June 28, 2011

Are Violent Videos Free Speech?

I’m appalled at the Supreme Court’s ruling* that extremely violent videos are entitled to First Amendment protection. Oy! Can you hear our Founding Fathers writhing in their graves?

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia claims a state's right to protect minors, “does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.” We’re not talking about exposure, ladies and gentlemen; we’re talking about active participation. 

Case in point: Postal 2, in which players can hit a woman in the face with the shovel, then decapitate and bludgeon her as she’s bleeding. Games like this one invite children to kill, maim, dismember, and sexually assault.  Just how does this fall under the guise of free speech?

I don’t buy the Court’s insistence that America “has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence.” No tradition? What do you call movie ratings? Even the video industry has its own rating system.

The Court conveniently rejects research showing that minors are influenced by what they see. Obviously none of the jurors has every worked in a public school. A half-dozen of my primary students were once caught dry humping each other in the boys’ bathroom. Where did they get the idea? From watching Brian (the dog) in Family Guy. Not influenced? Get real.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m a journalist and fervent supporter of the First Amendment. Its guarantees allow me to express this dissenting opinion. In fact, as Scalia himself acknowledges, "The Free Speech Clause exists principally to protect discourse on public matters  . . ." 

So how do violent video games merit protection under that clause? We're not talking about speech or the press. We're talking about a medium that didn't even exist in the 1700s. Even Justice Alito, who concurred with the majority, warns about jumping to "the conclusion that new technology is fundamentally the same as some older thing with which we are familiar".

This ruling went far beyond what the writers of the Constitution ever intended. Kudos to Justices Thomas and Breyer for disagreeing, particularly since Breyer acknowledged the relevance of studies concluding that psychological harm results from playing such games. 

Your thoughts?

*You can read the ruling at http://www.supremecourt.gov; go to the far right for "Recent Decisions" and click on 6/27/11 - Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn. 

June 21, 2011

How Writing is Like Bananagrams

The more I write, the more I filter experiences through a writer’s lens. It’s a blessing and a curse.

Take Bananagrams, my new favorite game. You start with 21 tiles and build connecting words, like Scrabble. Everyone plays at the same time so it’s quick, like Boggle. Serious fun.

The best part—or worst, depending on how far behind you are—is that you can demolish your creation and start from scratch. So what goes through my mind as I do exactly this? 

Hey, this is like writing. If something isn’t working, I can toss it and try a new approach. 

Meanwhile, my opponent triumphs. Like I said, a blessing and a curse. ;-)

Ever find yourself in similar situations?

June 14, 2011

Trust Your Gut

So a while back I share the beginning chapters of a story with a couple other writers. Their feedback: add a romantic interest. It isn't enough that the main character agrees to wed a tempestuous god to save her family. She needs to leave a boy behind.  Amps up the conflict.

Being a novice writer full of insecurities, I ignore my instincts and insert a third major character into my WIP.  But new readers ask why he's barely mentioned.

Then it hits me. This guy isn't fleshed out because he doesn't fit the story I want to write. 

It's funny how it all comes down to trusting your gut.

I wonder how many other writers have ever changed a story based on feedback and then returned to their original version. Have you?