From James Joyce to Grand Theft Auto

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on

I’ve been reading David Boaz lately, so I’m in a bit of a Libertarian mood to begin with, but, even if I weren’t, I would still have raised an eyebrow at Mayor Menino’s latest crusade. Not satisfied with a ban on trans fat, he is now going after violent video games.

Now, I’m not a gamer, nor am I a big junk food fan, but I have to stand up for the rights of the people out there who do like trans fats and Grand Theft Auto.

There is an argument to be made for a local, state or federal ban on trans fat. In a society in which most of us don’t buy our own health insurance, I suppose the entities that do, including our local, state and federal governments, have a right to proscribe certain behavior that is unhealthy and, thus, drives up the cost of the health insurance they’re footing the bill for. I might counter, however, that because I like to munch on the occasional potato chip, I’d be perfectly happy purchasing my own health insurance, thank you very much. That way, you could put your trans fat ban back on the shelf, where it belongs.

On the issue of violent video games, however, there is no defense of a ban. I entirely understand the motivation. I was a 6th grade teacher and always felt as if I were in a tug-of-war with popular culture, but we can’t win the tug-of-war by simply censoring the other side.

Though I am not a gamer, I am a big James Joyce fan and, as such, I am aware that he, too, was once considered on the other side of the tug-of-war between culture and morals. Ulysses, now considered the greatest English-language novel of the 20th century, was once banned in this country. Fortunately, that ban was overturned in 1933 by a U.S. District Court.

Unlike the U.S. District Court, I do not get to play judge. (Though, if wishing made it so.) I do not get to decide that James Joyce has enough literary merit that, though lewd, he should not be banned, but Grand Theft Auto doesn’t and, therefore, should. More to the point, neither does Mayor Menino.

Violent video games may very well contribute to violence in our streets (though, I suspect even that claim is dubious). Nevertheless, it is not nearly a compelling enough reason to ignore constitutional rights.