You Do Know Jack

Machine Gun Thompson rides again


Miami attorney Jack Thompson is at it again, this time suing the maker of Grand Theft Auto because the video game supposedly drove some dopey kids in Tennessee to go out and shoot up passing cars.

Thompson is nothing if not relentless. His attempt to tie the 1997 Paducah, Kentucky slayings to game play came up empty, but he still maintains that violent video games are at the root of just about all social pathologies, except maybe failing to cover your mouth when you cough.

Sixteen year-old William and 14-year-old Joshua Buckner have already pleaded guilty to reckless homicide, aggravated assault, and reckless endangerment. But they can only be held under state law until they are 19. That fact, together with the teens' claims that the video game was their inspiration for heading out to the Interstate with mayhem on their minds, has victims' families understandably feeling that justice has not been served.

Enter Thompson, who has been hired by the family of Aaron Hamel, a 45-year-old registered nurse who was killed by the teens' wild shotgun blasts. After filing suit against game maker TAKE2interactive last week, Thompson promised a "huge verdict" which would "take their blood money from them and send a message to their boards that they have to stop this practice or there will be other suits on behalf of other people, killed by these games."

The networks just cannot keep away from Thompson when he talks like this. Like some dependable character actor, the wise Oriental Keye Luke or the spongy creep Victor Buono, the excitable Thompson fills a recurring role. He is in great demand on the morning shows to rivet the bleary eyeballs of parents with tales of kids seduced into mass murder by a few dancing pixels. Scant months ago Thompson got network airplay for his claim that the X-Box title Halo somehow "trained" the Beltway Sniper to kill. The U.S. Army would seem to have first dibs on that honor, but that does not fit Thompson's preferred solution—sue Microsoft for big money.

Thompson's Web site, Stopkill.com, makes clear that wherever there are video games, you are bound to find killers. In fact games are not games at all, but sniper trainers and "murder simulators" churning out "thousands of 'mini-Manchurian Candidates' ready, willing, and able to act out the violence that they have been taught is fun and consequence-free."

And the only way they can be stopped is for Jack Thompson to sue the pants off the wealthy video game companies and secure money damages. But why stop with video games? Surely anyone can use the parlor trick "prediction" that Thompson is fond of making anytime a teen shooter pops up on the national news ticker. Thompson "predicts" that if police search diligently enough they will find evidence that the accused was a video game player. One could just as accurately predict he—and it is always a he—was moody and didn't eat his vegetables.

And did he drink Sunny-D? We didn't have his rash of teen shooters until we had pre-packaged, high-fructose juice drinks marketed to kids, did we? Quite a few wealthy companies make juice boxes, Jack. Consider it a growth area.

Before his video nasty phase Thompson mucked about Bill Clinton's impeachment, eventually recommending that the Senate be—you guessed it—sued for failing to convict Wild Bill.

The Clinton concerns were a short segue from Thompson's previous effort peddling some genuinely intriguing claims about Janet Reno's time in Miami. There just never seemed to be enough corroboration of drunken, sapphic binges, and doing the bidding of child pornographers for the media to run with. It was Thompson's contention that Reno's past would leave her open to blackmail threats.

Any down time saw Thompson lend his talents to hounding Ice T over "Cop Killa," and he was also a primary force behind 2-Live Crew's obscenity woes. But there is one common thread besides relentless publicity-seeking.

Thompson's reference to The Manchurian Candidate tells us he believes in the idea that individuals can be conditioned or brainwashed to do things they would not otherwise do. This brainwashing fear, in turn, is a product of Cold War fears of Commie indoctrination. In the current New Yorker, Louis Menand describes how America's Korean War experience helped whip up fears about brainwashing, fears that soon manifested themselves in books like The Manchurian Candidate. Menand notes that the evil villain in the book, Yen Lo, cites The Seduction of the Innocent by Frederic Wertham as one of the inspirations for his diabolical work.

In the 1950s Wertham was at the forefront of the campaign to stop comic books from rotting the minds of the young with fantastic, colorful tales of violence, horror, and unconventional living arrangements. One of Wertham's claims was that Batman and Robin portrayed a life that was "like a wish dream for two homosexuals living together." Amazingly, Congress bought much of Wertham's thinking and the comics industry was intimidated into the infamous comics code for years.

Thompson may or may not see himself as a latter-day Wertham. But there is no doubt that he intends to keep filing his lawsuits until a sympathetic jury somewhere hands him the "huge verdict" he seeks.

In the meantime, should Thompson ever discover hentai games, he will find that all his deepest worries about sex and violence have already come true—with tentacles.