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The TV-Violence Crackdown: Here It Comes

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It took a bit longer than predicted, but the Washington Post reports that the Federal Communications Commission will next week recommend that Congress start regulating TV violence (possibly even on cable), as it now does obscenity.

And so the fight to solve the apparently widespread problem of young children accidentally watching 24 and The Shield, and to save parents from the burden of parenting, will begin. (To answer the question in advance: yes, I’m a parent. No, it shouldn’t matter. Having children gave me two extra tax deductions, not two extra votes.)

Would any such regulations be constitutional? Probably not, especially those on cable, for which the constitutional bar is far higher. (Short explanation: cable doesn’t use public airwaves.) Will that prevent Congress from acting? Not necessarily. What I wrote in March is even more true after Virginia Tech: the grab for regulatory power over TV violence represents an almost perfect alignment of interests. Conservatives who’ve been eager to clean up the airwaves to their liking–after Janet Jackson and long, long before that–see violence as a timely wedge issue. Liberals, and Bush critics in general, have made the critique of 24’s torture into a quasi-political cause, and the Democrats’ ascendancy in Congress puts more power in the hands of supporters of violence-regulation like Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Meanwhile, the Virginia shootings may sway public opinion–and certainly enable political grandstanding–despite the slim evidence that pop culture in general, or TV in particular, had any link to the massacre.

I’ve said it ad nauseam, but it bears repeating, I don’t think this is mainly a Democrat-vs.-Republican issue, even if the two sides tend to be offended by different content. It’s more a nanny-state-vs.-civil-liberties issue, a communitarian-vs.-individualist issue–choose your loaded term.

Beyond that, I don’t want to repeat the arguments I’ve made in the above-linked articles, but I found one quote in the Post article especially ironic. “Parents are always the first and last line of defense in protecting their children, but legislation could give parents more tools,” said FCC chairman Kevin Martin. That’s a disingenuous way to describe the effort, when one of its chief goals is to deny parents the ability to decide for themselves whether a given primetime show is appropriate for their own kids, and to arrogate that responsibility to the government. The FCC may talk tools for parents, but it’s requisitioning a big fat hammer for itself.