For some odd reason it surprised me to find out that France also has big garish advertising inserts in the Sunday edition of their local papers. A few years ago I was looking for one of those odd ‘royale with cheese’ feelings that you get when you experience something extremely familiar, yet with little parallel universe-type differences, so I picked up a local paper in northeast France and flipped throught he ads. It took me a while to notice that there was not one single damned ad for violent toys. You could get FIFA ’08 for 25% off, EMT playsets, firefighting helicopters, boats, planes, trains, some movie tie-in tchotchkes and Disney-ish stuff of all varieties. But lord help you if you want an army guy or something that looks like a gun. As far as I could tell it just wasn’t there. Maybe the government bans it, but French friends convinced me that there just is not much pent-up demand for toys that simulate combat, mayhem and murder. Once I saw it the difference was really jarring. Over here you really cannot turn a page of your average advertising supplement without ten different kinds of murder-themed toy marketed to every age of American kid. They no doubt have that stuff, but most view this obsession with violence, especially among children, as distasteful and a little embarrassing.
Maybe there is not much point in railing against culture and the way things are. Reference, for example, Charles Pierce’s ongoing series about kulturkampfers on the right. Still, take a minute to feel the way that other people experience the world. Or hell, just watch Bowling for Columbine and see how Canadians deal with life just ten minutes over the border. You have to wonder how much better off we would be if we could reach this profound fear and anxiety of Americans against Americans, a pathology that underlies compulsive gun acquisition and so much hate-driven policymaking, and just breathe it out a little.
I see that a number of people think that I want to ban video games or some such stupidity, including Atrios who, characteristically, criticizes with a vague bad-faith ‘shorter’.
It makes not much sense to ban something if you can’t reduce the demand. Take pot. Or alcohol. Neither one causes much harm by itself, with exceptions that are about as common as a kid playing out a TV scene with dad’s gun. Banning stuff that everyone wants and causes not much harm (compared to frequency of use) leads to pointless criminal law and makes a hero out of bootleggers. The point, which seemed pretty clear when I wrote it, is that most places don’t have to ban the stuff I am talking about, and if they did the effect would most likely be counterproductive. The problem is not the people who make and sell crap that Americans want. The problem is us. De-escalating the intense fear and anxiety that leads to us staring at each other armed over a locked transom, and worshipping the people who do violence, would involve something a lot more fundamental than a stupid V-chip. However, it is also most likely pointless. Conservatives love this kulturekampf business and we mock them for good reason. So this post was not a call to action because there is no obvious action to take. You can’t rewire a country to hate and fear each other less, or at least there is no productive way to legislate it. So here we are.