainted by the sight of breasts should be in bed) it is very likely that you will see anything that could even be remotely described as lewd conduct. There is actually a version of the film, for broadcast, where the 'sex scenes' are cut out, and and nudity fixed by digitally painting on clothes. Double standards?
How about another example. Superbowl 2004 for instance. In the half time show, Janet Jackson's nipple was briefly exposed, and there was national uproar, - FCC chairman Michael Powell was watching the event with his two children, and called it 'outrageous'. Would there have been such an outcry if a blank gun and bloodpack was used instead to give the illusion of her having been shot? One might also assume that Mr Powell's children **satire alert** never exposed to the disgusting, indecent and morally reprehensible act of breast-feeding**satire alert**
“What has all this to do with peer2peer?” You have probably been wondering. What each of these cases highlights is the dangers of a worldview the US is heading for. In a country where revealing of a breast on television is punishable by a $325,000 fine, but films featuring scenes of torture are acceptable Sunday lunchtime family viewing. Where atrocious parenting decisions are glossed over because of a sexual angle, real or implied. Only in such a society, where common sense is sorely lacking, and any sense at all is rare it seems, are laws like the DMCA passed, is copyright extended to 95 years, stifling creativity rather than encouraging it as was its intent. Only in that atmosphere are copies of a film deemed important enough to interfere in another countries democrat progress, and laws, are the reproduction rights treated as being almost as important as military secrets.
Land of the free? More like land of the lunatic.