Sunday, January 22, 2012

SOPA Opera

Thought I'd kick us off with a relevant if not a bit heavy topic of discussion. Forgive me; I'm sure you were expecting something a little more entertaining, this being touted as an 'entertainment' blog and all. I promise next week's entry will be full of more lasers, explosions, and good-looking people with exotic skin tones saluting the American flag (kind of like a Michael Bay movie, only in text form). But since this blog is pretty much only accessible via the Internet (until the next format comes along, whcih will probably involve VR touch-screen eyeballs, or something), I felt it would be in the best interests of the site to give a wee bit of input on this SOPA business.

The geniuses behind SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act to those of us with a crippling fear of abbreviations) set forth a few months ago on an epic quest to rid the world of the horrific things happening online on a daily basis. To put it in their perspective, the Internet is bad. Badder than bad, like a virtual city full of street-corner drug dealers, gang-bangers, and over-excitable hockey fans carrying pocket knives. Like so many misinformed authority figures before them, SOPA supporters are essentially under the impression that every 8-year-old who watches clips of Dora the Explorer on YouTube without paying for them is somehow going to become the next Bin Laden because of it. This alone is a sad state of affairs, but it's made even sadder by the fact that this isn't the first time some idiot decided that "free speech is bad".

Way back in 1954, which historians will remember as the year before the year that George McFly finally grew some balls and took Lorraine to the dance, a fellow by the name of Charles Murphy decided it would be a good idea to start censoring comic books. What followed was the foundation of the Comics Code Authority, a tool that could have only been devised by the same kind of crusty old white people that usually serve as the villains in movies about boarding schools. Murphy felt that comic books, particularly the 4-colour horror comics published by E.C. like Tales From the Crypt, depicted far too much blood, gore, and frightening images for his liking. In Murphy's opinion, if it wasn't about wholesome apple-cheeked cherubs serving sugar-free lemonade to one another in a poppy field, then it was far too violent to be subjected to our oh-so-impressionable children.
What followed was the foundation of the CCA, which censored comic books to such a ridiculous degree that it basically ripped the 1st Amendment right out of the Constitution, violated it in the arse a few times for good measure, and then stomped on its face with a pair of cleats. It was effective, too. For almost a decade, the comic book industry (which had been quietly thriving before then) basically died. And I mean died: from that point on, up until the early 60s when the Fantastic Four would burst onto the scene in all their stretchy, Jessica Alba-free glory, there essentially WERE NO COMIC BOOKS.

Going even further back, in 1922 (which historians will remember as two years after the first episode of Boardwalk Empire) a man called Will Hays was enlisted to start censoring cinema. He put together a censorship code known as the Motion Picture Production Code. It became an enforced rule in Hollywood starting in 1934, all the way up to 1968, when someone with a shred more common sense took over and established the MPAA ratings system that we're more familiar with today. You know the one I mean: there's G for "By all means, bring the little ones"; PG for "Bring the little ones if you want"; PG-13 for "You can bring the little ones, but don't blame us if they have nightmares later"; R for "We really recommend you get a babysitter for the little ones"; NC-17 for "If you brought the little ones, you are an idiotic twat"; and X for "This is how little ones are made".
We can thank our lucky stars we're not still living under Will Hays' authority. the guy banned bare chests, for God's sake; if that rule was still in effect today, people like Ryan Reynolds and Matthew McConaughey wouldn't even have jobs.

Then, of course, there's Jack Thompson. For those who've never heard of him, let me put it this way: if videogames were to suddenly take human form as ethnic minorities, Jack Thompson would be the first person in line to drape a white sheet over himself and lead a pickup-truck convoy of "holy cleansing" throughout the red states. In a nutshell, Mr. Thompson felt that the abundance of blood, sex, and violence in videogames is solely to blame for the existence of all the nasty things in the world, including but not limited to: alcoholism, substance abuse, sexual harassment, crime, obesity, and Columbine. So according to his logic, every time in recorded history that someone has fired a gun at someone else prior to the release of Grand Theft Auto III was just some kind of inexplicable fluke. Thompson made it his sworn goal to cleanse videogames of inappropriate conduct...until July 2008, when he was premanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court for, strangely enough, inappropriate conduct.

So what do all these tired examples have to do with SOPA? Well, not too much, to be quite honest; all of what I've described above involves unfounded suspicions blown out of proportion by paranoid nut-jobs whose first reaction was to take away freedom of expression and replace it with the very kind of thing George Orwell probably had nightmares about as a child. SOPA, on the other hand, focuses more on protecting the interests of independent properties. However, that doesn't make it any less of a step in the wrong direction. They already want to censor what we can and can't do online; the next logical step would be to take it one notch further. If watching movie clips of Driving Miss Daisy without paying for the actual DVD is going to become punishable by law for up to 5 years in prison, you really think it's going to be long before the people responsible for this act decide that they don't like swearing, sex & violence, either? And let's be honest, if you remove every last bit of swearing, sex, & violence from the Internet, you're not going to be left with very much. That's like removing cheese, sauce, and toppings from a piece of dough and still expecting it to taste like pizza.

And at the end of the day, you'd think those past 3 examples would have been learning lessons for the people behind SOPA, the lesson being: censoring certain aspects of a freely-expressive media defeats the purpose of even having a freely-expressive media.

Besides, just becuase you wave your magic wand and declare something officially "against the law", that doesn't mean people are going to stop doing it. You know what else is against the law? Speeding. Boy, good thing the courts made speeding illegal, otherwise everyone might end up doing it from time to time!

The SOPA bill hasn't been passed yet, just postponed, but they're still considering legislation. Maybe you agree with SOPA and think the whole thing is just the cat's restrictive pajamas, but personally I'd have to vote otherwise, if only because it takes us one step closer to the outright removal of our freedom of speech. I'm not supporting piracy or anything, but if I was facing down the barrel of a gun, I'd definitely choose the ability to listen to a Beatles song on YouTube for free over the ability to...well, not. Sorry, Paul McCartney, I love you and everything, but if you were thick enough to not sign a pre-nup before you married that one-legged woman whom your children hated, then frankly I don't think you deserve to charge blue-collar, hard-working folk a fee for your 50-year-old music.


  1. "if you were thick enough to not sign a pre-nup before you married that one-legged woman whom your children hated, then frankly I don't think you deserve to charge blue-collar, hard-working folk a fee for your 50-year-old music."

    Hilarious!! That my friend was perfectly put!

  2. Paul McCartney wouldn't have gotten all that money anyway – Michael Jackson does, as he owned the rights to the Beatles' catalogue. I'm not sure who holds the rights now that he's died, or if they're still tied up in the litigation of his estate. Most likely the latter.

    Although I don't necessarily agree with your points (is SOPA really based on terrorism?), this was a fun read. Looking forward to see what's next, old chap.

  3. Great article and I do agree with you, SOPA seems to be an extreme response which overall violates our personal freedoms. The bigger issue which doesn't get addressed enough are the more vulgar parts of the Internet that should be monitored like videos on 4chan that have public videos of murder.