All the Times Politicians 'Saved' Kids from Entertainment Technology
✍️ Written by Pessimists Archive Contributor Harry Pugh
The US government has its hands full. Taxes. War. Infrastructure. Impeachments. Pandemics.
Nevertheless, no matter the challenges facing the country, lawmakers have always found time for a moral panic about how children entertain themselves. Cartoons. Television. Raves. Why waste your time and rot your brain? Whatever happened to just sitting in silence and waiting until you reached legal working age? Those were the good old days.
We did a brief timeline of moral panics and the resulting reactions from lawmakers who quickly moved to ‘save’ the children.
🦸🏻♂️ US Senate Saves Children from Superheroes (1954)
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope. It’s a country that “cannot afford the calculated risk involved in feeding its children, through comic books, a concentrated diet of crime, horror, and violence.”
Those are the totally measured and reasonable words published by the US Senate Judiciary subcommittee following the 1954 hearings linking comic books to that famous American scourge: JUVENILE DELINQUENCY
For maximum moral panic, the hearings were televised nationwide and featured the questioning of comic writers, politicians and child ‘experts.’ This included the star witness, Dr Fredric Wertham.
Wertham, a psychiatrist and author, declared that children were simply unable to read comic books without re-enacting the on-page violence themselves. He did this while pointing everyone towards his book, Seduction of the innocent, -available wherever you get your completely fine and in no way weirdly titled books - where he explains how Batman and Robin are clearly in a relationship and Wonder Woman is obviously a BDSM obsessed lesbian.
This was all too much for the committee - and America as a whole - and so the Comics Magazines Association of America, Inc. and its CCA Stamp was introduced to tone down comic books and make them safe for child consumption.
See, not all heroes wear capes.
⚠️ US Senate Saves Parents from Giving Advice with Parental Advisory Sticker (1985)
Just over 30 years later, the US Senate got the band back together to take part in what is sometimes known as the “rock-porn hearing”. The hearing was set up by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) to help protect children from music which featured violent, drug-related or sexual themes. I.e. All music.
The committee, also known as the Washington Wives due to the political roles held by the four members’ husbands, was created because Tipper Gore (wife of Al) purchased her eleven year old daughter Prince’s Purple Rain and found it all a bit too much.
One option would have been to take the record away. But no. A committee was formed, warning stickers were printed and a hearing was arranged.
And so more child ‘experts’ and religious figures and generally outraged parents were called up to testify along with some of the country’s biggest rock stars including Frank Zappa and Dee Snider of Twisted Sister.
A first amendment debate - and one of the media storms of the decade - ensued. All the eighties moral panic hits were played, Satan was mentioned, someone said “anal vapors” on the US Capitol and Zappa and Snider spoke eloquently and sensibly about free speech and art and America. It was a lot.
But despite this, Parental Advisory stickers quickly became the law and many stores refused to stock explicit records. The children of America lived to fight another day.
On the plus side, the PMRC put together a list of tracks they dubbed the “filthy fifteen” which showcased “the twisted tyranny of explicitness in the public domain.” It features everyone from hellraisers Motley Crew to renowned filth merchant Cindi Lauper and if you listen to it as a playlist it absolutely slaps. You can do that here.
🥊 US Senate saves children from two dimensional beating (1993)
The year is 1993. The location is, again, the Senate. Senator Joe Lieberman is going to war with video games, showing his colleagues a video of Mortal Kombat’s Kano pummeling his opponent on the Nintendo game. He eventually rips out his heart, screams and is declared winner.
Kano, not Lieberman.
Weeks earlier, the senator had asked an aide to purchase a copy of the game to give to his son. His aide, a tattle-tale, discovered how violent the game was, showed it to his boss and that is how they’ve ended up here, with two Senate committees holding joint congressional hearings with spokespeople from Sega and Nintendo.
Not unlike the previous decade’s moral panic around lyrics, the hearing centers around the need for a ratings system. Games can be violent. That’s fine. Or, moreover, censoring them seems like a first amendment violation. A big no no. So a ratings system it is.
In response, video game manufacturers hastily bring out an industry-standard ratings system just before the hearings. They go ahead anyway. Over the course of two hearings, child ‘experts’ (those guys again) are hauled up to express their concerns around the horror of violent video games while the manufacturers apologise for their sins.
The panic is made worse by growing concerns around gun violence and senators take particular umbridge with the plastic guns used in certain games.
As a result, gun crime is solved by the hearings and never heard of in America again.
📺 Bill Clinton saves the children from hearing about sex on TV (1996)
Picture the scene: you’ve created a chip that you put in TVs to censor all the bad stuff. The sex, the violence, the swearing.
Now you need a spokesperson. Someone squeaky clean. A moral arbiter, if you will. Who are you going to call?
Bill Clinton? That Bill Clinton? Great idea.
Well…. in 1996, it became law that the V-Chip - a chip that allows parents to decide what their family TV will and will not show - must be installed in pretty much all TVs. And who created that law (officially called the Telecommunications Act) and signed it into existence? That’s right, I-did-not-have-sexual-relations-with-that-woman’s very own Bill Clinton.
“"If every parent uses this chip wisely, it can become a powerful voice against teen violence, teen pregnancy, teen drug use, and for both learning and entertainment," said Clinton at the time.
On an entirely unrelated note, the vote to impeach President Clinton in 1998 drew over six million viewers.
🔫 US senate saves the children from school shootings with spoken word medley (1999)
Following the horrific mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, in the eyes of the US Senate, there was clearly only one thing to blame: entertainment. Primarily, music.
Fifteen years after the Washington Wives took down the “filthy fifteen”, the Senate was up in arms again and coming for the CD walkmans of America’s children. This led to a series of hearings on entertainment's impact on youth violence, with heavy hitting titles like “marketing violence to children”.
The first of which took place just eight days after the shooting and featured the rather strange sight of Senator Sam Brownback reciting lyrics he found offensive on the Senate floor.
This included an acapella rendition of Marilyn Manson’s “Irresponsible Hate Anthem”, DMX’s “Get at me dog”, Master P’s “Come and get some”, Dove Shack’s “Slap a ho” and Fiend’s “On a mission”.
Of these artists, it was famously Manson who took most of the blame, despite the shooters not even being fans. This didn’t stop politicians and the press denouncing the singer as, among other things, a “devil worshipping maniac”.
The highlight, however, has to be Lynyrd Skynyrd threatening to give Manson “a can of whoop ass”.
🕺🏻 Joe Biden Saves the Children from Dancing (2001)
Joe Biden has the energy of a man who doesn’t like a lot of things; a ball coming into his yard, toilet graffiti, limited edition sodas, a ball coming into his yard for the second time TODAY.
And yet, the hatred he holds for raves is still really quite impressive.
In 2001, President Biden - then Senator Biden - launched the aptly named RAVE act. Standing for Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy, the act was designed to shut down raves where ecstasy was being taken. I.e. All raves.
The crux of the bill centered around making the rave organisers liable if drugs were being done at their parties. In a profanity laced speech on the senate floor, Biden stated "I would be passing new ordinances relating to stiff criminal penalties for anyone who held a rave - the promoter, the guy who owned the building. I'd put the son-of-a-gun in jail."
Go easy on the swears, Joe.
The RAVE act never came to pass but reappeared a couple of years later as the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act. That act did pass and meant anyone implicated in the use or sale of drugs at an event included fines up to $250,000 and 20 years in jail.
Which seems totally reasonable.