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Why does anyone care if our society is aggressive? Does the kid who decides to fire a gun into his school do so because he watched Natural Born Killers? Is violence in our communities really causing anyone any abnormal amount of heartache? To the victims, and the families and friends of the victims, surely it does. Perhaps there are still some individuals who care just for the sake of caring, not because they are grieving a loss. But what does it all mean, and what is causing it? Some will point fingers at their televisions and movie theatres and assert that they are to blame. Not being one in the habit of pointing fingers and making absurd accusations, I will explain the free will of man and his inalienable rights to free speech. To censor television and motion pictures because of one faction’s set of morals is earily similar to book burning. Censorship of media messages is an explicit violation of our constitutionally protected right to expression, and as such, should not be looked to as a solution for modern-day violence in society.
The First Amendment states; “Congress shall make no law? abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” (Jefferson, US Constitution). We are an enlightened population well-versed in the understanding of our constitutionally protected natural rights. Freedom of Speech protects us, as citizens, from being persecuted for expressing our thoughts and ideas. This transcends into the idea of freedom of expression. We all have the right and ability to express ourselves, and to analyze the messages we receive. Our republic was founded on what were then radical, controversial ideas. The founding fathers understood the importance of freedom of expression. So why today do we not? Cries for censorship ring loudly across the nation. Kids are killing kids. Schools are slowly becoming places of violence, not educational institutions, and the solution is not to infringe upon our rights. Information is power. New ideas and thoughts propagate improvement. Without free expression, this is not possible. To control the free exchange of thoughts, ideas, and social and moral inquiry, is to severely handicap the intellect of our society. First and foremost, censorship is a blatant violation of free speech. Second, it is a poor approach to controlling the omnipresent problem of violence in society.
In the novel Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., The United States Handicapper General enforces the law of complete equality. A single person has complete control over the forced equality of the nation. The Handicapper General decides not only what equality is, but also the best way to facilitate it. How does one censor information and maintain objectivity? Censorship turns our governing bodies into institutions of paternalistic moralism. Our society celebrates diversity and is a sampling of numerous cultures and modes of thinking. It is not reasonable to think that a single, shared definition of “appropriate” can be reached concerning media messages. This leaves our legislature to act as moral babysitters guiding us on how to feel and what to think. It is not the role of our government to guide us to live lives based on one particular sect’s definition of morality. It also becomes dangerously close to a mixture of church and state; morals are often closely intertwined with religion. Censorship of images of violence in the media by the government concedes one’s personal decision over what images are appropriate to view. As a thinking people, we do not need to be herded like sheep towards a central, forced view of appropriate media messages. When the government rules certain media messages immoral and inappropriate, they deny the population of it’s right to think independently and make choices for themselves. The role of the government is to protect our rights, not to appoint Morality Generals who decide what is best for us.
Drama for the masses. Entertainment filled with blood, murder, rape and assault that is viewed for pleasure. What purpose does such violent entertainment serve? His name was William Shakespeare, and he is now known as the world’s greatest playwright. Disposed compositions. Two Baroque composers, who were under-appreciated at best, never saw appreciation for their work. Often times, their musical compositions were used to wrap old food. Bach and Mozart are now arguably two of the greatest musicians ever. Flowers and Stars. In his lifetime he had one painting sell and was ridiculed by his peers insistently. Starry Night and Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh are two of the most highly recognized pieces of art viewed today.
Hamlet, MacBeth, the Coronation Mass, Starry Night. Censorship would have eliminated these now classic works of art. During their point of conception, the masses did not see them as outstanding works, rather, many were seen as slightly above average. The value in art lies in the fact that it poses questions and shocks us. Through this exploration and realization we learn about the human condition. Artistic expression comes in many valuable forms- paintings, movie scripts, musical compositions, and sculptures to name a few. By censoring an artist, you render him incapable of a complete expression. Movies and television are not always worthwhile artistic endeavors. Inevitably, not every motion picture and situation comedy will inspire and educate. Labeling violent themes as ‘inappropriate’ limits a writer’s repertoire to plot lines filled only with passivity. This is ridiculous. The ‘art imitates life’ clich? applies. Our world is not one of only two-parent families with 2.5 children, a golden retriever, and a home in the suburbs. For modern forms of art, such as motion pictures and television to be true to society, it is important that they reveal the entire scope of humanity. This does not allow for censorship.
We are independent thinkers. Every morning, the population wakes up and as consumers’ make decisions as to what they will wear, eat, and drive. The television is a deluge of media messages. Mentos give you self-confidence. Tropicana Pure Premium makes your children love you. A Ford SUV makes you an athletic, rugged person. Suprisingly enough, not everyone that wants to be athletic drives a Ford Explorer, drinks the Tropicana brand of orange juice to improve domestic relations, or eats a Mentos to feel better about themselves. We analyze the messages we receive, and decide what is worth retaining and what is worth disposing of. The programs in between the commercials we watch are no more controlling despite the fact that the commercial’s sole duty is to convince and manipulate. We choose what products to buy just as we choose what media messages influence our lifestyles. The influence that the advertising agencies have over us is similar to that of the Hollywood production companies. They both create an environment that persuades and distorts reality at times. Viewers, just like consumers, make decisions as to what messages and programming to welcome into their lives.
Murder, rape and assault are not new social phenomena. Since the dawn of time, man has instinctively acted out in violence for food and self-preservation. Mankind has evolved, and in order to eat dinner we no longer have to constantly slaughter wild animals. From Feudal Europe to the American expansion west, to post WWII Pacific Island Nations, violence has been a constant social problem. Yes, violence in the modern world is no longer necessary for survival. In looking at current outbreaks of new types of violence, and blaming them on media messages, we overlook violence’s historic omnipresence. Censoring television, movies, and other media outlets is a poor, superficial solution to an age-old question.
The duty of protecting our children and selves from messages we find undesirable now falls upon us. Through education and awareness, such as the rating systems of motion pictures and television, we must decide what messages we wish to invite into our homes. It is one’s personal responsibility to be accountable for what images and themes they accept. Just as we are responsible to ourselves for how we view and interpret these messages, we are equally responsible to children around us. They are not yet able to make educated, aware decisions concerning what they view. It becomes our duty to explain responsible viewing. If we pay attention to the behaviors and dialogue of our children, then we will be in a position to notice the effects viewing habits have on them before they become too adverse. Take note of what programs you watch, and be aware of what those around you are watching. Censorship of violence in the media falls upon the viewers; if you don’t like what you see, turn off the television.
The federal regulation of violence is the media does not need further attention. It would be much wiser to redirect this energy into making ourselves aware of what we are watching and turn off the television. Regulate yourself; we do not need the government to baby-sit. Be aware of what your children are watching. Encourage open lines of communication so that what is being watched is discussed. Teach the difference between reality and fantasy. It is not the duty of the government to monitor and regulate what
Citizens do. This is a personal responsibility we have to ourselves. Open your eyes, pay attention to the messages around you, and make a conscious effort to analyze what you are accepting into your head.
Censorship of media messages is an explicit violation of our constitutionally protected right to expression, and as such, should not be looked to as a solution for modern-day violence in society. Infringing upon our freedoms of speech and expression is not a substitute for being a responsible viewer. Paternalistic Moralism by the government limits our thinking. A universal code of acceptability confines our
thoughts to that of one narrow faction. We have the right to express ourselves openly in many outlets. Censoring these outlets not only hurts the artist- be he a writer, painter, or musician, it also denies our society the opportunity to elevate its’ thinking. Censorship of violent themes in the media accomplishes little to nothing, and has the exorbitant cost of our personal freedom of expression.
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