Oct 17, 2011

Acceptable Teen Violence

PARENTAL ADVISORY: West Side Story contains suggestive language and physical violence. Three killings are depicted, as well as an attempted sexual assault. A gun is fired. Parents might consider this production unsuitable for children under the age of 12.
- Vancouver Opera website
My eldest is only about to turn 10, but I still find it hard to believe that I'll want to expose him to 3 killings, a shooting and a sexual assault when he's 13. When I stay at hotels and do the obligatory channel surfing for a few hours (like any good simpleton with TV deprivation at home), my adult brain and soul are quickly disturbed by the vast proportion of shows centred on violence - particularly against women and children. Disturbed enough that I've easily stuck to my vow to not watch them (see below), not let them colour how I view the world.

What is our societal fascination with forensics, sex crimes, abductions and violence? And more to the point of this musing, why would we willingly indoctrinate our children into it? Note that the Vancouver Opera is even offering a family deal - just $25 for your child to not miss out on this important cultural learning.

Yes, West Side Story is fantastic, and a must-see for anyone interested in our Western culture. And yes, there will be a time when our children are emotionally and cognitively ready for such an experience, and ready to start processing the full range of societal experience, good and bad. I just find it mighty hard to believe that it'll be in 3 years.

Here's my own experience of horror movies, written a few years back:

Keep your eyes off The Girl Next Door

It’s 2:30 in the morning and I’ve given up on sleep. Horrible images from that movie won’t let me rest. Images I never should have seen.

Wrong Girl Next Door
I admit I was trying to watch an R-rated Risky Business kind of trash while my wife’s away, but instead of a voluptuous The Girl Next Door – “a sex-soaked teen comedy that actually has a heart” according to Rotten Tomatoes – I got assaulted by “Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door.”

Don’t ever, ever watch this movie. It is nothing but a graphic portrayal of child abuse. I am now stuck with images that make me afraid to go back to bed, afraid of giving my brain enough space to dredge them back up again. Why oh why did any person write, produce, distribute or watch it?

Why do we love horror?
I won’t say anything more about that movie that should be burnt. But why do we ever watch other shows that, like this one, can be classified in genres like “crime”, “drama”, “horror”, and “thriller?” What’s with our fascination with crime shows like LA Law, kidnap movies like Ransom - heck let’s even throw in Rambo.

Some are well written and produced, but that still doesn’t answer the question of why we watch them. “Unforgiven” was a powerful masterpiece probably deserving of its Best Picture Academy Award, but it still subjected me to 2 hours of violence, despair, rape, abuse and vengeance. Those just aren’t topics I want or need to be reminded of in such a powerful way.

Dead bodies don’t make a great date
Take a recent CSI Miami as another example, in which Spoiler TV promises “A serial killer who hasn’t been heard from in eight years seems to be back in business.” A self-proclaimed “CSI fanatic” eagerly anticipates this “entertainment”, writing “This one looks extremely intense! In the spoiler clip, we see that the entire team gets called to the harbor for a dead body.”

Just what in that description makes people want to watch it? “Hey honey, let’s spend some quality time together watching a show about a serial killer – it starts with a dead body!”

If it’s the challenge of figuring out a mystery, read an Agatha Christie novel or join a Mensa club. If it’s the pure adrenaline rush of the Bourne trilogy (my own past fixation), maybe I should have gone jogging. Anything to discontinue the self-inflicted exposure to the dark side.

There are better ways to learn about the world
No, we don’t need to close our eyes to the negatives in our world. We desperately need to know more and do more about the ongoing travesties in the Congo and the injustices to the homeless in our own streets. But not by exploiting it for entertainment value. Let’s go to CBC or NPR, whatever news source we trust for this research, not Hollywood.

Saving Private Ryan did heighten my perception of what that war might have felt like for some, but I don’t pretend that it’s contrived storyline taught me anything about the causes of war, how to prevent it, or anything that is of importance beyond a “Never Again” conviction.

Let’s treat ourselves better than this.

Immersing ourselves in horror and crime and violence just for entertainment sake is at the very least unhealthy, often exploitative, and ultimately damaging. It numbs us. It brings up energy in an unnatural way. And it makes us think things are more common than they are – paints such a consistently negative picture of the world that we end up scared to let our kids play outside.

Yes I’m ranting. It’s 3:20am and I’m still scared to go back to bed. I should have just watched Dirty Dancing or The Muppets or anything that makes me smile, makes me believe in goodness in the world, makes me have sweet dreams. Now that’s entertainment.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more, Rick. My generation didn't have to worry about being exposed to sex and violence on TV because it hadn't been invented yet. Never even saw one 'til I was 15. I never could understand the need to be "entertained" by horror, crime, or violence. To this day, I just don't watch it, either on TV or in movies. Comedy, music, biography, travel, food shows, news and political opinion...there's plenty to watch and be informed by if you can filter out all the "crap" Unfortunately youngsters aren't real good at adjusting that filter. I'm happy that you are doing it for them; the'll be better off later in life.

  2. I had no idea West Side Story was so perverted. I will be writing the sadistic child-exploiters at the Vancouver Opera, and they will know how upset I feel. And I wonder what will happen when I write the sponsors (including our elected governments) of this sick institution and demand that they cease supporting this sadomasochistic ode to sexual abuse. I've organized consumer boycotts before, and I am ready to do it again.

    Bless you. Your blog is a beam of clean virtuous light in a dark sewer of depravity and filth. I hope to walk in your footsteps.

  3. Well thank you Richard, glad to set you on the Right Path :)