This is the fabled censorship post that I've said I'm going to be writing for ages and ages now. This is it. Honest.
In the news media, a very big deal is made out of the fact that video games are given ratings, are full of content which subliminally makes kids shoot up their schools, is horrible and evil, etc. Video games are the worst things ever to come along, they are the most dangerous thing to ever touch a child which is not a mountain lion, they are destroying civilization as we know it.
The bit about all that which is bullocks, of course, is that they said almost verbatim the exact same thing about that horrid rock 'n' roll stuff, or that Elvis Presley boy, or even the Beatles. These things are Destroying The World As We Know It.
(An aside: Interestingly enough, when they talk about rock or video games destroying "the world as we know it," we are never concerned that the part it's going to destroy are the bits full of war, genocide, or starvation. Mostly, we're scared it'll destroy the bake sales, church meets, and Sunday drives.)
Well, if you're reading this blog, then you probably know that rock 'n' roll somehow failed to destroy the world after it appeared. And maybe it's just being slow and clever about it, but so far, video games have failed to destroy the world, anymore than the day-at-a-time destruction that it's always going through.
Nevertheless, the news media goes after 'em, because that's the popular thing to do. My pregnant wife and I are playing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, which is full of super-heroes hitting bad guys. So I suppose my son is going to grow up wearing stretchy pants, carrying a Captain America shield, and fighting bad guys.
I can live with that.
What I have more trouble living with is the big, ugly, stinking world of censorship that you really never hear about in the news, that you have to go to the very back of your newspaper to read about, that you have to dig around on the internet to discover.
Books. And Comic books.
Many people innately assume that books, and comic books, are dead and dying. This is simply because in our glass teat-centric world, if the television or the internet doesn't yap about it at some point, it must not exist, it must be dying. But to paraphrase the Bard, "there are more things in heaven and earth than the internet knows."
Books and comics are still censored something fierce. Not only is the war against censorship tougher and more bloody there, but it gets both less attention and support than it would if someone on CNN wasted thirty minutes droning about it. The fight is more dangerous, more unreasonable, more insane.
And in case you think I'm just trying to educate you...well...I am. But I'm also pointing you toward the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. And there are other important sites, like the First Amendment Group, or the Open Rights group, but I want to talk about CBLDF first and foremost here. It's most active on my mind.
Let's talk about Gordon Lee, as an example.
To take bits and pieces from Tom Spurgeon's wonderful site, where he discussed the matter (link withheld...for a moment...), here's what happened with Gordon Lee.
"Lee, of the comic shop Legends in Rome, Georgia, was charged with two crimes stemming from a downtown community event on Halloween night, 2004. A copy of Alternative Comics #2 was given to a nine-year-old. Alternative Comics #2 was the 2004 Free Comic Book Day from Jeff Mason's boutique comics company of the same name. It contained selections from various Alternative projects, including eight pages from cartoonist Nick Bertozzi's forthcoming work "The Salon." Three of those pages contained pictures of a naked Pablo Picasso acting in a non-sexual manner.
Lee was charged approximately one week after providing the child with the comic in question. The charges were "distributing material depicting nudity" and "distributing obscene material to a minor."
When people question the value of supporting Lee, the focus of their complaints seems to be on Lee's actions: that the retailer screwed up, he should have known better, he should have made certain this didn't happen, and his mistake makes it that much harder for everyone who does not make such mistakes to run their businesses"
Now this is the gist of it. Gordon Lee didn't know the exact content of a comic book he sold to someone.
I read a pretty fair amount of comic books every year. I usually read the Free Comic Book Day offerings (a sampler, of sorts, and certainly unrated, because it's a sampler). But if you asked me the content of Issue 4 of Civil War: Front Lines, I would probably fail to recall it properly. I bet, through the little used bookstore I work at, I've sold a romance novel to someone under 18.
Now, it's worth remembering (and Tom also points this out) that the danger isn't that as a retailer, he sold a comic with mature images in it to a kid (whom I doubt read the comic and didn't know what it was). No, the kicker is Gordon Lee is being charged criminally.
Criminal Charges. If he'd been giving kids Playboy issues in the park, maybe. But he wasn't.
(Another aside: Where the hell were the 9-year-old's parents? Seriously. Pay attention to your kid, chucklehead, watch how this problem doesn't happen).
Gordon's charges were eventually dealt out. Here's what he lives with:
1) His home is subject to random searches at any time, at any point, on any given day.
2) He is forbidden by the courts of law in this country to make art. Meaning if he draws, if he sketches, if he doodles on his telephone pad, he is breaking the terms of his release and can go to jail.
3) He is not allowed near children.
Fun, huh? You'd think he'd been tapping little Timmy in the back of a van. He wasn't. He was selling comic books.
The case of Gordon Lee v. the State of Georgia is still going on. And now, I'll give you the link to Tom talking about the case.
Here it is, from February, 2005
February. 2005. That's over two years ago. That's when the CBLDF picked it up and started making noise about it. All of this business actually happened in 2004.
Amazing how CNN has failed to accidentally mention it in all that time.
But the CBLDF noticed, and they're fighting.
So this is the bit where I plead.
The CBLDF is hardly making a tidy profit by sticking up for these people. Legal cases cost money, lots and lots and lots of money. And they need you to actually bring that money in.
So please, please, please go to CBLDF's Commercial Site
It's not like you're getting nothing for your donations (unless you just straight-up donate, of course). You can get a cool Frank Miller T-shirt. You can get a bucket of Will Eisner stuff, how much better can you get? Well, Jeff Smith stuff. Neil Gaiman perfume, and other stuff. Or you can just donate a lump change of money.
The CBLDF is doing something vitally important, because if they weren't, there wouldn't be anybody doing it. I take comfort in knowing that if I need them, they're there for me. Right now, I don't need them. But they need me.