How Mortal Kombat paved the way for a freer America.


The new Mortal Kombat movie looks awesome, doesn't it? I know not to get my hopes up for this sort of thing but, in this case, it's difficult not to. From what I've seen, it looks like it's going to break with the trend of using CGI as a crutch and, instead, use CGI to complement skillful martial arts action and tight choreography.

As a Mortal Kombat fan, I'm very excited.

But watching the trailer for this movie also serves as a reminder of a political truth with which we should never lose touch:

The moments when we DIDN'T take political action and are better off for it are just as important as the moments when we DID take political action and are better off for it.

In American history, we have a tendency to over-celebrate our great steps forward. We focus of the great moments of achievement, like ending slavery or extending voting rights, to the point that we seem to see political action in all cases as the obvious solution.

"Obviously those who want to take action are in the right. Those who want to slow things down have always been on the losing side of history."

But as important as it is to recognize and celebrate the great moments of change, it is equally important to remember the times we didn't take action and are better off for it. It's important to remember, in particular, the times we rejected authoritarian measures as we did in repealing prohibition or shutting down McCarthy's attempts to further weaponize federal regulation.


Mortal Kombat's premier is a perfect example because it represents the triumph of those who prevented "progress." At the end of the new trailer, Kano executes his iconic, Temple-of-Doom style fatality by ripping out his opponent's heart and holding it aloft. Kano has been pulling off this particular finishing move for almost thirty years, now. And the fact that it concludes the trailer represents a great symbolic victory for free speech in America. A symbolic victory for those who prioritized liberty over safety. And a great failure for "progress" at least as it was presented thirty years ago.

Back in the early 90s, Mortal Kombat hit arcades and caused an immediate uproar. Naturally, many parents were disquieted by such a violent video game which, of course, only made the game that much more appealing to kids. As it often does, parent outrage channeled into political action and Connecticut's Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman became the new voice of this collective call to action.

Senator Lieberman led a forceful campaign to "protect" children from violent video games and relied on highly cherry-picked data and inflammatory examples during a congressional hearing on the subject in 1993. The aforementioned Kano heart-ripping fatality was one of Lieberman's shock and awe center-pieces during the presentation. As if to say Kano's fatality was going to somehow inspire children to become homicidal maniacs.

Ultimately, Lieberman's push to regulate the video game industry and curtail free speech didn't gain enough bipartisan traction. However, the industry itself decided to self-regulate and adopted the ESRB rating system still used today.

This self-regulation, however, wasn't enough for Senator Lieberman who continued to ride this "child protection crusade" to national fame and, eventually, a position as Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 presidential campaign. That's right, the guy who led the campaign to federally censor video games was almost Vice President of the United States.

Though his VP ambitions fell short by a few hundred votes in Florida, Lieberman didn't give up on his efforts to regulate video games and free speech. In 2005, Lieberman teamed up with Senator Hillary Clinton to co-sponsor the Family Entertainment Protection Act. Unsatisfied with the video game industry's self-regulation, Clinton and Lieberman decided that we'd all be much safer and better off in a world where the federal government protected our children from the pernicious influence of violent video games.

But, again, Lieberman failed to garner the bipartisan support necessary to pass the bill.

Now it's 2021 and a big-budget Mortal Kombat movie is about to hit theaters and streaming services. Millions of guys like me who grew up playing these games in the shadow of Joe Lieberman's failure to "protect me" from such nefarious content will doubtlessly make it a smash hit, perhaps the first real blockbuster since 2019.

We're living in a better world and a better America exactly because we DIDN'T step forward. Because we DIDN'T promote great change and embrace proactive action to make society "safer." We're not living in a nanny-state where the federal government arbitrarily decides what is best for families and which industries should be allowed to thrive. Today, we live in an America where I can post unedited pictures of different versions of Kano holding up a disembodied heart without fear of government censure.

Though censorship isn't the flavor-of-the-week cause for progressive authoritarians in modern America, it's important to remember that they were wrong back then. Next time someone lectures you for "doing nothing" to promote political change, remind them that sometimes nothing is exactly what you should do.

And in thirty years when you're sitting on your porch, cleaning the AR-15 you just purchased, and the idea of federal gun regulation seems just as crazy to you in 2051 as video game censorship seemed in 2021, pat yourself on the back for once again holding the forces of authoritarianism in check with your inaction. Hopefully by then, Edward Snowden will be home where he belongs and America will have wholly rejected missteps like the Patriot Act and come to the realization that the real battle is not between liberals and conservatives, but between authoritarians and libertarians.

Eat your heart out, Joe Lieberman. You lost.

Flawless... Victory

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