Stan Lee, the godfather of comics. For over 60 years, the superpowered creations of Marvel head honcho
Stan Lee have saved the world from countless villains. But ask the
pop-culture hero to name his fiercest foe, and he'll quickly point to
those who attempt to hinder the right to free expression as protected
under the First Amendment. In his youth, that meant defending his
beloved comics from those who wished to see them strictly regulated.
These days? It means defending video games.
In an open letter supporting the Video Game Voters Network, the co-creator of the likes
of Iron Man, Spider-Man and The Hulk pointed out parallels between the
current Constitutional battle over the sale of violent games to the
widely-publicized fight over comics in the 1950's.
"My memory has always been lousy and it's not improving with age,"
said the 87 year-old comic guru. "But it's good enough to remember a
time when the government was trying to do to comic books what some
politicians now want to do with video games: censor them and prohibit
their sales. It was a bad idea half a century ago and it's just as bad
an idea now."
Lee's note comes just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court will begin
hearing arguments over a California law that would ban the sale of
violent video games to anyone under the age of 18, levy fines against
retailers for infractions, and require a new violence labeling system.
The law, which was signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, was
previously thrown out by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who
ruled it unconstitutional. On November 2, the Supreme Court will begin
the process of making a final ruling.
To Lee, the whole shebang mirrors what he and other comic book purveyors dealt with during the medium's early days.
"Comic books, it was said, contributed to "juvenile delinquency." A
Senate subcommittee investigated and decided the U.S. could not "afford
the calculated risk involved in feeding its children, through comic
books, a concentrated diet of crime, horror and violence." Comic books
were burned. The State of Washington made it a crime to sell comic books
without a license. And Los Angeles passed a law that said it was a
crime to sell "crime comic books." Looking back, the outcry was --
forgive the expression -- comical."
These days, comics are big, big business -- particularly on the big
screen. Films based on friendly franchises (Iron Man, Spider-Man) as
well as grittier graphic novels (300, Sin City) are routinely top
box-office draws, and with upcoming movies featuring Green Lantern, Thor
and Captain America on the way, the sub-genre is hardly slowing down.
Lee contends that "if you restrict sales of video games, you're
chipping away at our First Amendment rights to free speech and opening
the door to restrictions on books and movies."
"The Supreme Court should find the law unconstitutional, as lower courts have."