The establishment of the ESRB was certainly not the first instance of an industry using methods of self-regulation or self-censorship to escape the possibility of official government censorship or mass boycotts. Indeed, the history of the issues surrounding video game censorship and self-regulation only make sense when seen as part of a broader context. This section provides a brief history of some important instances of media self-regulation over the past 100 years by looking specifically at films, comic books and music.
We have included newspaper and magazine articles to give students a sense of how the media and the broader public were thinking about different media and issues of censorship over time. These articles are not meant to be representative of all the debates that surrounded issues of media censorship, but they are meant instead to add texture to the historical account and illustrate how recurring themes and concerns seem to surround the emergence of any new popular medium.
Perhaps most importantly, these accounts are meant to illustrate how issues of censorship play out outside of the courtroom. As we have seen with the example of video games, any official censorship case brought against these media would likely fail on First Amendment grounds. Why then do media industries still opt to regulate themselves? The cases in this section all suggest that it is the strategies of advocacy groups and the general public on both sides of the debates that are most influential in deciding how media industries deal with censorship and regulation.
For more detailed information on the history of media self-regulation in the U.S., please see the following :
- Black, G. D. (1996). Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies. Cambridge University Press.
- Cawelti, J. G. (1975). Myths of Violence in American Popular Culture. Critical Inquiry, 1(3), 521-541.
- Couvares, F. G. (1996). Movie censorship and American culture. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
- Jacobs, L. (1991). The wages of sin: censorship and the fallen woman film, 1928-1942. Wisconsin studies in film. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press.
- Martin, L., & Segrave, K. (1988). Anti-rock: the opposition to rock “n” roll. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books.
- Nuzum, E. D. (2001). Parental advisory: music censorship in America. New York: Perennial.
- Nyberg, A. K. (1998). Seal of approval: the history of the comics code. Studies in popular culture. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
- Semonche, J. E. (2007). Censoring sex: a historical journey through American media. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
- Vaughn, S. (2005). The Devil’s Advocate Will H. Hays and the Campaign to Make Movies Respectable. Indiana Magazine of History, 101(2). Retrieved from http://www.historycooperative.org/cgi-bin/justtop.cgi?act=justtop&url=http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/imh/101.2/vaughn.html.