Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Culture of Organized Panic

By: Michael Akerman

Bombings in a crowded mass transit system; an innocent man gunned down in front of stunned bystanders; discrimination based on income, race, and religion; ultimately, a conscious decision to become evil in an effort to fight evil.

This is a familiar pattern: it sounds, to the uninformed, like something out of one of the despotic theocracies of the Middle East. The system has spiraled in such a way in Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, and every other tyranny that has stained the face of this globe. But this is not happening in a dictatorship, this time (or, at least, not as we've known dictatorships to be). No, this is happening in the country with perhaps the closest ties to America, the fatherland of our heritage, and our closest ally. This is happening in a bastion of culture and civilization, a nation that prides itself on its calm rationality and impressive civility, even (or perhaps especially) compared to the United States. It's happening in the United Kingdom.

I wonder often at the tenacity of human social systems when sudden catastrophe so easily causes a shift to reactions of fear and hate. A few days ago, London plain-clothes police officers shot a Brazilian man, who they suspected of being linked to the recent Tube bombings, eight times in the head in front of the stunned eyes of the commuters on the subway. It turns out that man was entirely innocent, guilty only of living in the same apartment complex as a terrorist and getting on a subway. Yet, I'm utterly surprised by the lack of outcry, at least on this side of the pond. There's an inquiry into the "incident," of course, but I've heard nothing that indicates the officers responsible have been stripped of their badges pending the investigation.

It's odd, I think, that this happened in Britain. Their police officers don't generally carry guns: it occurs that maybe they simply weren't used to the restraint a gun requires. At any rate, this is more heinous than most anything you hear of in America (from the police, anyway). When was the last time you heard of someone, who was not confronting the police with a weapon, being gunned down in the street, without a trial, merely on suspicion of being associated with terrorism? I can't recall an incident.

Still, people seem to take it in stride. I think it's despicable. The justification is that the only way to deal with a terrorist is to take his life with a kill shot to the head. That manner of thinking is entirely backwards: to break Godwin's law, though bear with me because my point is valid, Hitler thought that way about the Jews. They're ruining the country and we have to kill them. Anyone we suspect of it is just as guilty. I'm right, you're wrong, shut up.

The police have a duty to protect innocent lives, and they failed utterly. Instead, they have run directly counter to their commitment and taken one, without a trial, without hesitation, without a thought. I'm amazed that no one tried any of the dozens of less-than-lethal methods of taking this fellow down. One wonders why one of the officers didn't simply shoot him in the leg before he reached the subway, and accosted him forthwith. No, they decided it would behoove them to shoot to kill, as the first choice. Soldiers in Iraq don't do this at checkpoints when a car is speeding toward them, if you'll recall the case regarding that Italian journalist!

It's a sad time when we have to live in fear that we will be gunned down merely for wearing a coat and walking out of an apartment building where a terrorist might possibly live. I'm glad I don't live in London.

To be fair, the man who was gunned down (I neither feel like looking up his name, nor do I think it important to my point) apparently ran from the cops. Let me remind you, though, that we're talking about several plain-clothes officers in a subway, waving guns toward you. It's not illogical that one's first thought would be that you are about to be mugged, or that you were standing next to the terrorist, possibly armed with a bomb, that they are pointing the guns at. Wouldn't you run?

San Andreas and the Sims 2

Back in America, we still haven't gotten over the culture of fear, and it's still effecting us in myriad inane ways.

To recap,

Ol' Mrs. Clinton was a merry ol' soul
Who rode on the tails of her hubbie.
She called for a look at a game that took
The morals of the land and made them grubby.

That is to say (considering that that poem was not up to par with most of my poetry), Hillary thought it wise to open an investigation into the Hot Coffee mod for GTA: San Andreas, which unlocked a sex-based minigame. This resulted in an industry first: a revocation of a game's ESRB rating, and a new rating based on mod content. I find this inane on a number of fronts:

  • Hillary is supposedly running as a Democrat. I ask: who is going to be annoyed most by this investigation? Certainly not the moral Republicans, most of whom will support the change, even though it only increases the purchasing age by one year (that is, Mature [17+] to Adults Only [18+]), sheerly because morals are good, thus sex is bad. I don't personally agree, by the way, but that's neither here nor there, so to speak.

  • The game is already GTA: San Andreas. I think that's self-explanatory.

  • The content must be unlocked through modification or otherwise "hacking" the game. Don't you think it's easier for people to Google up a porn site?

Besides, this is a dangerous road. This ruling effectively opens up the danger of every game being rated, and thus designed, based on what mods may come to it. What does that mean to you, the consumer?

Let's take Jack Thompson for instance. He's a lawyer in Miami who specializes in suing the pants off of game developers when someone who played GTA kills someone else. That is to say, he's basically a con artist.

Mr. Thompson, it seems, has extended his crusade to the Sims 2, which is one of the most wholesome games ever. The reason: according to Mr. Thompson, you can remove the censorship blur from the naked sims (which is true), thus opening up the realm of visible naked bodies in all their glory, including nipples, genitalia, etc. That's not actually true, of course. While you can remove the blur, it is something akin to a Barbie doll. The closest to naked you can get is an odd, malformed creature with no sexual details. Just the general shape of a human body.

Someone has, luckily, informed Mr. Thompson of this, yet he stands by his challenge. This is where it gets dangerous, folks. He's changed his crusade against the Sims 2 to include the various modded naked skins, which are, indeed, rendered in highly sexually explicit detail. I have not bothered to look at them, and I won't post a link to a site that has them, but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of this claim.

The danger in this is that every game is moddable, bar none. I guarantee you, with money or time, I can change any game to include naked bodies. So, if this trend continues, game developers will have to make their games unmoddable, or face litigation. Otherwise, legislation can police the modding community, putting yet another damper on our free expression and the creation of ideas.

It's the culture of fear, folks. It's organized panic. We're all going to die; please stay calm.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman