As you may be aware if you have a video game-playing child or a nerdy boyfriend, April 29 brought a long awaited moment, the release of the game Grand Theft Auto IV.
If it hasn’t already, sometime nasty is about to hit the fan.
Yes, this is an alternative newspaper, the sort of publication known for it’s flexibility to bandy about epithets and quad-lettered words, but, you know, some things just don’t need to be said.
Nonetheless, if there is one sort of censorship more despicable than any other, it might just be self-censorship. Government censorship makes it easy to stir up righteous indignation, rebellion and often a great deal of intensely creative resistance.
Self-censorship is tragic. It signals surrender and defeat. Too many individuals, corporations and businesses, particularly those involved with the media, censor themselves and limit their potential and that of their employees by caving to pressure from outside organizations and institutions. Self-censorship is so amorphous that there are no boundaries and the goal posts can always easily be moved. When society censors itself it cuts off its survival, it concedes to fear, it atrophies and it fails to flourish, to grow, and it regresses.
At this moment we are at the crest of what is likely to be a tsunami of pro-censorship propaganda unlike any we have seen in quite some time, and we need to think more critically about the limitations we are prepared to put on the media.
Critics believe the Grand Theft Auto series, in which the protagonist is a criminal who steals cars, performs murders and speeds recklessly around recreations of modern cities, will desensitize our youth to violence, raise a generation of cop-killers, and unravel the fabric of society. The newest release, the first to use the latest generation of video game consoles and their more advanced technology, has already been cast as especially frightening (New Zealand and Australia have forced its publisher to distribute edited copies there, and some major U.S. cities have pulled its ads from their public buses).
Please. We’ve heard this enough. Whether video games, television, music, movies, comic books, novels or the Internet, time and again the media is assailed for the rot of civilization. Give it up. If anything, the media, when allowed to flourish and left unmuzzled — a rarer reality in this era of FCC fines and timid advertisers — is the greatest weapon in a free society’s arsenal.
Yes, there are disturbing moments in Grand Theft Auto’s violence-ridden world. Our society does turn far too much of blind eye toward gratuitous violence while stifling any discussion of sexuality (For those who recall the so-called “Hot Coffee” scandal with the game’s predecessor, it was on-screen sex that stirred moralists far more than rocket launchers and Uzis). We consistently tear down politicians for their personal infidelities and private indiscretions, yet those who lie and mislead the public into wars that kill thousands of our own citizens and hundreds of thousands of foreign citizens continue to lead (or feign to).
Despite criticism that the video game encourages real life violence toward police officers and others (the “bad guys” in Grand Theft Auto include police officers), including high-profile opposition from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as the blog gamepolitics.com points out, FBI statistics don’t support claims that there is any correlation between cop killings and the game. More importantly, video games are practically universal and are played in suburban households, bachelor apartments, slums, farms, retirement homes and everywhere people live.
These places produce people of all different types, people who go on to write operas, run marathons, cure diseases, build bridges, wash cars, serve food, act in plays and do just about everything else anyone else does.
What causes violence and amorality in our society is not the entertainment we choose. It is, as we have written before, our misguided priorities. We spend far more on short term gains at the expense of systemic improvements such as better schools, cultural opportunities, affordable health care and accessible neighborhoods, meaning we put more people into desperate positions for which it seems violence is the only option.
We can make shrill, short-sighted attacks on objectionable media, or we can spend our resources thoroughly creating the opportunities and the strong society we need to thrive. It’s our choice.