L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 58, October 31, 1999
All Hallows Eve
Beware the FTC's 'Pollyanna Police'
By Vin Suprynowicz
Special to TLE
First came the liability suits against tobacco companies -- smokers,
you see, had no idea those darn cigarettes could harm their health,
despite the fact they'd been calling them "coffin nails" for decades.
Then came the recent spate of municipal "liability suits" against
handgun manufacturers, supposedly to recoup the costs of medical care
for uninsured gunshot victims. (Cynics replied, only half in jest,
that if handguns are so dangerous and unpredictable, the
manufacturers should immediately stop selling them ... to the police
forces of the cities filing the suits.)
Regardless of whether one harbors a love of tobacco or victim
disarmament, thoughtful observers had begun to ask: which industry
Glad you asked.
"It's a new area to us and we have a lot to learn," admits Mary
Koelbel Engle, director of the Federal Trade Commission's
four-month-old, $1 million study into movie violence, prompted by
last spring's deadly student shoot-'em-up at Colorado's Columbine
But "All we are going to do is report," asserts Ms. Engle,
soothingly. "We are not going to say it's right or wrong to target
14- or 15-year-olds (in marketing violent products.) Just whether or
not it's being done."
Sure. Congress -- and the private liability lawyers who are already
drooling to get their hands on this official federal document -- are
just as likely to file lawsuits contending feature films and video
games don't expose kids to enough decapitations.
"Government officials have asked for all sorts of confidential
information that industry officials say even the studios do not see,"
reports Faye Fiore of the the Los Angeles Times. The federal snoops
are seeking "memos, focus group research and strategies that may show
efforts to market to children the movies, music and videos that the
industry has rated for mature audiences," along with files of the
Motion Picture Association of America that may indicate how movies
are rated for violence, and who decides which violence is
inappropriate for children.
And I do mean "snoops." The Times reports investigators for the FTC
-- the same folks now trying to break Microsoft Corp. -- "are finding
imaginative ways to penetrate an entertainment world that they could
confess to know little about, asking student interns to mail-order
dark video games or cruise teen Web sites from home so there will be
no government footprints."
Using child spies? And thus exposing "mere children" to the very
"dangerous" violence being investigated?
The federal probers deny this is "a McCarthyist throwback to the days
of subpoenas, loyalty oaths and blacklists." But in fact the only
limits on how the FTC's "findings" will be used are those of
political expediency, and the imaginations of the trial lawyers.
In the past, gory comic books were blamed for teen-age "juvenile
delinquents" stealing hubcaps. And who can forget the thinly veiled
racism of the railing in America's pulpits when popular radio
stations first began "corrupting the morals of the nation's youth" by
playing that "satanic rock-and-roll music"?
There's nothing really new in this clumsy attempt to pin blame on
some talisman of popular culture for the pathologies actually
generated by prison-like government schools doping up unknown numbers
of our young men on Ritalin, Prozac, and Luvox. And such misguided
campaigns would likely run their course without doing much harm,
absent government involvement.
But to "investigate the marketing of violence" is to investigate
motion picture and television content -- a subject previously
considered immune from government meddling under the First Amendment,
and rightly so.
Anyone who believes such government meddling will end with motion
pictures and video games should climb right back on the turnip truck.
Mark Twain was far ahead of his time in satirizing a world in which
an uneducated white boy could be the "master" of a long-suffering
adult black slave, but "Huckleberry Finn" has nonetheless been banned
from many school reading lists for language and descriptions judged
Politically Incorrect by modern standards.
What other great literature would fail today's test of Political
Correctness when it comes to treatment of women, racial minorities,
or -- gasp -- violence? Shall some unelected government bureaucrat
now prepare a "report" on whether 14- and 15-year-olds are being
targeted with "inappropriate levels of violence" by the greedy
publishers of Shakespeare, Beowulf, or the Bible?
It's not enough to say government is "only studying." The government
is empowered to study only those things it has some power to
regulate. Since free speech is not one of them, this "probe" should
be brought to a quick and unceremonious end.
Vin Suprynowicz, assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas
Review-Journal, is author of
Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998,"
available by mailing check or money
order for $24.95 (postpaid) to Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las
Vegas, Nev. 89127. Orders can also be placed -- with credit card
orders welcome -- by dialing Huntington Press at 1-800-244-2224. Or,
on the Internet, go to
FROM VICTOR MILÁN:
Here's a link to an intriguing article:
It's in "New American" online, put out by the John Birch Society, an
organization we all know has had its axes to grind with reality in
the past. But it sometimes produces good information.
This particular piece deals with something we're already mostly aware
is a problem: those "anti-militia watchdogs" & their highly-selective
war on the Bill of Rights. Oddly, it doesn't mention Morris Dees. But
it does spotlight that disgrace to the science fiction community,
Himmler-wannabe Mark Pitcavage.
Anyway, please pop a squint at it.
Victor Milán firstname.lastname@example.org
The great distinction:
A conservative is a socialist who worships order.
A liberal is a socialist who worships safety.
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