Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jack Thompson

[The warrior.]
John Bruce “Jack” Thompson (born July 25, 1951) is an American attorney and activist against obscenity and violence in media and entertainment, based in Coral Gables, Florida. Thompson describes himself as a Christian conservative and a Republican.[1]

After an initial foray into politics, Thompson concentrated his efforts on activism against obscenity, particularly obscenity in rap music and broadcasts by radio personality Howard Stern. More recently, he has focused on violence as well, particularly in the content of computer and video games and their alleged effects on children....

Thompson first met Janet Reno in November 1975, when he applied for a job as an assistant State’s Attorney in Dade County. He was not hired.[5] In 1988, he ran for prosecutor against then incumbent Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno. At the time, Thompson was involved in a feud with local radio host Neil Rogers and Reno had declined his request to prosecute Rogers.[6] Thompson was instrumental in getting the FCC to fine Miami radio station WIOD $10,000 for airing such parody songs as “Boys Want to Have Sex in the Morning” on Rogers’ show.[2] Thompson also sued the station for violating a December 1987 agreement to end on-air harassment against him. Thompson had complained to the station after Rogers solicited homosexuals to join Thompson on his vacation; Rogers aired Thompson’s address and phone number. Thompson claimed one of the terms of his agreement with the station was that it would pay him $5,000 each time his name was mentioned. For the next eight months he recorded all of Rogers’ broadcasts and documented 40,000 mentionings of his name, so he asked for $200 million in the suit.[7]

Thompson gave Reno a letter at a campaign event requesting that she check a box to indicate whether she was homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. Thompson said that Reno then put her hand on his shoulder and responded, “I’m only interested in virile men. That’s why I’m not attracted to you.”[8] He filed a police report accusing her of battery for touching him. In response, Reno asked Florida governor Bob Martinez to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate.[9] The special prosecutor rejected the charge and concluded that Thompson did it as “a political ploy.” Reno was ultimately re-elected with 69% of the vote. Thompson repeated allegations that Reno was a lesbian when she was nominated as U.S. Attorney General, leading one of her supporters, lieutenant governor Buddy MacKay, to dismiss him as a “kook.”[8]

In 1990, after his election loss, Thompson began a campaign against the efforts of Switchboard of Miami, a social services group of which Reno was a board member. Thompson charged that the group was placing “homosexual-education tapes” in public schools. Switchboard responded by getting the Florida Supreme Court to order that he submit to a psychiatric examination. Thompson did so and passed, and since then has stated on more than one occasion that he is “the only officially certified sane lawyer in the entire state of Florida....”[10]

Thompson came to national prominence in the controversy over 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be album. (Luke Skyywalker Records, the company of 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell, had previously released a record supporting Reno in her race against Thompson.)[11] On January 1, 1990, he wrote to Martinez and Reno asking them to investigate whether the album violated Florida obscenity laws. Although the state prosecutor declined to proceed with an investigation, Thompson pushed local officials in various parts of the state to block sales of the album, along with N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton.[12] In sending documents to opponents, Thompson would frequently attach a photocopy of his driver's license, with a photo of Batman pasted over his own, just to make sure they knew who they were dealing with. Thompson said, "I have sent my opponents pictures of Batman to remind them I'm playing the role of Batman. Just like Bruce Wayne helped the police in the movie, I have had to assist the sheriff of Broward County." He also wore a Batman wristwatch.[13] Thompson compared Campbell to the Joker.[14] Thompson also said, “I understand as well as anybody that the First Amendment is a cornerstone of a free society — but there is a responsibility to people who can be harmed by words and thoughts, one of which is the message from Campbell that women can be sexually abused.”[2]

Thompson also took issue with another 2 Live Crew song, "Banned in the USA." Thompson sent a letter to Jon Landau, manager of Bruce Springsteen, whose song "Born in the USA" was to be sampled by the group. Thompson suggested that Landau "protect `Born in the U.S.A.' from its apparent theft by a bunch of clowns who traffic toxic waste to kids," or else Thompson would "be telling the nation about Mr. Springsteen's tacit approval" of the song, which, according to Campbell, "expresses anger about the failure of the First Amendment to protect 2 Live Crew from prosecution."[15] Thompson also said, "the "social commentary" on this album is akin to a sociopath's discharging his AK-47 into a crowded schoolyard, with the machine gun bursts interrupted by Pee Wee Herman's views on politics."[16]

