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58


L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 58, October 31, 1999
All Hallows Eve

Beware the FTC's 'Pollyanna Police'

By Vin Suprynowicz
vin@lvrj.com

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 will benext?
           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 High School.
           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 http://www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html


FROM VICTOR MILÁN:

Here's a link to an intriguing article:

http://www.thenewamerican.com/tna/1999/11-08-99/vo15no23_police.htm

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.

-Vic
---
Victor Milán vicmilan@ix.netcom.com
The great distinction:
A conservative is a socialist who worships order.
A liberal is a socialist who worships safety.


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