Dante vs Violent Video Games

Interesting description of the role of pop culture contained in today’s US Supreme Court decision. Scalia said that there is no tradition in the US of shielding kids from violence and even the high culture is filled with it. He also said that the difference suggested by Alito between Dante and Violent Video Games is not relevant to law. When applied to Judaism, which rabbis and poskim would accept a distinction and which would not?

From Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in today’s case involving violent video games, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn.:

California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially 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, for example, are grim indeed.  As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers “till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.” . . . . Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves.  And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven.

High-school reading lists are full of similar fare.  Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake . . . . In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface . . . . And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island.  FN4

FN4: Justice Alito accuses us of pronouncing that playing violent video games “is not different in ‘kind'” from reading violent literature.  Well of course it is different in kind, but not in a way that causes the provision and viewing of violent video games, unlike the provision and reading of books, not to be expressive activity and hence not to enjoy First Amendment protection.  Reading Dante is unquestionably more cultured and intellectually edifying than playing Mortal Kombat.  But these cultural and intellectual differences are not constitutional ones.  Crudely violent video games, tawdry TV shows, and cheap novels and magazines are no less forms of speech than The Divine Comedy, and restrictions upon them must survive strict scrutiny[.]

H/t MOJ The Maximalist Uses of Dante

2 responses to “Dante vs Violent Video Games

  1. I kind of agree with him, except … First of all, the video games are not just violent, but often incorporate a large dose of sexual violence and sexually explicit scenes, that go far beyond anything found in the myths, fairy tales and historical works. That is arguably the worst kind of violence, because if being exposed to violent video games makes people more aggressive, violence in relationships are most likely and therefore most unsettling. Secondly, many of the myths, fairy tales and historical works incorporate explicit or implicit value judgements about the gore, while the video games glorify it.

    That said, point one is a bit moot, since the law was apparently only about violence, not sexuality. But the second point is very relevant to teaching the gory parts of Tanakh.

    • To test your point, what is the explicit or implicit value judgement Tanakh imparts from יהושוע פרק ו:

      כא וַיַּחֲרִימוּ, אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר בָּעִיר, מֵאִישׁ וְעַד-אִשָּׁה, מִנַּעַר וְעַד-זָקֵן; וְעַד שׁוֹר וָשֶׂה וַחֲמוֹר, לְפִי-חָרֶב

      While there are other examples, this one translates into threats of violence (if not actual violence) in modern times, by Jews.

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