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Archive for Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Hypocrisy on sex, violence

January 18, 2005

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We get all worked up when Nicolette Sheridan shows her bare back and then some to promote "Desperate Housewives" leading into "Monday Night Football." And who can forget Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at last year's Super Bowl halftime show?

Kids are watching, and it's not right to expose their tender minds -- not to the nudity, which frankly was a nanosecond of nothing, but to the sexually aggressive nature that both incidents sought to highlight.

I don't disagree with the tsk-tskers. Adult content doesn't belong on sports shows, though I would argue that neither do Viagra commercials.

What truly bothers me is the Puritanical double standard in American society that excuses children being exposed to violence even as it seeks to protect them from sexual innuendo. Shoot-em-up, head-pummeling violence on TV or in video games is, well, the American way.

I was reminded of the hypocrisy when Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced recently that he wanted to outlaw the sale of violent video games to minors. Games like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," "Halo 2," "Half-Life 2," "Doom 3" and "Resident Evil: Outbreak."

There's precedent in the law for limiting the sale of obscene materials to adults. But there's no legal precedent in this country to protect kids from violence beyond the entertainment industry's use of ratings in movies and video games to alert parents to "mature" topics.

Who are we kidding? It's not the law that's the problem. It's us.

We are a violent nation. That's our history. The American Revolution wasn't won with diplomacy, and teenagers were part of the action. The Wild West was pure mayhem, and children lived through it. Or died.

My generation grew up playing cops and robbers, shooting BB guns at lizards, birds, even four-legged animals (if not at one another), playing cowboys and Indians. Did it mess us up? We won't ask the guillotine-toting "let them eat cake" French.

Research seems pretty clear. There's a marked increase in children's violent behavior when they are exposed to violent images. It becomes a matter of degree to the exposure and, of course, each child's maturity and personality comes into play in that equation, too.

The average eighth-grade boy plays video games 23 hours a week, and girls play about half that much, a recent Michigan State University study found. A Japanese study found that fifth-graders exposed to violent games were more prone to have aggressive behavior a year later, particularly if the games promoted "heroes" so that justice was done.

Imagine kids playing a game that depicts the "hero" as a thug avenging his mother's murder. That's what "Grand Theft Auto" portrays. The character steals cars, robs people, kicks them until blood pours out of his dead victims, even hires a prostitute. Now this "game" is rated M for mature audiences, so kids shouldn't be buying it, but the law doesn't ban the sale to minors, and that's what Blagojevich hopes will happen.

Except several cities, from Indianapolis to Seattle, have tried an outright ban on the sale of such games to minors, and federal courts held up the First Amendment to give a thumbs-down to such laws.

Maybe Blagojevich can make Illinois law more specific than the ones that didn't pass judicial muster. But don't count on Big Brother. It's still up to parents to do their job, which gets harder and harder each day.




Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her e-mail address is mmarquez@orlandosentinel.com.

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