Who's responsible?

The latest salvo in the battle over personal responsibility was fired yesterday when the Judge Roland Whyte blocked a California state law prohibiting the sale of violent video games to minors, calling it unconstitutional. Governor Schwarzenegger had signed off on the law a couple of years ago but “the evidence,” the judge wrote in his brief, “does not show that playing violent video games immediately or necessarily results in real world violence.”

Apparently, the reason you can’t find enough studies to show a correlation between playing violent video games and behavior is that you cannot force children to do such studies in the first place.

Enough Catch-22 for you?

Given that the American population is descended from people who escaped some sort of institutional persecution, there is a genetic revulsion to governmental interference. “Stop telling us what we can and can’t do!” is the rallying cry.

But while I respect the right of every American to hurtle forward into obesity, bankruptcy, violence and sexual confusion unencumbered by any assault on their freedoms, as a parent, I can’t help being worried.

Yes, in an ideal situation, good upbringing and the imparting of values would ensure that your kids are not tempted but I am enough of a realist to know that not every household has the ideal 2 parent framework with quality time for the kids. If that was the case, Columbine would never have happened. I remember wondering then – “What were the parents doing when the kids were accumulating weapons under their bed?” In this reality, I am more than a little comfortable losing some freedom of choice so my kids will be safe.

It is a thorny issue. When the recent ban of trans fats in New York’s restaurants was enforced, there was a big hue and cry from defenders of constitutional freedom. Like the proverbial camel, the fear was that the government was just waiting to take over all aspects of your personal life. Whether people have read ‘1984’ or not, the spectre of Big Brother has scarred the collective consciousness. This administration’s secrecy and legally dubious wire-tapping efforts have furthered the paranoia.

On the other hand, I know how persuasive advertising to kids can be. A study recently showed that food packaged in McDonalds wrappers was deemed tastier by kids as young as 3 years. It’s easy to say, “Teach your kids to eat well,” but fast food is the staple of many poorly paid Americans who work long hours and multiple jobs and don’t necessarily have the time to fit in a fresh home-cooked meal. Realistically, isn’t it better that some efforts are put in to ensure the food that they will end up eating is not potentially harmful to them? To the government, the potential savings in health care itself must seem like a worthy reason to legislate food sales.

A similar issue is the decision by many public schools to stop vending soda and junk food. It may mean that your kids have fewer choices, but I, for one, can’t help but be thrilled by it. After all, what is the point of teaching kids good eating habits if they are surrounded by the very things they have been told to avoid? Doesn’t it send conflicting signals?

To expect the free market to regulate itself seems completely naive to me. Usually, it is a disaster that forces companies to examine their methods and introduce change. We would have been eating pesticide laced products from China for many more years if those several hundred deaths hadn’t happened. In our case the effects would have been so gradual it would have been impossible to prove cause. We may go blue talking about global warming but companies and individuals are not going to voluntarily adopt green technologies unless there is an economic motive to do so. Video game makers will appeal to our most primitive instincts if that’s what sells. We might as well introduce gladiatorial contests on TV, blood lust is a tried and tested marketing gimmick.

Somewhere, the government has to step in and take the decisions that the man on the street is not qualified to do and enforce some regulation to make companies responsible to not just their shareholders but to the populace at large. And at the same time we have to be vigilant that it does not over step its boundaries. We have to find some level of comfort in that gray zone.

In the meantime, if the most violent video game available has my child hunting butterflies in the Amazon rain forest, I couldn’t be happier. Ah-nuld, I’m on your side.

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