I don’t have anything against horror movies and creepy TV shows enough to want them banned. I don’t choose to watch them myself, but if an adult wants to watch, that is their choice. Que sera. But it occurs to me that in the future, I will need to keep my television off when my grandchild comes to visit due to the number of commercials for horror movies/shows there are. No matter how innocuous the show is that you are watching, there’s no guarantee that a commercial won’t scare the total beejeebers out of a child.
Set aside the whole “well you can program things so the commercials are skipped” argument for a moment. That function is a premium cost to your cable service, when you can turn off the damn set for free. I’m talking about commercials and horror shows in general, and the proliferation of them in particular.
As a pre-schooler I saw “The Littlest Angel” musical on TV and became unnerved by the notion of death, compounded by the fact that no one took the time to explain anything to me (I’ve mentioned this before on this blog, you can look it up.) That completely G-rated show (back in the early 1960’s, black and white TV special) was enough to stunt my trust in the promise of the afterlife, and dented my childhood innocence for decades, because until then I had no experience with death or anything truly unpleasant. Then suddenly I realized my happy little life could end and I had no idea what to expect. It was sad and in a minor key and could happen at any moment, and that’s all I knew about it.
My older sisters loved to watch scary movies and “The Twilight Zone” on television, but I couldn’t bear them. That shit looked real to me. Maybe it was real. I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell. Maybe there really WERE monsters under my bed. I knew some terrible man shot Mr. Kennedy, the President of the United States and the man my father said was a great human being, and THAT was real. Suppose there were monsters inside other people that made them hurt other people? How could a kid tell? I didn’t even know which or how many words were naughty to use and which were acceptable; how was I going to know where monsters were, for Pete’s sake?!
What goes through the mind of today’s child when s/he sees commercials for “Pet Sematary” or “It” or holy crap, ANY horror genre feature? It was different to see Godzilla back in the day of stop-motion animation because it looked like toys I played with. Dracula was scary, but I consoled myself that in the end the good guys would win and all would be well – I guessed and gulped hard and high-tailed it out of the room. But fast-forward to today’s realistic makeup artistry and special effects, and tell me if a glimpse of someone all bloody and acting as if in pain wouldn’t scare the crap out of a pre-schooler. If parents or caregivers aren’t on hand to explain things like what make believe is, it can be a freefall into terror for children.
And let’s think about society as a whole. To paraphrase the commercial of the new Purge series: “People aren’t content with one night of murder. They want to murder all the time.” Television is not just showing a movie about fictional legalized murder, it’s running an entire goddamn SERIES where some characters want to expand the scope of their yearly legal homicide. After years of desensitization (“The Walking Dead”, anyone? Oh, it’s just a zombie – let’s see how gruesome we can make killing one) this is the next logical step in ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ entertainment. There’s also a continued uptick in violent movies – blow up that building, point that gun at the camera, GRRRR ARRRGH MAKE MY DAY! Thanks, Hollywood. We can all take comfort that it might be considered trendy when we piss our pants.
There are those who whine about the lack of manners nowadays or the lack of moral backbone, but oh boy, those selfsame grumblers sure do look forward to seeing how realistically a fake arm can be severed by a shotgun blast! It sure is keen to watch a famous landmark get a slo-mo destructive sequence, or watch a vampire rip out her victim’s throat! It sure gives ya chills when some gruesome doll terrorizes a movie family! Scary stuff is a tease for the adult mind, but what do you say when your three-year-old gets up for a drink of water and comes in to see what the grown-ups are watching? Why is that man bleeding, Mommy? Why is that lady screaming? Could that happen to me?
Sorry to say, that last question is a legitimate concern in real life.
Want to see tragedy and violence and heartbreak? Watch the nightly news. Oh, but that is too real. Instead, let’s make movies that tell FICTIONAL stories just like the lives people are really living, only the actors don’t really die or get mangled. We can pretend. Yeah. It won’t happen to me. It will happen to Sean Bean, over and over and over again.
I’m not blind. You can’t raise children completely bubble-wrapped in Care Bears and nurtured by an endless loop of My Little Pony videos, and they don’t have to be (and shouldn’t be.) Children can handle more challenging subject matter than that; you shouldn’t helicopter-parent them into an unrealistic Neverland of soft furniture and pastel colors, because the real world will bring Neverland to a crashing halt. But age appropriateness is not that damn hard to achieve if you just try to recall what you were comfortable with as a child. I’m not saying this from some perfect pedestal of parental smugness. I learned from my mistakes, too.
My younger son Will loved to watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but he always looked away and covered his ears when the Judge screamed and the animated daggers came out of the eyesockets. The rest of the violence was on par with the average Tom and Jerry cartoon and he knew cartoons were just drawings that moved fast, nothing real. The realism of live-action Christopher Lloyd suddenly and literally ‘shooting (animated) daggers’ was scary the first time Will saw the show, so on subsequent viewings he took measures to avoid the ‘scary’ part. He liked the movie and its happy ending, and begged to watch it again and again, but he knew not to watch the scary part. I felt terrible for letting him watch it without realizing some of it would scare him, and I tried to be more cautious from then on. I also was fortunate enough to be on hand to talk to my kids about what we saw. It didn’t scar him for life and he’s now a well-adjusted, optimistic young man.
He could make the choice and knew when the scary part was coming because he became familiar with the movie. It wasn’t a sudden jarring commercial in the middle of something mild like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Many parents are not able to be on hand every second to filter what their kids see. Some try not to use the television as a babysitter but have to fall back on it. Others don’t seem to realize all the things their children are exposed to (although they get a good idea when their List to Santa reflects the Christmas toy commercials.) Still other parents are shitheels who don’t care at all (and to hell with those parents.)
As I said, if adults want to watch violent films, they will do so and that is no skin off my teeth. But if they are dismayed at the increasing violence in the world, if they are unsettled by the increasing viciousness of society, well hey, that is how desensitization works. The world is becoming more and more coarse, not just because of horror movies and shoot-em-up action movies, but by the glamorization of violence in general. The desire for an adrenaline rush comes at a price.
For my part, I will introduce my grandchildren to the wonderful world of British invasion music and Motown classics. They will learn to paint Happy Little Trees and dance like nobody’s watching, and in time enjoy movies like Little Women, Howl’s Moving Castle and A Wrinkle in Time. Eventually, stronger stuff like the Harry Potter books and the Lord of the Rings trilogy might appeal to them – but at a time of THEIR choosing.