The members of 2 Live Crew responded to these efforts by suing the Broward County sheriff in federal district court. The sheriff had previously told local retailers that selling the album could result in a prosecution for obscenity violations. While they were granted an injunction because law enforcement actions were an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech, the court ruled that the album was in fact obscene. An appellate court reversed the obscenity ruling, however, because simply playing the tape was insufficient evidence of the constitutional requirement that it have no artistic value.[17]

As the debate continued, Thompson wrote, “An industry that says a line cannot be drawn will be drawn and quartered.”[18] He said of his campaign, “I won’t stop till I get the head of a record company or record chain in jail. Only then will they stop trafficking in obscenity.”[19] Bob Guccione Jr., founder of Spin magazine, responded by calling Thompson “a sort of latter-day Don Quixote, as equally at odds with his times as that mythical character was,” and argued that his campaign was achieving “two things...: pissing everybody off and compounding his own celebrity.”[20] Thompson responded by noting, “Law enforcement and I put 2 Live Crew’s career back into the toilet where it began.”[21]

Thompson wrote another letter in 1991, this time to Minnesota attorney general Hubert H. Humphrey III, complaining about the N.W.A album Efil4zaggin. Humphrey warned locally-based Musicland that sales of the album might violate state law against distribution of sexually explicit material harmful to minors. Humphrey also referred the matter to the Minneapolis city attorney, who concluded that some of the songs might fit the legal definition if issued as singles, but that sales of the album as a whole were not prosecutable.[22] Thompson also initiated a similar campaign in Boston.[23] Later, Thompson would criticize the Republican Party for inviting N.W.A member and party donor Eric “Eazy-E” Wright to an exclusive function.[24]

In 1992, Thompson was hired by the Freedom Alliance, a self-described patriot group founded by Oliver North, described as "far-right" by the Washington Post. By this time, Thompson was looking to have Time Warner, then being criticized for promoting the Ice-T song “Cop Killer,” prosecuted for federal and state crimes such as sedition, incitement to riot, and “advocating overthrow of government” by distributing material that, in Thompson's view, advocated the killing of police officers.[25] Time Warner eventually released Ice-T and his band from their contract, and voluntarily suspended distribution of the album on which Cop Killer was featured.

Thompson’s push to label various musical performances obscene was not entirely limited to rap. In addition to taking on 2 Live Crew, Thompson campaigned against sales of the racy music video for Madonna’s “Justify My Love.”[26] Then in 1996, he took on MTV broadcasts for “objectification of women” by writing to the station’s corporate parent, Viacom, demanding a stop to what he called “corporate pollution.”[27] He also went after MTV’s advertisers and urged the U.S. Army to pull recruiting commercials, citing the Army’s recruitment of women and problems with sexual harassment scandals....[28]

More recently, Thompson has heavily criticized a number of video games and campaigned against their producers and distributors. His basic argument is that violent video games have repeatedly been used by teenagers as “murder simulators” to rehearse violent plans. He has pointed to alleged connections between such games and a number of school massacres. According to Thompson, “In every school shooting, we find that kids who pull the trigger are video gamers.”[29] Also, he claims that scientific studies show teenagers process the game environment differently from adults, leading to increased violence and copycat behavior.[30] According to Thompson, “If some wacked-out adult wants to spend his time playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, one has to wonder why he doesn’t get a life, but when it comes to kids, it has a demonstrable impact on their behavior and the development of the frontal lobes of their brain.”[31] Thompson has described the proliferation of games by Sony, a Japanese company, as “Pearl Harbor 2.”[32] According to Thompson, “Many parents think that stores won’t sell an M-rated game to someone under 17. We know that’s not true, and, in fact, kids roughly 50 percent of that time, all the studies show, are able to walk into any store and get any game regardless of the rating, no questions asked.”[33]

Thompson has rejected arguments that such video games are protected by freedom of expression, saying, “Murder simulators are not constitutionally protected speech. They’re not even speech. They’re dangerous physical appliances that teach a kid how to kill efficiently and to love it.” In addition, he has attributed part of the impetus for violent games to the military, saying that it was looking “for a way to disconnect in the soldier’s mind the physical act of pulling the trigger from the awful reality that a life may end.”[34] Thompson further claims that some of these games are based on military training and simulation technologies, such as those being developed at the Institute for Creative Technologies, which, he suggests, were created by the Department of Defense to help overcome soldiers’ inhibition to kill.[35] He also claims that the PlayStation 2's DualShock controller "gives you a pleasurable buzz back into your hands with each kill. This is operant conditioning, behavior modification right out of B.F. Skinner's laboratory."[36]


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