Tuesday, June 28, 2011

California v. Videogames, in Verse

Several weeks ago, the state of Alaska released thousands of pages of emails sent and received by Sarah Palin during her brief stint as the state’s governor. As gripping as I’m certain they are, this 24,000-page blockbuster has not made my summer reading list.

Fortunately, author Michael Solomon, in partnership with emerging e-publishing house Byliner, has helped to pick up the slack. By merging a selection of 50 Palin-penned gems with some creative line breaks, Solomon has condensed this vast resource into an all-you-need-to-know collection titled I Hope Like Heck: The Collected Poems of Sarah Palin. It is occasionally unsettling and consistently hilarious (both evidenced by its cover image), and I cannot recommend it enough.

And so, when the Supreme Court reached yesterday’s landmark decision regarding the sale of violent videogames in my own home state of California, I turned to Mr. Solomon for inspiration—by which I mean that I’m stealing his brilliant idea to manipulate for my own use. Apologies to Mr. Solomon! Everyone go and buy his book.

What follows are lightly edited selections from Justice Antonin Scalia’s delivery of the Supreme Court opinion, with my own line breaks added for emphasis. During this process, I learned that Justice Scalia is nowhere near as deft a poet as Ms. Palin—but this digest may yet prove helpful to anyone who wants some insight into the court’s position but doesn’t feel like wading into the text of the court’s full decision (which can be found here [PDF link]).

THE ACT

California Assembly Bill 1179 (2005)
Prohibits the sale or rental
Of violent video games to minors
And requires their packaging to be labeled “18”

The Act covers games
In which the range of options available to a player includes
Killing
Maiming
Dismembering
Or sexually assaulting
An image of a human being

If those acts are depicted in a manner
That a reasonable person
Would find appeals to a
Deviant
Morbid
Interest patently offensive to prevailing standards
As to what is suitable
For minors

And that causes the game to lack serious
Literary
Artistic
Political
Or scientific value
For minors

Violation of the Act is punishable
By a civil fine
Of up to $1,000

* * * * * *

ON THE CUTTING EDGE

California does not argue
That it is empowered to prohibit selling
Offensively violent works to adults—
And it is wise not to

Instead, it wishes to create a wholly
New category
Of content-based regulation for speech
Directed at children
That is unprecedented and mistaken

* * * * * *

CLARENCE’S FOOTNOTE

Justice Thomas
Denies that persons under 18
Have any constitutional right to speak
Or be spoken to
Without their parents’ consent

* * * * * *

SPOILER ALERT

California’s argument would fare better
If there were a
Tradition in this country of restricting children’s access to depictions of violence
But there is none

Certainly
The books we give children to read
Or read to them when they are younger
Contain no shortage of gore

Grimm’s Fairy Tales are grim indeed
For trying to poison Snow White
The wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers
“Till she fell dead on the floor”

Cinderella’s evil stepsisters
Have their eyes pecked out by doves

Hansel and Gretel
(Children!)
Kill their captor
By baking her
In an oven

* * * * * *

FINISH HIM

California claims
That videogames present special problems
Because they are
“Interactive”

In that the player participates
In the violent action
And determines its outcome

* * * * * *

THE BURDEN OF PROOF

The State
Must specifically identify
An “actual problem” in need of solving

And the curtailment of free speech
Must be
Actually
Necessary
To the solution

California cannot meet that standard

* * * * * *

ON CARING

And finally
The Act’s purported aid to parental authority
Is vastly overinclusive

Not all of the children
Who are forbidden
To purchase violent video games on their own
Have parents who care

Whether they purchase violent video games

* * * * * *

ON THE FENCE

California’s legislation straddles the fence
Between addressing a serious social problem
And helping concerned parents control their children

Both ends are legitimate
But when they affect
First Amendment rights
They must be pursued by means
That are neither seriously underinclusive
Nor seriously overinclusive

As a means of protecting children
From portrayals of violence
The legislation is seriously underinclusive
Not only because it excludes portrayals other than video games
But also because it permits a parental or avuncular veto

And as a means of assisting concerned parents
It is seriously overinclusive
Because it abridges the First Amendment rights of young people
Whose parents think violent video games
Are a harmless pastime

And the overbreadth
In achieving one goal
Is not cured by the underbreadth
In achieving the other

Legislation such as this
Which is neither fish nor fowl
Cannot survive strict scrutiny

We affirm the judgment below
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