Stupidity at 75 Cents a Pop

1209743201I’d like to say I’m surprised by today’s Globe editorial — “Nihilism at $60 a pop.” But I’m not. It’s just more of the same lazy, reflexive, homogeneous, faux outrage about Grand Theft Auto IV that seems to be so very popular right now.

While it says that “no defender of free expression…can easily support censorship,” the Globe nevertheless rants that GTA IV is “particularly insidious.”

Lock up your children! Video games will be their ruin! Also, hip-hop music is loud and scary!

I suppose it’s too much to ask for the paper of record to do a little original thinking. Or, I dunno, some research.

First, the thrust of the painfully mindless editorial:

The targets are not space aliens or cartoon characters but police officers, taxi drivers, strippers, and the occasional innocent bystander. The violence, especially toward women, is unusually gratuitous. There is nothing about GTA-IV that can be considered remotely “socially redeeming” – one of the tests the courts use to judge whether material is obscene.

The other familiar obscenity test is whether something violates “community standards,” and here the game may already be lost. Every time another rap song or video game pushes the envelope, it becomes the new standard.

We wouldn’t ban Grand Theft Auto. But the death and maiming in Liberty City are too close to the real lives of too many children. To package that for profit and entertainment is the real crime.

I’m not even sure where to start here. The idea that the gratuitous violence in GTA is a pox upon our nation, something we must quickly rally to vaccinate ourselves against, is disingenuous in the extreme. Where were the Globe editorials railing against other violent pop culture phenomenons like The Sopranos? Bobby Bacala got shot approximately 147 times while shopping for model trains, for the love of God. What do you think that does to a kid’s psyche?

And what about Cormac McCarthy‘s brilliant No Country for Old Men? In that tale, nearly all of the major characters die terrible deaths at the hands of a remorseless antagonist, while law enforcement officials are rendered powerless and fail to deliver even a modicum of justice. Surely the Globe screamed, ahem, bloody murder about the film adaptation and begged Bostonians to stay away from theaters. Or maybe the paper gave it four stars. Who can remember?

My favorite part about the Globe’s stale, thoughtless argument, though, deals with obscenity and “community standards.” The paper, of course, is not alone in blaming hip-hop music and video games for society’s erosion. They’re easy targets, after all — something politicians and journos can all agree to attack.

I absolutely love when pols and the media ignore their hypocrisy and act as the Morality Police. It always ends so well.

If only the Globe, which prides itself on being the better reported of our two daily papers, had done a little digging, it would have found evidence that the argument against GTA is a bit hollow. A recent book called Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games, pretty much knocks down the idea that games like GTA spawn a legion of pint-sized, Glock-totting hoods.

The authors, Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner, are on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. They studied nearly 1,300 middle school kids in an attempt to find out what kind of effect violent video games had on impressionable youths. Of the subjects, 44 percent of the boys said their favorite game was GTA. So, naturally, the sixth-graders were all slinging crack rock and shooting classmates in their spare time, right?

Um, no.

After completing their study and researching childhood development, they summed up much of their findings…”Focusing on such easy but minor targets as violent video games causes parents, social activists and public-policy makers to ignore the much more powerful and significant causes of youth violence that have already been well established, including a range of social, behavioral, economic, biological and mental-health factors.”

I wouldn’t ban the Globe. But wasting valuable editorial real estate on virtual violence, when there are mounting concerns about the Speaker of the House and his ethics, is the real crime.