I've got a new Daily Beast column up about Sweden's plan to rate video games for sexist content. Snippets:
God bless—Odin bless?—the politically correct Swedes, who are currently working on what might become that country's ugliest export since Tor Johnson.
As the shouting match over the role and depiction of gender and sexuality in video games that's part of "Gamergate" fires up the blogosphere, Sweden's "government-funded innovation agency" Vinnova are, along with the country's video game association, developing a ratings system to track "sexist" content in games. Given our own country's history of slapping "voluntary" ratings (read: implemented under threat of government regulation) on everything from movies to comic books to record albums to TV shows to…video games, it probably won't be long before a "Rated S for Sexism" designation starts getting debated or enacted right here in the Land of the Free.
I run through various examples of how American nannies and censors shut down various aspects of pop culture (can't trust the masses, can we?) and resurrect one of the great unremembered mini-scandals of the Clinton years:
There's always a temptation to shut down conversation, especially for people who think they can control the means of cultural production through coercive means. It was a huge scandal back in 2000 when Salon discovered that the federal drug czar's office under Bill Clinton leaned on network shows such as ER andBeverly Hills 90210 to fill "their episodes with anti-drug pitches to cash in on a complex government advertising subsidy." It got so bad, Salon reported, that "government officials and their contractors began approving, and in some cases altering, the scripts of shows before they were aired to conform with the government's anti-drug messages."
Besides the mendacity of it all, such a scheme misses the obvious truth that "the audience has a mind of its own." Which brings us back to Sweden's proposed ratings system and top-down noodging of video game makers to "change the way we think about things" in a proper progressive direction. At least the Swedish plan is public knowledge. But it's just as unlikely to have any effect on gender relations or how people play video games as a drug-czar-approved episode of Beverly Hills 90210 kept kids from becoming crackheads.