Fall 1992, Volume 1, Number 2

Stores renting "death videos" to minors

It is now a standard part of American culture to view numerous extremely graphic and brutal horror films before the age of 12. So says the National Coalition on Television Violence. High profile horror films such as the Halloween and Nightmare o n Elm Street series account for much of this viewing. A 1989 NCTV survey revealed that 89 percent of children ages 10-13 years had seen at least one of the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street films, while 62 percent had seen at least four of the f ilms. But a disturbing new genre called shock-u-mentary began appearing in video stores in the mid-1980s, and its popularity among teen-agers continues today. Appearing under titles such as Faces of Death, Death Scenes, and Inhumanities, these videos claim to include actual footage of people and animals being tortured and killed or dying in accidents. As the jacket blurb from a video entitled Death Scenes II states: Now you will witness the grisly aftermath of sadistic brutality, unspeakable mu rder and unimaginable sex crimes. Noting the widespread use of guns in suicides, the videos narrator states: By driving a bullet through the brain, one can forever silence the murmuring voices of discontent. Meanwhile, Faces of Death III promises actual video footage of a rape-murder.

A Citizens for Media Literacy survey revealed that 13 of 27 Asheville-area video stores carry these videos, and sales personnel confirm that they are rented mainly by teenagers. Only Blockbuster Video, a national chain based in Ft. Lauderdale, has a p olicy against carrying the shock-u-mentary genre.Ironically, the shock-u-mentary videos do not violate North Carolina obscenity law, which applies only to sexual conduct.Myriam Miedzian, a Columbia University social scientist, believesobscenity laws shoul d be used to restrict minors access to morbidly violent material.There is a long tradition in the American judicial system of special laws for the protection of children. These include labor, liquor, child pornography, and child welfare laws, writes Mied zian in her 1991 book entitled Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence.

Miedzian believes an American double standard toward sex and violence has up to now prevented the writing of laws protecting children from morbidly violent material. But First Amendment specialists assure me that laws designed for that purpose would s tand a very good chance of being upheld in the courts as long as they did not interfere with adults viewing whatever they choose.Earlier this year in South Carolina, however, a bill to limit minors access to slasher video rentals was sailing through the General Assembly when it ran afoul of the powerful Motion Picture Association of America lobby. Together with the Video Software Dealers Association, the MPAA forced a non-legislative compromise by threatening to challenge the proposed law on First Amendment grounds.Lib Reynolds, the Junior League of Greenville member who helped launch the legislative effort, said the bill was withdrawn for fear that it could not survive a court challenge. For their part, video dealers pledged to mon itor their rentals to minors more closely, Reynolds said. She now doubts the effectiveness of voluntary regulation among video dealers.

Citizens for Media Literacy is currently exploring various means, legal and educational, to restrict minors access to videos such as Faces of Death and Death Scenes. For more information, call CML at 255-0182.

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